Archive for Tzniut- Modesty

Dance to the beat

Dance to the beat

  As I was becoming more interested in learning Torah and exploring the ‘black-hat’ American Orthodox world, I discovered something very interesting. At a friend’s ultra-Orthodox wedding, I overheard someone of importance showing concern at the ‘laibidig’ fast-beat music that was being played. I remember saying to myself, “Man, get real. This is right-wing Jewish music. What’s your problem?” There are no women singers or naughty lyrics; it’s harmless. After doing some inquiries about the subject, curious that I am, I discovered the Rabbis (unofficially) are not in favor of fast-paced music; it makes the individual lightheaded. Although they will not implement any action against the fast-paced music, however, their disapproval is weighed heavily.
I felt that the Orthodox religious authorities were making a big deal out of this and are stifling the ability for the youngsters to let out some steam on the dance floor. Hey! I want to be religious and have a good time as well. Then a number of years later, I read an article in the New York Times about a new fast-beat music called trance, where there was concern on the behavior of the listeners. The rhythm and beat of trance is faster than Rock-n-Roll and R&B; the BPM reaches 140 as compared to Rock’s 120.The article showed reports of people caught speeding because of listening to the faster paced computer-generated music; it seems like it’s harder to produce that kind of speed with the conventional instruments. The response of the offenders was, “I just got carried away with the music and didn’t realize the speed”. Reports show a change of brainwave activities.
The Jewish Rabbinical authorities were concerned about the light- headedness that some music can cause. There is an argument among the Rabbis over the last 500 years when listening to music. Although they say it’s therapeutic, however, it has to be listened to at appropriate times. Judaism emphatically believes that the intellect should always be in control of emotions. Perhaps there should be some regulations or at least awareness of the affects of music.

Appreciating What One Does for You

            The King of the Jewish nation, Shaul, felt threatened by David who became very popular by winning one of the most lop-sided one-on-one battles in history, by beating the giant and heavily favorite, the ferocious Goliath. Goliath represented one of Israel’s archrivals, the Philistines. It was a tremendous show of courage and David became an instant hero. David was from the tribe of Yehuda where the kings were to be chosen from. Shaul, who came from the tribe of Benjamin, knew inevitably someone from Yehuda would become king. Later the prophet Shmuel anointed David the future king of Israel, which infuriated the present king. Shaul’s animosity became so great toward David that he wanted to kill him. However, as time went on, David became stronger, gathering up men to join him. In one of the more famous incidences in the Tanach (Prophets), David snuck up to where Shaul was sleeping, who was in the midst of chasing him, and cut Shaul’s garment. By demonstrating this act and showing it to him later, he wanted to be clear, as to convey that he has no hostility toward Shaul and how easily it would have been to kill him.’ I have no ill will toward you’; perhaps, Shaul should soften his stance towards him.
       It’s most puzzling that when David who was on his deathbed, he could not keep warm; he was constantly cold and no garment could make him comfortable. Apparently, he was being punished for cutting the garment of Shaul. But why? David wanted to make a point of strength; he wanted to make peace between them. Perhaps Shaul was humiliated, but, even so, it was not intended to be a malice act. Why was he punished so severely?
        In this week’s Parsha, we find Yaacov wanting to marry Rachel. He knew though, that her father, who has a reputation of a cheat, might trick him. Therefore, he gives Rachel signs that when implemented will ensure that indeed it would be Rachel he’s marrying. However, Rachel gives over the signs to her sister Leah, stating ‘I do not want my sister humiliated when Lavan’s plans foil and Yaacov discovers it’s Leah who he’s marrying and not me’.
       By Rachel giving over the signs, it fortified the marriage between Yaacov and Leah and through that union producing six out of the twelve tribes. In essence, Rachel sacrificed her having all of the twelve tribes because she did not want her sister Leah to be humiliated.
        The question Rabbi Olbaum asks, ‘I understand there’s no street lights and it’s properly pitch dark, but didn’t Yaacov realize it’s not Rachel he’s with? Even the breathing of a person is recognizable. If Yaacov was so careful with the signs, then wouldn’t he be as diligent and on the alert at this crucial juncture too? Nevertheless, the next morning he was surprised. How can that be?
       Our sages teach us that Rachel’s virtue was modesty, to such an extent that the sensitive Yaacov wasn’t able to discover and recognize her scent and voice. This characteristic of Rachel’s embracement of modesty enabled Leah to be saved. If it were any other woman, she would have been discovered. Clothing is the face of modesty; it creates a barrier from sinning. David, who is the descendant of Leah (from the tribe of Yehuda) cut the garment of Shaul (from the descendants of Rachel).
       In essence, you cut the hand that feeds you. If it weren’t for Rachel, where would Leah be? The modesty of Rachel saved Leah. David targeted one of the strengths of Shaul who also practiced, and was known for modesty, just like his ancestor. Seemingly, this lack of respect was a grave sin.
       We see modesty is one of the building blocks of Judaism and clothing is its vehicle. One of the reasons a Jew wears a Talit or Tzitzit is because it is a spiritual garment in which G-d gave us. It too is a garment that represents the foundation of Judaism to the highest degree.

