Celebrations - Weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, births; these are the joys of life, the icing on the cake, our raison d'être. These milestones are gifts from Hashem which inject us with happiness, thereby encouraging us to continue on in our daily struggles. We invest so much time, money and energy preparing for ‘the big day’ that oftentimes our goals are misplaced. As it comes and goes in a wisp of time we are left with nothing but precious memories and photographs. Yet if we plan these events with the holiness with which they were intended, priceless memoirs will be engraved in the upper worlds as well. This is a reflection of life itself.
As with Shabbat and Yom Tovim (Jewish holidays), one of the basics of organizing a Simcha (happy occasion) is acquiring fine-looking clothes to wear. Of course, we desire to look nice for our guests, our family members and for ourselves but this is secondary to the real reason for looking our best. We want to beautify the mitzvah and present ourselves to Hashem as one would to a King. Each of these occasions has a root in kedusha (piety) and that should be our main focus. The fact that we begin a wedding ceremony, Shabbat meal and a brit mila (ritual circumcision) with a Kiddush over wine is an indication of its sanctity. Marriage is a covenant not only between man and his wife, but with Hashem as well. Without His involvement, there would be no spiritual union at all. Our Heavenly Father is ever present in the lives of a married couple, so much so that without G-d’s consent and participation, a baby cannot come into the world. In fact, to “be fruitful and multiply” (Bereshit/Genesis 1:28) is a mitzvah and an obligation within the holy bond and we pray to be able to fulfill this joyful responsibility.
We were recently blessed to make a wedding as the parents of the Chatan (groom), B”H. Since money is tight in our household, I chose to make use of the local gemach, a volunteer-run store which lends out dresses for special occasions. This is very common in Israel and a great help to many who cannot afford to buy new clothes for one-time use. After two attempts, I finally found something I really liked and felt comfortable in but some members of my family were not happy with my selection. The dress I chose wasn’t ‘modern’ or ‘in-style’ and being brown, it was a difficult color to accessorize, but to me it displayed modest elegance and that was all I cared about. Nonetheless, I appeased my objectors by taking a shopping trip into Jerusalem to look for a new dress.
We ended up in a store frequented by religious woman so I didn’t think there would be any question as to the tsniut (modesty) of the clothes. Out of all the beautiful dresses on display, I zoned in on a gorgeous, deep purple gown with sequined shoulder straps and waistband. Purple is one of my favorite colors and the sophistication of this gown was indescribable. I asked the sales clerk for the price since I was certain it would be well out of my range. Amazingly, it was quite reasonable and to top it off, it was on sale; but ONLY this dress, in this color! They had the same dress in different colors but not for the same low price. I couldn’t believe it! What good fortune that HaShem was helping me buy a great dress…. or so I thought at first.
I went into the change room and tried it on. It fit perfectly! Wow! Both the sales girl and my shopping companion were in awe and told me how fantastic I looked in it. I must say, I did agree, but there was one slight problem. I didn’t feel tsnuah (modest) at all. Yes, I was covered from neck to toe with arms, chest and legs covered completely, but I felt it drew too much attention to my body. No, I’m not young nor am I an eye-catching model, but I would be in full view of the entire wedding assembly under the Chuppah. I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of anyone looking at me inappropriately. I had to be comfortable in this dress but instead I felt more like I should be walking down the red carpet in Hollywood. Despite my neshama (soul) begging me to walk away, its beguiling glamour was drawing me to it like a bee to honey. I was having so much conflict over the fact that it was marketed as a modest dress, that I called a couple people for guidance who I knew would understand my quandary. The one piece of advice which really clinched my decision was “If you are hesitant to buy it, you will probably be more hesitant to wear it on the wedding day.” That was the truth so I turned around and out the door.
I have been trying to live my life in a certain way, with holiness and modesty. To let myself be swayed by materialism and the opinion of others would be self-defeating and a complete lack of emuna. What really astonished me were the lengths to which the yetzer hara (evil inclination) went in order to trip me up. Not only was the dress my favorite color and a beautiful style, but it was the only one on sale! That’s quite a low blow considering ‘he’ knows my financial situation.
The joyous event is now over. I wore the elegant brown and gold dress in comfort and humility without the need to compromise my values with flashy extravagance. The purpose of the nuptials is the re-uniting of two souls and the creation of a “Bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael”, a home faithful to the traditions of Israel, plain and simple. It’s not a beauty competition.
The Midrash says that the Jews merited redemption from Egypt because they refused to adopt the Egyptian culture. “In the merit of righteous women of that generation, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” Our sages tell us that in the merit of righteous women, Israel will once again be redeemed. Being modest is one of women’s obligations that has the ability to tip the scales. Please join me in strengthening ourselves so we may soon be privileged to witness this miraculous day, may it be His will.
(For more information on the subject of modesty, I recommend Rabbi Brody’s disc “Your Beauty”)