Covering What is Precious
The concept of covering what is precious extends beyond material possessions and encompasses our conduct in various aspects of life, including religious domains. Just as we tend to value and appreciate something more when we don't constantly flaunt it, the same principle applies to our relationship with the sacred.
In Judaism, there are specific practices that reinforce our awareness of the holiness associated with certain objects. For instance, when a prayerbook is not in use, it is kept closed, symbolizing that it is reserved for sacred moments. Similarly, phylacteries, known as tefillin, are stored in a cloth bag when they are not being worn. And when a Torah scroll is not being read, it is covered. These actions serve to preserve a sense of reverence and remind us of the sanctity inherent in these objects.
This principle of covering the sacred extends beyond physical items and influences our behavior in other areas as well. As we strive for greater holiness and spiritual connection, we are encouraged to embrace humility and modesty. This is not limited to our conduct within the confines of a place of worship but permeates all aspects of our lives.
The Code of Jewish laws emphasizes the importance of modesty, drawing from the verse "You shall walk modestly with your G-d."(Micha 6:8) It instructs individuals to be mindful of their behavior, even in private settings such as getting dressed or undressed. The understanding is that we should never assume that we are alone and unseen, for the presence of the Divine is ever-present. The glory of the Holy One, Blessed be He, fills the universe, and both darkness and light are equally visible to Him.
Thus, the idea is to cultivate a constant awareness of being in the presence of the Divine. We are encouraged to conduct ourselves with modesty and reverence, recognizing that our actions are observed by a higher power. This perception helps us maintain a sense of awe and respect for the sacred, irrespective of our physical surroundings.
In Judaism, there is a belief that women possess inherent qualities that contribute to the world in unique ways. Modesty is regarded as one of these qualities, and it is believed to be woven into the fabric of a woman's being.
The story of Chavah, commonly known as Eve, is often cited as a foundational example in understanding the connection between women and modesty. Chavah and her female descendants were especially endowed with binah (understanding) (Niddah 45b) We can only use this faculty if we can see beyond others' external and into their true selves. We best do this when we have learned how to see beyond our own external trappings.
According to Torah, Chavah was created from the rib of Adam, symbolizing her connection and unity with him. It is noteworthy that the rib, unlike other parts of the body, is concealed and internal. This physical construction has been interpreted as a representation of Chavah's predisposition towards modesty. Just as her physical form was designed to be hidden and protected, her emotional and intellectual makeup are believed to reflect a greater potential for modesty as well.
Modesty, in this context, extends beyond the mere external display of modest attire or behavior. It encompasses a deeper sense of self-awareness and an understanding of one's place in relation to others and the Divine. It involves recognizing and valuing the inherent dignity and privacy of oneself and others. The teachings of Judaism encourage women to embrace and cultivate modesty in various aspects of their lives. This includes how they dress, speak, and interact with others. By embodying modesty, women contribute to an environment of respect, honor, and spiritual elevation.
One who embodies true modesty has already developed an inner sense of security, self-esteem, and meaning in life. Both men and women are required by Jewish laws to dress and comport themselves modestly and to speak in a refined and dignified way. It is important to note that modesty is not solely a quality attributed to women in Judaism. Men, too, are encouraged to cultivate modesty in their thoughts, actions, and interactions. Modesty is seen as a fundamental aspect of human character, to be embraced by both genders.
The emphasis on modesty does not imply a limitation on a woman's potential or her ability to engage with the world. Rather, it highlights the unique qualities she brings to her interactions and relationships. Modesty allows for the recognition and appreciation of the inner beauty, strength, and wisdom that women possess.
By nurturing and embodying modesty, women fulfill their role in contributing to a balanced and harmonious society. They create an atmosphere of dignity and honor, promoting a deeper understanding of themselves and the Divine presence in their lives. Modesty becomes a means through which women express their unique identity and positively impact the world around them.