Parshat Vayeira

First Portion

* We would like to believe we are not the same people we were years ago. Everyone would state, they have matured, been educated and have learned from life’s experiences. This is the general attitude of humans. Well, I hope we have matured and become better people. It’s frustrating to see those that have not.

In this weeks parsha our forefather Avraham’s status has been elevated. This is evident by the level of communication between G-d and Avraham. Its clear from the KAVOD that G-d has given Avraham by visiting that Avraham has evolved to a complete and upstanding individual. We learn some very important lessons from this section. First lesson we learn is visiting the sick, which G-d did by approaching Avraham after Avraham followed G-d’s commandment and circumcised himself. The one being afflicted is revitalized by the visit. Secondly, hospitality is of great importance; Avraham in great pain from his circumcision, still managed to accept guest with tremendous enthusiasm.

We see the relationship between G-d and Avraham is now on a higher level because of the circumcision. When G-d revealed himself to the non-Jewish prophet Bilam many years later, Bilam’s immediate reaction, peculiarly, was of great embarrassment for not being circumcised. It seams like there’s a connection between high level of spirituality and circumcision. Rabbi Baruch Dopelt asks why do we say at a brit ” just like he (this boy) has entered a covenant with G-d today so too will he be able to enter the threshold of Torah and mitzvot”? Why don’t we say it when he’s born? After all a Jew is a Jew circumcised or not. The Mystics say by having the brit and its ceremony spiritual energies are infused into the boy. These are the tools necessary to be able to comprehend the Torah in a different realm.There are also thirteen times, in last weeks parsha Lech Lecha where G-d mentions his covenant with Avraham. This is to offset the thirteen attributes of G-d. The Thirteen attributes of G-d is mentioned on Yom Kippur and is a focal point in our quest for forgiveness. It can only be applied if the Jew is circumcised. Rabbi Pesach Krohn teaches us with the infused energy that the boy gets at the brit comes a name. A name defines the task that this boy will do in life. This is the reason Avraham’s name was changed the day he was circumcised.
* “Where is Sarah your wife?” Oh, she’s in the tent”. From here we learn an importance lesson pertaining to women “modesty is a virtue”.
* “How can we have kids my husband is so old” Sarah proclaimed. What about you Sarah, you’re no spring chicken either? Here we see an ongoing occurrence in human nature. It’s the spouse that’s blamed for everything. If only we can appreciate our spouse and realize their good qualities we would have better marriages
* An important lesson is learned about keeping peace between husband and a wife. G-d altered the truth when he approached Avraham about what Sarah said. He asked Avraham; ” why did Sarah laugh and say how can we have kids, I’m so old”. In saying Sarah is old as opposed to what Sarah actually said – “my husband’s old”, Avrahams feelings weren’t hurt and it preserved peace between the couple. One has permission to alter the truth to preserve peace.
Second portion
* What compelled G-d to destroy the city of Sedom and Amora was an incident pertaining to one of Lott’s daughters. She once performed kindness and gave food to an old passer-by. Kindness, it seems, is against the law in Sedom. As punishment they hung her on a tree and spread honey all over her body and watched how she was tortured as the bees bit her to death. Her cries was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and propelled the all mighty to issue a death warrant to the entire city with the exception of Lot and his family.
Third Portion
