Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
I dedicate this article for our esteemed women readers, may Hashem bless you always.
Men, if you read this article, I implore you not to use it as a weapon against your wife. You concentrate on your own teshuva and personal holiness, and let her focus on hers.
I hope this article will catch you at the last minute before you buy your new outfit for the High Holidays. If not, my prayer is that you'll at least read this before Rosh Hashana and before you decide what you'll wear to synagogue.
Image courtesy of cinemafest/shutterstock.com
Remember, you'll be in the synagogue to pray, and certainly not to participate in a fashion show. The women who flaunt themselves and crave for attention are far from happy. How can they be? There can be no happiness in a place devoid of Hashem's Holy Presence. Hashem cannot dwell in where there's immodesty or promiscuity.
In fact, this entire generation sorely lacks genuine happiness; so much so, that many people don't even know what it is. The reason we all long so much for the Geula - the full redemption of our people - is that we all know that something has to change. The emotional sickness of this generation, with all the depression and despair, is unprecedented. Hi-tech and material amenities have brought us convenience, but the number of people seeking psychological and psychiatric help continues to grow from day to day. What's wrong?
The Chatam Sofer of blessed and saintly memory wrote some two hundred years ago, "This final exile is worse than all other exiles, and the curse of each day is worse than the day before, because in the previous exiles there was no lack of modesty among women, and in the final exile, lack of modesty is rampant among women, and this is worse than any other violation of Torah."
Stop and think! The Chatam Sofer was talking about his generation, when the immodest women were more modest than today's modest women! What would the Chatam Sofer say if he were alive today? What would we say if he saw giant billboards on every corner, IPhones and internet?
We are like children who were born in a cave and have never seen the light of day. We have no idea what true modesty is. To understand just how far we've drifted from modesty, here's a story about the Head Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, of saintly and blessed memory:
A terrible plague broke out in Jerusalem, that struck women predominantly, and particularly young women. Many people lay on their death beds, Heaven forbid. Shrieks of grief emitted from every other window in the city. The wise men of Jerusalem sat down together to see what they could do about the situation, and how they could possibly terminate or at least mitigate this ever-so-stern edict from Above.
Rabbi Salant rejected all the proposals. He said that none of them will be effective without teshuva and a real change of conduct. He added that the prayers and fasting would only be effective once the people of Jerusalem eradicated the evil in their midst.
The Kabbalists and tzaddikim of Jerusalem decided to fast for three days, begging Hashem to reveal the source of Jerusalem's troubles. They received a Heavenly message that the Divine Presence left the people of Israel because of a new fashion style, which was simply a belt that the young women began to wear that accented their figure.
A directive from Rabbi Salant's Bet Din ordered the women to immediately stop wearing those belts. The upright woman of Jerusalem and the innocent young girls had no idea how seriously the belts compromised their modesty. They heeded the directive, and the plague ended immediately!
Let's stop and think once more: Rabbi Salant was the Head Rabbi of Jerusalem in the late 1800's. The women of Jerusalem back then were impeccably modest. All they did was add a belt around their waste that accented their upper anatomy. That was enough for the Divine Presence to leave them! What would we say today? We'd be delighted if our most modest women would dress like the old-style Jerusalem women, even with their belts!
Now we can understand what the Zohar teaches, namely, that the evil inclination's prime target is personal holiness. Our greatest challenge is to preserve our modesty and holiness despite the evil inclination's ever-so-powerful attempts to erode both. Our Torah learning, prayer, and mitzva observance lose all value unless we closely guard all aspects of personal holiness.
At Rosh Hashana of all times, when we're literally in the King's Palace, we're under close scrutiny. Let's start the year of right by strengthening our modesty. Yes, it's a strong test of emuna to ignore the chiding of all the foolish women who call you "prude" and "out of style", but don't heed them and certainly don't be jealous of them. Any woman who prevents another woman from doing a mitzav - especially strengthening modesty - is called a machshilat rabim, a public obstacle to teshuva; such people's prayers go unheeded. Even worse, they can never do teshuva.
For each tiny improvement in modesty, you'll see big blessings, especially with your children. May you and your family be inscribed in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year 5773, amen!