The Large Kippah

[Be-Ahavah U-B-Emunah – Tetzaveh 5773- translated by R. Blumberg]


Wear a large Kippah! Not because you have to, but because you want to. In life, you don’t do just what you have to. You also crave being good. Between the strong, exacting edifices of duty, there is a free atmosphere in which man’s pure cravings flow freely. 

Certainly there are obligations as well. Shulchan Aruch rules: “One should not walk four cubits with his head uncovered” (Orach Chaim 2:6).

And what is the minimum size?

1. According to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Kluger, most of the head must be covered (Shut Ha-Elef Lecha Shlomo), for you need a “head covering”, i.e., of the whole head, and most is equated with all.

2. According to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ovadia Hadayah, the Kippah has to be visible from all sides (Shut Yaskil Avdi vol. 6, p. 292). Otherwise, it’s not called a covering. Likewise, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef said, “It should be recognizable and visible from all sides of the head, front and back” (Shut Yehaveh Da’at 4:1).

3. According to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein, it is best to take the strict approach and to cover most of one’s head, but legally, it suffices to have a head covering (Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:8). If it is too small it is not called a head covering, but just a decoration.

4. Some have ruled that the size of a hand suffices, because legally, another person can put his hand on his friend’s head, and his friend can recite blessings (Igrot Moshe, ibid.).

See also many more details on this in my own humble commentary on the Kitzur Shulchan

Aruch (3:6). Yet my point here is not to define the minimum size of the Kippah, because in life, a person does not just do the minimum. Rather, if something is precious to him, he adds to it with all his heart. A person does not live in a minimum size house. He does not buy a minimum size car, nor buy a secondhand shirt at the minimum price. People do not voluntarily subsist on bread and water. Rather, they augment their diet. All the more so should one augment his service to G-d, which is life’s purpose. The house, the car, clothing and food are only means, but the purpose is to serve G-d. Therefore, a person will be happy to add on for the sake of his reason for living, thereby giving his life content.

Why, after all, do we cover our heads? It is so that we will have the fear of G-d (Shabbat 156b). As Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states: “We have to accustom even small boys to covering their heads, so that they will have the fear of G-d. We have seen this in the case of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, whose mother did not allow him to bare his head. She told him ‘Cover your head so you will have the fear of G-d on you’ (Shabbat, ibid.)” (Kitzur Shulchan

Aruch 3:6). So, for a big Mitzvah such as this, we should be happy to wear a big covering on our heads. Certainly, the fear of G-d is the most important thing in life. “Fear Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 10:20). “And now, oh Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, but to fear Hashem your G-d?” (Ibid. 10:12). “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d... for that is man’s whole purpose” (Kohelet 12:13).

Why, in effect, do people cover their heads? It is because the Divine presence is above our heads (Kiddushin 31a). Is there anything more important than the Divine presence above a person’s head?! Could there be anything more important to remember?! True, it is stylish nowadays for people to place themselves above all else, as if to coin a new verse: “I place myself before me always.” Yet that is not our style. We, the disciples of Avraham and the disciples of Moshe, say, “I place G-d before me always” (Tehillim 16:8). Surely that is the most supreme purpose of all - that G-d longed to have an abode on this Earth. So also for such a big Mitzvah is this, we should long to have a big Kippah.

And why do we wear a Kippah? Our great master Rambam wrote, “Torah scholars conduct themselves with great humility… They do not bare their heads” (Hilchot De’ot 5:6).

Humility! A prodigious concept! Kitzur Shulchan Aruch teaches: “It says, ‘Walk humbly with your G-d’ (Michah 6:8). Do not say, ‘I am here in an inner room, in the dark. Who sees me?’ G-d’s glory fills the whole earth, and for Him, darkness is like light. Humility and shame lead a person to subject himself to G-d” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3:1). Great humility, a large Kippah!

You might ask: “But a large Kippah implies pride!” Sure it constitutes pride! But it is not pride for oneself, but pride for something larger. It represents pride that I am a Jew, pride over being part of a unique nation. Nowadays, nothing so marks Jews as their head covering.

Rabbi David Ha-Levi Segal [the “Taz” or Turei Zahav] already wrote that there is an outright prohibition against going bareheaded, because of the verse “Do not follow any of their customs” (Leviticus 18:3) (Orach Chaim 8, Taz 105. Quoted in Mishna Berura 2:11). True, this is a very novel idea. Yet based on this novel idea, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Avigdor Neventzal wrote, “Baring one’s head to appear non-observant violates a prohibition that while not actually being something one must give up one’s life to avoid, still verges on it” (Be-Yitzchak Yikarei on Mishna Berurah, Ibid.). The innovation is thus two-fold. True, it says in Chochmat Adam that wearing non-Jewish attire must be avoided with one’s life, but Rav Neventzal’s comment still remains a double innovation.

Interestingly, the author I. E. Peretz, who was not at all religious, wrote a short story about a poor Jew who was framed, and his punishment was to cross between two rows of soldiers who whipped him until he bled. He advanced without stumbling, but suddenly he discovered that his Kippah had fallen off. So, he turned around, walked back and picked up his Kippah and covered his head. Then he walked with his Kippah on his head until he fell...

As I said, I. E. Peretz belonged to the Enlightenment, but unlike others of that movement, he did not attack G-d-fearing Jews, but was impressed by their pure hearts and by their heroically sacrificing themselves to sanctify G-d’s name.

So, always wear a Kippah. A big Kippah. Wear it during sports, war games, in battle, always wear one.

You might ask: how can I wear a large Kippah when there are Torah scholars greater than I who wear small Kippot? Am I greater than they?! Certainly I am smaller than they, but I do what I do, and they do what they do. They are busy doing very great things for the sake of G-d’s glory, while I am involved with smaller things, such as wearing a Kippah. Yet for me it is a great Mitzvah. I love it, I yearn for it, I rejoice over it, and through it, G-d has given me a way to stand fast. I am a small person with a big Kippah.