* Although Lot had tremendous hospitality, a trait he learned from his uncle Avraham, never-the-less the fact that he offered his daughters as compensation not to harm his guest raises some eye brows
Fourth Portion
* Rabbi Moshe Feinstein relates a story when he was a young man about a colleague, who in one of his powerful sermons blamed Lot’s daughter for the despicable and immoral act of sleeping with their father. Add insult to injury one daughter named their offspring after the sin MO-AV, from the father. A while later Rav Moshe was informed that his friend is very ill. Upon visiting his friend, Rav Moshe was performing the commandment of visiting the sick, he sees that his friend’s throat is tremendously infected and can barely speak. ” Rav Moshe” the colleague said ” I know why I’m being punished. I had a dream shortly after one of my sermons. I was lying in bed and see two elderly woman standing besides me. It was Lott’s daughters. With a stern and angry tone of voice they accused me of slandering their name. They claimed they did the act out of complete sincerity and self sacrifice to preserve man-kind, figuring that civilization had been destroyed again. ” Instead of praising us you unfairly turned our deed and intentions into a sin, therefore you will pay with your life with punishment to your vocal cords”. Soon after Rav Moshe’s friend passed away. We learn never Judge anybody unless you’re in their shoes.
* Once again Avraham and Sarah marriage and morals are tested when Sarah was taken forcefully and brought to Avimelech the king of the Pilishtim. Avimelech intended on keeping Sarah for himself despite knowing that she might be Avraham’s wife. Although that information wasn’t clear. It didn’t require a rocket scientist to figure that Avraham and Sarah were more than a brother and sister.
* Because of Avraham and Sarah passing the test of the Avimelech incident (she had the opportunity to be Queen, and acqiure tremendous riches). However she chose loyalty to her husband. G-d said you preserved the test with the reproductive organ so I will reward you with a child through the reproductive organ. G-d rewarded them with their own child.
Fifth Portion
* It seemed Sarah was on a higher level then Avraham. Yishmael, who was Hagar the maid servant’s son (she had him with Avraham), was a bad influence on Yitzchak ( Avraham and Sarah son and the heir apparent to the Jewish nation). She demanded that Avraham send Hagar and her son Yishmael away. Avraham was faced with a difficult decision. What to do? Naturally he turned to G-d who advised him listen to your wife Sarah, ‘She knows”. We learn here the importance of maintaining the right environment for your children and yourself.
Kids tend to be very impressionable so one has to surround them with the right school, nice neighborhood and proper role models at home.
Sixth Portion
*Avraham and Avimelech make a treaty after Yitzchak was born.. As long as the descendants of Avimelech dwell on the land, no descendants of Avraham will wage war against them. This covenant was the reason later why Israel couldn’t capture Eastern part of Jerusalem. Avraham called the western part Yeru- to see G-d (holy place). Shalem, the eastern part was originally inherited by Noach’s son Shem. The name Shalem comes from Shem. In Yehoshua’s time the Philishtim lived in the Shalem, the eastern part. Although Yehoshua, the leader of the Israelites, conquered the western part, in honor of the treaty the Israelites refrained from entering the Eastern part. It wasn’t until the last descendant of Avimelech died after the time of Yehoshua did the children of Judeah took it.
Seventh portion
* The pride and Joy of the Jewish nation, the incident of the AKEDA which is so beloved by G-d. This is the primary weapon we use on Rosh Hashana to ask G-d for mercy and forgiveness
* The narrative prepares us for the next stage of life describing the future wife of Yitzchak, Rivka’s heritage.


The following are excerpts from the lectures of Rabbi Isaac Oelbaum.

          A man waltzes into synagogue one Sunday morning grinning from ear to ear, boasting that “I just came here with my brand new Lexus, it’s parked right in front”. During the course of the services while everybody was standing with their siddurs open, he was busy describing to them how he had bargained with the car dealer and how he got his price, and eventually startling the man by putting all the money down up front. “You should have seen his face when I wrote the check” he said with a snicker. One sure knows how to feel good when purchasing a fancy shmancy car!! Perhaps that is why G-d created friends, just so that one can show off in front of them!
          However, as they all walked out of synagogue, he was horrified to discover that someone had carved and scratched on to his front windshield the words MAZAL TOV!!
          In tractate Brachot, the Gemara relates an unusual story about Rav Nachman who approached a community eulogizer after he eulogized one individual as being modest. Rav Nachman asked “was he modest when he went to the bathroom?”
          Is covering up ones nakedness and being low key in the bathroom a barometer for being modest? That’s news to me! What about reading the New York Times in the bathroom for an extended period of time, is that considered violating the modesty laws in the lavatory? How about just the sports section?! Torah cannot be learned in the bathroom, so one has to read something, No?
          In order to properly understand the meaning of the Gemara’s statement, we have to explore modesty-TZNIYUT a little further.
          The commentaries say that modesty is extremely important and is actually a form of intelligence, because it resembles G-d’s traits. The Torah discusses an incident regarding Moshe after he saved Yitro’s daughters from the nasty shepherds by the well. Yitro’s daughters came to their father and informed him of what had happened and how they were saved by this unknown and mysterious man.
          Yitro’s response was AYO HAISH- where is the man. The fact that the man didn’t come to claim a reward, not bragging about how he protected the damsels in distress, means that he must be from the genealogy of Sarah. Sarah was the Jewish matriarch who modestly stayed in the tent while her husband Avraham hosted the guests, the three angels. In that incident, the Torah uses a similar word to the one Yitro used. The angels asked, “AHYEY SARAH ISHTECHA- where is Sarah your wife?”. They then blessed Avraham and Sarah that, G-d willing, by next year you shall have a boy.
          Yitro, knowing this, exclaimed, “don’t leave this man outside, bring him in quickly!!. Perhaps one of you may marry him. After all, the bracha comes from the modesty that Sarah, had shown.” As a side, this is one of the reasons Sarah merited having a son. The Sages emphasize that on Yitzchak’s behalf the whole world stands. And he only came into existence thanks to modesty. That’s the power of modesty.
          The Torah teaches us that the whole essence of a bracha is the fact that it’s hidden and modest. To prove this, one can simply observe that God himself remains not revealed. One cannot see G-d and no one ever did, at least not his face. Additionally, we know that there are no open miracles anymore. So too, bracha is best not revealed. The most holy and spiritual things are PNIMI-inward, hidden. Anything that is open and outwardly, one will not find a bracha there. Astonishingly, the Sages say that there is no bracha unless something is under the radar, in other words away from the eye, for perhaps it is the evil eye. A human, every human, has a bracha attached to it, and it is conceived in the confines of a private place. No eye sees the conception of the seed of bracha.
          But shouldn’t a bracha (on a fruit, for instance) be said out loud and not concealed?
          Yes, the bracha should be recited out loud, however it doesn’t go into affect until the fruit is swallowed, because that part is concealed and only then will the bracha kick in.
          In this week’s parsha  we read again about Kohanim. In Tractate Yoma the Gemara tells us about an extraordinarily modest woman named Kimchetuh. She was asked, “how did you merit to have seven sons and all served as High Priests? That’s quite an accomplishment!!”
          She answered, “I did not let the walls of my house see one speck of my hair uncovered”. WOW! As her reward, her boys will enter the holy of holies, where no one can enter and no one can see. Again, tzniut, modesty. It’s so important. The Kohen Gadol speaks to G-d privately, again in the most modest way. Tzniut, modesty, PNIMIUT, it’s crucial.
          The bathroom is the antithesis of PNIMI. It’s the most external act one can experience. Still, Rav Nachman was trying to emphasize that if one is modest  and private even in the most external act that a human can do, then and only then he can be labeled modest.

