The Concept of Modesty (Part IV)

Why is that there are women today-who claim to be religious,
who claim to be believers in G-d and Torah-who clamor and have complaints about
their status as women in Judaism? Why do we have women who every Rosh Chodesh go
to the Western Wall in talis and tefilin, singing out loud in
front of the men? They claim that this is the only way they can get close to

It would seem that the motivation of these women is something
very holy. But I find it hard to believe that that is really their main
motivation. If you have ever read the stories of great tzadikim, you know
that their mothers usually played a crucial role in their development. The
mother of the Chazon Ish, the greatest Torah sage of his generation, was a woman
of exemplary righteousness. It’s hard for me to accept that she bemoaned the
fact that she could not wear talis and tefilin or go to the
Western Wall and sing out her heart every Rosh Chodesh. It’s also hard for me to
believe that this woman wasn’t interested in her relationship with G-d. That the
extent of her relationship with G-d was baking chocolate cakes, and therefore
these things didn’t bother her. Are the women of our generation so superior in
their concern for holiness that they need these things? I find that very hard to

So what is really going on? I’ll tell you. Stop a person on
the street and ask him: You can choose between two roles: in one you would be
center stage and famous; or you could choose to be behind the scenes, extremely
important, but people wouldn’t necessarily know who you are. How many people
would choose the latter? There are people who’d murder just to get their picture
in the newspapers! And it’s not a joke. There are people who have committed
murder, and when asked why they did it, they said that they felt they were
nobodies, but now people know who they are. For fame, publicity-people will do
anything. Parents pray that their children will become President of the United
States. What parent prays that their child will become an advisor to the
President, whose name and face nobody knows?

But this is not the Torah point of view. According to the
Torah, which was the most important place in the entire world? The Kodesh
HaKadoshim-a hidden place. Nobody
ever saw it except when the High Priest
entered it once a year; and that was in a smokescreen, so even he didn’t see it.
That which is most hidden is most holy. A person brought up in an environment
where Torah standards are taught, has no problem with a role that is behind the

For forty years the Chazon Ish learned in obscurity in a
little Beis Medrash in Vilna. He wrote the greatest books of his time,
and he didn’t sign them except in a hint. He begged Rav Chaim Ozer not to reveal
his identity to the world. “Let me continue to sit here in obscurity, because I
can grow much more this way.” And when he went to Eretz Yisrael, and became a
leading public figure, he did so against his will. That’s a Torah outlook.

But we’re brought up with different ideas. So it is no wonder
that women who want to be frum, but whose values are not Torah values,
feel frustrated in their relationship with G-d. They are trying to base their
Torah lives on a way of life and a set of values which is diametrically opposed
to Torah. I heard Rabbi Hollander say that someone who tries to base his Torah
on secular values doesn’t have 613 mitzvos, he has 613 problems.

However, once a person understands that the main thing is
that which is inside and not what is outside, then something else very
significant also has to be understood: Logically, if modesty is what we prize,
then the ultimate in modesty should be to walk around in tents, completely
covering our bodies. Why, then does the Torah allow clothing that, though
modest, nevertheless is attractive and enhances the appearance of the body? But
that’s just the point. The Gaon explains the verse in Mishlei: sheker
hachen v’hevel hayofi, isha yiras HaShem hi tsalel
. Charm and beauty are
vain and false, but in a woman who fears G-d, they are to be praised. When you
understand that the main thing is inside, and draw attention away from the
external, then the external itself becomes beautiful. It becomes that which
serves the inner spiritual essence.

This concludes our series on modesty.

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