The Concept of Modesty (Part II)

What is modesty? Is the human body something dirty or evil that has to be covered
up? If so, we should have to cover up the bodies of animals, too. In which case,
you wouldn’t be allowed to go to a zoo. Because if human bodies are dirty, certainly
the bodies of animals are dirty. But, of course, there’s no mitzvah to clothe your
pet. The notion that the body is something dirty is a Christian concept. In Christianity,
the body is evil; material things are evil. They measure holiness by how far away
you can stay from the material world. Marriage, clothing, money are all things to
stay away from as much as possible. Those who abstain from them are considered holy.

All that has nothing to do with Torah. It’s the antithesis of
Torah. What is our concept of holiness? Marriage is called kedushin-holiness!
Not celibacy, but marriage is the ideal. On the contrary, a Jew is not allowed to
be celibate. We regard the body as holy, a creation of G-d.

Why, then, do we have to cover up the body? To understand this,
we have to review the sin of Adam and Chava. Before they sinned, there was no clothing,
no shame, no concept of modesty as we know it. Why? Because it was obvious that
a human being was made up of two components-a soul, a spiritual essence, and a body
that clothed that soul. And it was very clear which was the main thing-the eternal
soul. The soul needed a suit of clothing-the body-which was compatible with this
physical world. It’s like a space man who needs a space suit to survive in the hostile
environment of space. The suit is not him, it’s just a covering that enables him
to function in space. So too we are our neshamos; but the neshama needs a space
suit called the body. It needs all the organs and vital systems of the body to function
in this world. That’s why we tear our clothing in mourning, to signify that it’s
only the clothing, the physical body, which has been torn away; the essence of the
person still exists, though on a different plane of existence, where it doesn’t
need that clothing.

That was clear until the first human beings sinned, and did something
with their bodies that was destructive to their souls. Then it became unclear what
was the main thing and what was secondary. If one can use his body in a way that
is detrimental to the soul, then maybe the soul is not the essence. Maybe the body
is the essence, a physical being. At that point, HaShem decided that a corrective
measure was needed to indicate what is the main thing. He clothed them, in order
to conceal what is visible and seems to be the main thing. In a situation in which
it’s unclear that the soul even exists, He commanded us to cover the body, and thereby
enable us to focus on that which lies beneath the surface, which is the most important
thing.

The concept of immodesty is called gilui ervah. Ervah
is connected to the word arom, which means unclothed, which is connected
to the word armah, guile, which is connected to areimah, a heap, which
is also connected to ohr, skin, and iver, a blind person. A blind
man can only distinguish externals, by feeling his way about. A heap is something
of which you can only see the external. Someone who uses guile tries to fool you
by showing you certain externals, but doesn’t want you to see what his inner intentions
are. The skin is the external organ. Gilui arayos is the uncovering of the
externals and emphasizing them, taking away attention from that which is the essence
of the person.

The word tsnius means to hide away something that is valued,
something precious. In the laws of Shabbos, hamatznia is someone who
conceals an object of value to protect it. One who carries an amount significant
enough to be hidden away transgresses a Torah prohibition. Likewise, tsnius
in dress is not the covering up of something that is dirty, for there is nothing
dirty about the human body as far as the Torah is concerned. Rather, tsnius
is the concept of covering that which is meant to serve the neshama, and not contradict
it.