As my kids grow up, one of the things I've been struggling with is the idea of letting them make their own mistakes, and finding things out for themselves. This is something that a lot of people who didn't grow up 'religious', but who now have the privilege of keeping Torah and mitzvoth struggle with.
It took me eight years, and numerous difficulties, 'signs' and messages from Hashem for me to decide to start covering my hair, for example. I only did it once I realized that my level of modest dress and behaviour, or tznius, was having a very big impact on my marriage, and also on my income.
But if I'm honest, it wasn't that way round. I decided to cover my hair, at least initially, because we'd hit such a rough patch financially, we were weeks away from going bankrupt, and having to sell our home. I stuck the bit of cloth on my head as a 'bribe' to G-d, to get my bank account sorted.
It didn't work. Or at least, it didn't work immediately, the way I wanted it too. We still had to sell up and move, Baruch Hashem, which was an enormous blessing in disguise. But what did happen immediately was that my relationship with my husband got instantly, amazingly, stronger.
When you're going through hardships, extreme financial pressures, failing businesses, exploding careers, unhappy children, in-law issues etc etc etc, it can put a lot of pressure on even the best marriages, and we were both feeling very distant and 'estranged' because of everything we were going through (this was before we really learnt to manage things via turning to G-d and having emuna…)
I stuck the hanky on my head and hey presto! I was back as part of 'Team Levy'; I was no longer trying to fight all the overwhelming stuff alone, by myself, with my husband in the opposing corner. For the first time in months, we felt like we were back 'together'.
Since then, I've had other lessons to teach me the importance of modesty; like when my daughter was sick for months with 'flu' and 'asthma' that was going from bad to worse. As I've written about in detail elsewhere, within a couple of days of me upping her modesty, and downing her hem lines, she was a completely different person.
I've seen so many examples, first and second hand, about how modesty guards a home, guards the people in it, guards their physical health, their mental happiness, that I'm completely sold on it, even though it's still sometimes hard going.
But that's me. My kids are a different story. What my kids know is that a lot of their friends are wearing shorter skirts, or less modest styles, and they also like the look of it. Sometimes, they'd like to try that clingy dress, or shorter skirt - particularly the older one.
This is where G-d has been teaching me an amazing lesson in giving way, and allowing my children to choose to go 'down' in order for them to ultimately choose to go 'up'. I want my kids to dress modestly because they want to. Not because they are trying to make me happy, or trying to fit in, or because I'm scaring them or guilting them into it.
I recently heard a Rav Arush class, where he explained that G-d is giving us everything as a present, even our mitzvahs. If that's true, then how can we be rewarded for doing what we do? Simple: we get rewarded for the happiness with which we do our mitzvoth. If we begrudge or resent doing them, or we're doing them on automatic pilot, the reward we get is very, very small.
People do mitzvoth unhappily when they feel they have no choice, and they've been coerced into it.
I don’t want my kids to do mitzvoth like that. Which is why, sometimes, I know I have to let go of what I know, and what G-d wants, to let my kids choose 'holy' for themselves.
Which brings me to the dress. My oldest saw a dress in a local store that she loved at first sight: it was a brown bikini-style halter top, with different coloured material attached to form the body of the dress.
I knew she was going to wear it with a top and skirt underneath, but I still felt it was too tight in all the wrong places, and showy, so I talked her out of it, and bought her a different, nicer, more expensive outfit instead. Phew!
Except the next day, my daughter was talking to me about the dress, and explaining how she'd never liked any piece of clothing so much in her life, ever before. I knew we'd hit a spiritual crossroads. I knew that underneath, we were talking about a lot more than 'the dress' - my daughter was really testing out to see if she had free choice, if she was choosing mitzvoth, or just doing them because I was shoving them down her throat.
I asked G-d what to do, silently, in my head, and the answer really surprised me: "Let her buy the dress!" Okay, G-d, I'm not so sure it's a good idea, but I'm willing to admit that You usually know best….
Against my better judgement, she bought the dress, and she was all bouncing joy and happiness and sparkling eyes. She wore the dress for Shabbat, a couple of days' later, and I complimented as sincerely as I could manage (even though my evil inclination was still begging me to put the emotional boot in, and be all stern-faced and disapproving and 'down' on her.)
Thank G-d for Rav Arush and the Garden of Education, because that book taught me that making my daughter feel loved and cared for and understood ALWAYS takes precedence over guilt tactics and manipulations and emotional terrorism to make her do what I want.
She wore the dress proudly; she felt great; she was all bouncing steps and sparkling eyes. For five minutes. I noticed as the night wore on, that my daughter was fiddling an awful lot with the dress straps and bodice. Her smile wore off (a bit) and I could see that by the end of the night, she was thinking deep thoughts.
That was the first, and only, time she wore that dress. A few days' later, she gave it to a friend. Again, my evil inclination was trying to get me to ruin it all by opening my big mouth to deliver a classic 'told you so' comment. Thank G-d, the big picture of Rav Arush that I have in my living room helped me to keep shtum, and to let my daughter learn her lesson by herself, the way G-d intended.
I'm not claiming to have solved the modesty thing with my kids. I see how the skirts are getting shorter, and the tops are getting more outrageous, even in the 'religious' neighbourhood that I live in, and I know there'll be more challenges down the path.
But for now, I'm grateful that G-d showed me that when I let go, and get G-d involved in educating my kids, He pulls some amazing miracles out of His back pocket. At least for now, my daughter is off tight halter top dresses, Baruch Hashem. And every day that she herself chooses that path, happily, is simply priceless.
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Check out Rivka Levy's new book The Happy Workshop based on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush