Sunday, December 11, 2011

Modesty - What is it and some Jewish perspectives...

This afternoon I was walking in the park with my son, a friend and her daughter. We saw something that made both my friend and I detour and take our children away before their minds were polluted by the carryings on of two men who were in the park. These two men were lying together, one on top of the other kissing each other. Well, perhaps, I should not call it kissing but two men with their mouths glued together over each other and moving in a very suggestive fashion. It was nauseating. Absolutely nauseating and I would feel the same way if it was a heterosexual couple that I saw in a similar position but not quite so revolted, just sad that some people are so ignorant and lacking in self respect and dignity to behave in such a fashion in full view of the public.
In Jewish life, there are some things that are very private and not discussed in the open. In Jewish life and in the way we conduct ourselves in our personal life and even in our public life, we need to be above question and to be respectful of ourselves and others. Men and women do not touch or have intimacy before marriage, not because we are repressed or oppressed. We do so out of respect for the intimacy of a male female relationship that is above the pure animal instinct of procreation. The interaction of a man and a woman who have pledged themselves to one another under a huppa is a complex and intensely private relationship that allows for no other third party except for G-D himself. That tells us something about the sacred nature of the relationship of a man to his wife and vice versa. In the Hebrew word Ish (man) there is a an aleph, Yud and a shin. In the Hebrew word Isha (woman) there is an aleph, shin and a hey. One of the main names of G-D consists of a yud and a hey and it is simply this. If the union of a man and a woman has sanctity and holiness, it is whole because of this yud and hey that each partner will provide and the union is strong and blessed. If it is not based on G-Dliness or holiness then what letters are left? Simply the aleph and the shin which is Esh and esh is the word for fire or lust. What happens when the material lust of the the relationship is burnt up, there is only esh and ash. There is no spirituality or holiness to support and strength the bond between the man and the woman and thus they are on the level of animals who copulate for some time and then part ways. It is that greater bond - the holiness of a union that has sanctity that allows a man and a woman to see beyond the normal daily conflicts to the greater purpose of why they are together and what is their purpose in life. Humans do, all of us, we have a mission to fulfil in our time on this planet and in this existence, whether we like to acknowledge it or not.
The Jewish view of marriage goes beyond child bearing (although that is a part of it) beyond the physical into a relationship that is intense, spiritually elevating and transforming for both partners and ultimately long lasting and deeply respectful of both parties nature and role in the scheme of things.
We are holy beings and if we do not understand that and do not behave as though we are, we are selling ourselves and others short. We behave or should with modesty and discretion at all times. Modesty is more than just our outward physical behaviour. It controls our speech and the way we speak about others. It controls the way we discipline our children and the way we relate to our friends. Every time I learn more about how lax I have been in the past in some areas, even in the way I speak to my son, I realise I have not treated him with proper kivod or respect, even though he is a child. To engender respect in a child, you must give him respect and that is softly and gently. Guide him or her in the ways that he or she needs to go. Understand what sort of behaviour is worthy of him or her.
Modesty controls the way we walk, talk and think about the world.  I spoke to someone about reading a popular woman's magazine and I said this magazine is not modest and it is not tznuit to read about others and it is lashon hara. I have stopped reading them in Doctor's surgeries now because I came to a realisation that I was wasting my time on shtuss (nonsense) and was my life really enriched by the sight of David and Victoria half naked tattooed bodies with their children and their affairs, was it really my business and why should I make it so? It is lashon hara. It is pollution of the mind. I was told it is not lashon hara because it is dealing with non Jewish people and they are allowed to do what they like. It is not our affair. I disagree. Once you start splitting hairs and saying how you can read this sort of trashy magazine because it is about 'non Jews' and how do you know that they are not, some of them, Jews, albeit very ignorant ones? Why should we draw lines in the sand here? Isn't it better to be careful even respectful of non Jews and Jews alike and treat their modesty and privacy with equal dignity? It is nonsense to say we can look at magazines that show goyim in half naked states. We need to be careful and to understand that these magazines are powerful tools of the yetzer ra. We think, ahh, it can't hurt to have a little look. That is how the yetzer ra works. Just a little thread, just a little look, it will not hurt and we start to think about the strictness of our standards, maybe we are being harsh and too insular.
I have news for you. You cannot be too careful. We must be careful and we must be vigilant. We must uphold the laws of modesty in our speech, our dress, how we treat others, what we eat and how we eat and what we read and view. The vulgarity of this present world is pervasive and it allows many things that even twenty five years ago would be viewed with horror.
I was on a school camp several days ago and one student wore a dress that revealed more than was deemed modest even by today's lax standards. She was told by a young male teacher to change into something less revealing. She did but then she went and complained to the head male teacher about this fellow colleague of mine. I admired this young man's courage to stand up for a standard of dress and for standards in behaviour. It is rare in this permissive age.
Girls of today are allowed to look slutty and sexually open and available. In fact it is encouraged from an early age in these times. It is this sort of thing that decided me. I would not have a TV in my house because of the disrespectful and horrid way women and men are portrayed in a demeaning and uncivilised manner.
I do not want my son growing up seeing women as sexual objects to be used and discarded like bits of dreck. I want my son to have a wife that he respects and treasures as a dignified and modest human being who graces his life with many things other than just being a mother to his children. I want him to see the full picture, the deeper image of living a life that adheres to a Torah way of life. No wonder we have so many divorces and broken relationships and lives are confused. We need modesty and we need the calmness of a refined and delicate perspective on life.
Let this week be filled with brachot for all people and may we all understand modesty and the real meaning of tzniut in our lives and may our lives develop along a constant path of enrichment through respect and love of our fellow Jew and others.

Some interesting websites for us to peruse on modesty.

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