Sadly, my favorite pair of jeans is starting to fall apart, and they’re going to be very hard to replace. They’re my favorite pair not only because of how comfortable they are, but also because they have great pockets. They’re deep enough to hold anything I reasonably need to carry around with me, but not so deep I have to shove in my arm to the elbow to try and retrieve something. They’re wide enough that my entire hand fits in smoothly but not so wide that things fall out. In short, they’re just right—the Goldilocks pocket. In an ideal world, all pants pockets would be like this.
Then I noticed something during break. My son’s outfit had eight pockets. Six on his pants—two front, two rear and two cargo; and two on either side of his chest. They all looked about the right size for his hands, not much else. But none of them will be used since my son is three and a half months old. When and if he puts a hand into one of his pockets, it’s not intentional, but each time it is an amazing and somewhat confusing discovery. But he also has nothing to put into those pockets. After all, he doesn’t carry keys or a cell phone yet (it’s going to be a while for either one) and none of his toys would fit into his pockets. After all, if he had a toy that size it would likely be a severe choking hazard, and no one is going to make a toy like that for an infant!
So why does he have so many pockets? I checked, and just about all of his pants have at least one pocket. Looking through his closet and dresser at all of his outfits, there appear to be enough pockets on his clothing that if I were to remove all of them and sew them together, they might be enough for another two dozen baby outfits. Possibly fueled by new parent exhaustion, this struck me as exceedingly wasteful. Yes, the pockets are cute. Useless, but cute. First, why so many, and second, doesn’t the simple fact that the clothes are baby clothes mean that they’re already extremely cute? Do the pockets really add that much? Clearly not, since most of the time we just don’t notice them. We’re mostly focused on the child inside the clothing.
Now clearly I could simply stop here and segue into a predictable and trite message about “clearly it is what inside that is really important!” But we heard that enough as little kids that hopefully we all remember it well enough as adults to apply it to our daily lives. Yes, what is on the inside is of course the most important thing. An infant is cute (at the very least for the infant’s parents—other opinions may differ) in clothing with or without pockets. Because maybe the pockets really don’t matter. Not because they’re not as useful as the ones on my favorite pair of jeans, but because they’re just an additional adornment to make a cute thing cuter.
But there is a concept in Judaism known as Hiddur Mitzvah, which means “making a Commandment beautiful.” If you’re going to make something, don’t just make it well but make it beautiful and exceptional. While simple practicality has a beauty of its own, if something can be made more aesthetically pleasing, why not do so? This goes beyond Hunter S. Thompson’s famous quote of “anything worth doing, is worth doing right,” because it isn’t just about doing it right or doing it well—those are prerequisites. Everything you do should not only be the right things, but also done in the right way. This is about elevating that action.
If it’s important enough to make an infant’s pants just a tiny bit cuter by adding proportional (and useless) pockets to them, how much more important is the work that you do every single day? At the start of a new semester, let’s embrace as a community the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah and make everything that we do an act of devotion and increase the joy and beauty in the world.
Jeremy Yoskowitz is the campus rabbi and assistant director for Jewish life. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Rabbi Jeremy a message on Twitter @TheDukeRav.