Invasion and the benefits of Privacy

Article found on the internet


So then…I answer the phone and a voice says, “Do you have a trampoline in your backyard?”
Actually, I do. But now that someone’s asking, I’m suddenly, inexplicably nervous about admitting it. “Who is this?” I ask. “This is Jean at Harry’s office. You asked us to re-quote your car and home insurance.” “Oh, right, right.” I recall now that I asked our insurance broker to check for lower premiums. “It’s still out to bid,” she says. “But one of the insurance companies asked me if that’s a trampoline in your backyard.” “Um, why are they asking?” I ask suspiciously. “Some insurance companies charge higher premiums for that – and some won’t even write policies for homes with trampolines because they’re so dangerous,” she explains. Suddenly I feel guilty that I’ve allowed my kids to gleefully jump, flip, roll, and twirl on that trampoline for years. It has a huge netting enclosure so I think it’s pretty safe – and so far, no injuries. Plus they’ve enjoyed lots of bouncing, laughing, exercise-filled fun in the great outdoors, so that assuages my guilt a bit. But the mildly accusatory tone of the question makes me uneasy about admitting it, especially now that I’ve learned it may affect my premiums. I ask a bit defensively, “Why do they suspect I have a trampoline anyway?” She says, “Oh, they Google-mapped your house. On the computer, they looked at an aerial view of your backyard, front yard, the house, driveway, everything.” “What? Are you kidding me? They’re looking at aerial photos of my home? That’s an invasion of privacy!” I object. “Oh, all the insurance companies do that now. Aerial photos make it easy for them to spot any trouble before they write policies. They typically do a drive-by in person too, but the aerial photos save a lot of time to eliminate bad prospects right away.” I’m outraged! This is sounding very Big Brother-y to me. Now I have to worry about what we happen to be doing outside when the satellite cameras pass overhead? What’s next? Will the insurance companies ask me: Hey, are those your kids playing with matches on the front steps? Fire Insurance: denied. Are you chasing a bee swarm with a blowtorch? Insurance denied. Is that you relaxing by the pool? Insurance denied. Are those beer bottles strewn around your backyard while you and your friends try to build a tree house in a palm tree? Insurance denied. Why is there a motorcycle in the pool? Insurance denied. I’m not saying these things happened – but if they did happen, that’s MY business! I’m just totally freaked out by the idea that someone can be sitting miles away in a little office watching what’s going on in my backyard on their computer screen. And how can they not be super judgy? Are they sitting there saying things like: Is that your third glass of wine? That honeysuckle bush needs watering. And what if they perfect thermal imaging so insurance companies can see what we’re doing INSIDE the house? Is that you sneaking Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at midnight when we specifically heard on our listening device that you swore to your family there was no ice cream left? Insurance denied. “So,” Jean says, bringing me back to the present. “DO you have a trampoline?” “That’s what they think, huh?” I hedge. “Yeah, they said they saw a big dark circle on the aerial photo of the backyard, so they figured it was a trampoline,” she says. “Maybe it’s a moon crater.” “Huh?” she says. “Or like a really big black round blanket I’m knitting for an orphanage.” “Yeah, OK, it’s a trampoline, so what. And yes, I will get rid of the trampoline. If that will make them happy! It won’t make my kids happy, I’ll tell you that. And I’m totally blaming it on the insurance company!” So I break the news to the kids, but they’re not too upset since they’ve had several good years on the trampoline and have started to outgrow it anyway. I then explain to them in elaborate detail how insurance companies can basically see anything that’s happening in our yard and driveway and possibly home – and that they will report back to me any suspicious behavior perpetrated by my children. They don’t believe me. Rubes. Meanwhile I consider thwarting the thermal imaging sensors by wearing a tinfoil suit whenever I dip into my secret stash of Ben & Jerry’s.
When a parent passes away, there is a tremendous pressure on the siblings as they try to make the necessary burial arrangements. There are many details and it’s difficult to focus on simple tasks.  There is emotional confusion as the heart does not except or comprehend  the tragic occurrence that just transpired. It’s not for naught that the Jewish Law is such that one is exempt from prayer until the deceased is buried. It’s impossible to concentrate. One seems to be living in a cloud.
 I had the entire Shabbat to think of what to say at the funeral which would be held right after Shabbat. Then plan was that afterward the family would all travel to Israel for the burial. I remember that, as I was in a helpless and confused state, the only quality I can think of in my father was that he always knocked on my door to my room and waited for me to say come in. He respected my privacy and I always appreciated that. Although many said I spoke well, I was surprised that I chose to speak about privacy.
