There are two root words used for “naked” in the Torah – the more famous refers to the nakedness of the snake and of Adam and Eve – the word is arum. I am going to focus on the other one – (gala). This is the word used in the text to refer to “uncovering the nakedness” of other people with whom physical intimacy is forbidden: incest, etc. It is first found in the episode with Noah: “He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.” It did not work out well for him.
In general, this word is associated with forbidden acts, simply because not all relationships are supposed to have a facet which includes physical exposure or intimacy. “None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD.” The Torah gives a specific list, including – direct family members, other kinds of relations, and even with one’s wife during menstruation.
But, as is worth remembering, in Judaism no concept or act is good or bad in itself. Nakedness can be a deeply positive and spiritual thing! The proof is also found in the text; the first time the word is found is with Noah, but the second example speaks of Jacob’s dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder that reached to heaven.
There [Jacob] built an altar and named the site The G-d of Bethel, for it was there that God had revealed (gala) Himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
Nakedness displayed by G-d is revelation! Though the exposure is spiritual and not physical in this case, it is life-changing when G-d reveals Himself to us! Nevertheless, the word is the very same one that describes Noah’s drunken and disgraced state, which reminds us that the revelation is not the problem in itself. The problem with revealing oneself is the nature and purpose of that exposure.
G-d can reveal Himself to us, but we are forbidden from doing the same to Him: “Do not ascend My altar by steps, that your nakedness may not be exposed upon it.” This is also a reminder that Judaism, in contrast with many pagan religions, emphasizes our spiritual yearning for a connection. That connection to G-d should never involve physical elements that belong only within a marriage.
Clothing has a real purpose in relationships of all kinds: its purpose is not to show what is there, but instead to show what we choose to show. So in order to be more than just mere animals, we should choose to de-emphasize the fact that we are all, in purely physical terms, animals.
We can think about G-d’s revelations to us precisely the same way. G-d is also cloaked in this world; we do not perceive Him directly. And even the revelation to Jacob was in a dream.
If Judaism is, as the Torah tells us, about building holy relationships with G-d and with our fellow man, then nakedness is actually an excellent case study for actions that can be either physical or spiritual, profane or holy.
P.S. When Bilaam prophecies, he twice uses the phrase, “Word of him who hears God’s speech / Who beholds visions from the Almighty / Prostrate, but with naked (gala) eyes.”
I think Bilaam was able to prophecy at that level because, earlier in the story, G-d opened his eyes!
“The LORD uncovered (gala) Bilaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand.”
If so, then the episode with the angel and the donkey actually made Bilaam a better prophet, by uncovering his eyes so that he could see at a level that had previously been hidden from him!