Tzniyus, we jump to the word’s translation of modesty. However, that translation doesn’t do it justice. Tzniyus actually is about measurement, putting things in its proper weights, and in fact, in one place in the Torah (when discussing proper measurements) it is used directly to mean weights and scales.
Up until the Chayt [sin] of Eitz HaDa’as [tree of knowledge], Adam and Chava walked around buck naked. And never noticed. After the sin, the first thing they notice, is “OMG, we’re naked!” What changed? Their eyesight? The feel of cool wind on bare skin? Nope. Not that. Their perception, their measurement of the value of each object is what changed.
Let’s examine the Chayt to understand it. Before Adam and Chava ate from the Eitz HaDa’as, Adam had a perception of what each object’s mission in the world was to be and also viewed everything as true and false, not right and wrong. The difference between true and false and right and wrong is that true and false cannot be blurred. There is no grey area in true and false equations. 1 + 1 = 2 – that statement is true. It is not right, it is truth that cannot be argued. Mitzvos are truths –that is why we call Torah, Toras Emes [a Torah of truth]. Before sinning, Adam and Chava knew that the wrong things were not just wrong, they were false, clashing against truth. After eating the fruit, they got the gift of “dimyon” of imagination, of blowing things way out of perspective.
So before Chayt, Adam and Chava saw each other naked and it meant nothing other than the truth of what it meant. Their physical attributes they knew were only to be focused on in the proper time, and they didn’t get sidetracked with their imagination blowing things up.
Let me explain it another way. The Gemorah talks about a couple who was very Tzinyusdik. The wife was missing one arm and the husband did not know that. The question the Gemorah asks is, “who was the more Tzniyusdike one?” I pose this question and get a kick out of hearing the reasoning. Some folks say, ‘the woman – she never uncovered herself.’ The Gemorah never said she didn’t uncover herself. Some say, ‘the man – he never looked at his wife.’ The Gemorah didn’t say that either. All it said was that he had no clue she was limbless. The Gemorah then answers that the man was the more Tzinyusdike one. Remembering what I just told you above, let us reason this out. The man saw his wife as a whole unit, a whole person, not just good boobs, nice eyes, hot legs and, oops, missing hand. He saw his comrade, his love, his soul mate. And, therefore, he did not get sidetracked into focusing on any limb and never noticed she was missing one.
That is also the meaning of the Midrash that talks about Avraham’s realization that Sara was beautiful. Isn’t it puzzling, as they near Mitzrayim [Egypt], suddenly Avraham wakes up and says, “hey, I’m married to a beautiful woman.” C’mon it can’t be that simple. Was he blind? So the Meforshim look at the scenario to figure out what is going on. And what is going on is that up until now Avraham knew he was married to a beautiful woman, the whole woman. However, as they neared Mitzrayim, Avraham took a look again, putting his view into the mindset of the Mitzriyim. And he got scared, ‘uh oh – I know she’s the most beautiful, but now I see the Mitzriyim will be able to focus on each aspect of her beauty in a base way, Through their eyes, they will be able to say, she’s one hot mama.” Therefore, Avraham hid Sarah.
If you look at the Halachos [laws] of Tzniyus, you will see that it is about keeping the whole picture of the woman in focus, instead of letting anyone take her apart into irrelevant pieces. The parts of our body we don’t have to cover are the face, the hands and the feet. Why those? The face is the word Panim, which can also be read to as P’nim [inside]. Our face, with its expressions, with its language, with its eyes to the soul, allows folks to get to know who we are inside. That is what we are allowed to show the world because that is our whole self. Our hands we are allowed to show, because that is our creativity – that we are allowed to show. And our feet are our balance and where we go and how we go – that we are allowed to show. All the things we are allowed to show are our uniqueness, the essence of our Neshama [soul]. The rest are things that would get folks sidetracked from who we are and would turn us into objects of imagination, leading to our being cheapened.
Jewish women, do yourself the favor of keeping your bodies within the framework of your whole personality by keeping the laws of Tzniyus. Don’t become random body parts.
NOTE TO READERS: I’m not original in thought in formulating this. Most of the material is based on the writing of Rabbi Shraga Silverstein’s amazing book: The Antidote: Human Sexuality, along with Shiurim by Rabbi Friedman and Rav Shimon Green.
postscript: There I was in shul listening to the reading of the Torah. Some women I know were there, too. The Torah reader got to the verse that prohibits the placing of a stairway in front of any altar and the words were intoned, “so that nakedness would not be revealed.” I looked around at the women listening attentively to the words, as their Chumash rested on their exposed thighs as their mini skirts crept upwards.
I thought, the Kohain wore a tunic so no thigh should be exposed, even as he was wearing trousers that covered his thigh! Holy women! How can we walk around in mini skirts?
A Sefer Torah is never shamed by being uncovered needlessly. When not in use, it is swaddled and put away. Why are Jewish daughters shaming themselves by uncovering their bodies to every wanton leering shmo-bagel? Why are some of our daughters’ skirts reminiscent of a hooker’s?
Bring back respect for our bodies. Tniyut – it’s about glorifying our daughters. Bring back Jewish pride – bring back the dignity of Tzniyut. The crowning glory of Jewish women is Tzinyut – let’s bring it back.
After all, if we really cared to understand, there was no mistaking that exposing a thigh wantonly is not our ideal.