 For many years I always wondered to why that particular attribute of my father stood out in such a situation?  After all, I had tremendous respect for him and he had so many qualities that stood out. In fact, it was my parents’ Shabbat table that has enhanced my love for life. Why the respect for my privacy was what I thought about at that moment?
Dr. Robert Goldman, Psychologist of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, suggests that there is a broader concept that’s actually in the forefront, that being Tzniut-modesty. “The concept of modest doesn’t exist at a infant or toddler stage” he says. Rather, only later does a child begin to understand that showing modesty and privacy is an essential part in his/her development of personal dignity. There are those who embarrass their children in public. This is a major violation. Children are people too and need to strengthen their personal dignity at a young age.
  There was a grade school Rebbi who would always knock on the classroom door before entering. Once, his students asked him “why do you knock before entering?” Many teachers make it their business to barge in and surprise the students, catching them in an uncompromising act. The Rebbi believed that it’s important to develop trust and that’s how, by the way, one develops a sense of self value.
We read in this week’s haftora ..VEH HATZNAI LECHET-walk humbly with your G-d. This walk should be in private, meaning, one develops a relationship with G-d privately. This is the reason why we read the first part of the AMIDA, a very important prayer, quietly . It’s the main form of developing a relationship with G-d. Sometimes, one can display his love for G-d in public. But, for the most part, man needs the intimate relationship with his Creator.
  Astonishingly, we recite in our prayers MAH TOVU OHALECHA YAACOV MISHKANOTECHA YISRAEL. Does anybody know who uttered the phrase?  It’s found in this week’s parsha. The wicked Bilam, out of all people, an evil  man who reached the ultimate lowest level man can reach,  uttered this very high praise when he saw the Israelite camp from above on the mountain. Thinking to himself, he was impressed that all the entrances  of their tents were systematically pitched in the opposite direction of their neighbor’s entrances so that privacy can be preserved. Even though Bilam’s words of praise were forced out of his mouth by G-d, as he intended to curse the Jews, nevertheless, this impressive praise of modesty is a staple of our character. Modesty is a vehicle in which we can ride to the Gates of Heaven.
One of the more important lessons of “MAH TOVU OHALECHA YAAKOV ”  can be applied to the privacy of a married couple. It’s inevitable that couples will fight, however, for the most part, they will also usually make up. However, when the in-laws, neighbors or friends barge in unannounced during one of those heated moments, they can fan the fire and cause irreparable damage.
   Jewish law has great respect for privacy. If you want to build a home overlooking another home, you cannot do it in such a way that you would be able to see into your neighbor’s courtyard from your window. It would be an invasion of privacy. Gossiping about others or making judgments about their behavior is also prohibited because it means you are looking into an aspect of their existence that is not open to your scrutiny. It’s private, between them and G-d, and if you judge them, you’re trespassing.
  Ever wonder why we received the Torah in the desert. The desert is a secluded place, it’s nice and private. G-d bonded with us there by giving us the Torah and we accepted it. Similar to a couple who gets married; the bride accepts the ketubah. The Jews needed some “chill time” alone with G-d. The honeymoon lasted 40 years. A couple needs their chill time, their intimacy, their privacy. We learn an important lesson from our accepting of the Torah. It’s vital for the couple to have their time alone in order for the marriage to sustain itself.
 When a parent passes away, there is a sense of abandonment; “they left too soon” is the consensus of many children, even though they lived to a ripe old age. Many feel that the value of life is diminished by their passing. These are the people who instilled within us a sense of worth. A parents’ job is to teach children the lessons of life. However, now that these teachers of humanity, of Torah values, have abruptly left us, our personal dignity, at least momentarily, is diminished as well. Therefore, on a subconscious level, one can feel a loss of this personal dignity, self worth and self value.
 We stayed at my parent house that Shabbat before the funeral and before traveling to Israel for the burial.  We actually slept in my old room. I couldn’t help imagining hearing the knock on the door of my room and envisioning my father anticipating to come in.  He built in me human dignity by preserving my privacy. The words from the heart, from the subconscious, came out at the eulogy that I gave as a result.