Q & A: Tznius

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Dear Inside Out,

I was just wondering what you think the right approach is in talking to girls who are frum girls, but can’t seem to find the beautiful meaning in tznius? How should one explain to them these important things?

-Yosef

Dear Yosef,

So good of you to write. Good question! Of course, both frum girls and not frum girls alike struggle with the mitvah of tznius (modesty). It is indeed a difficult mitzvah.

In my opinion the message is the same. If girls, whether frum or not, recognize that they are ultimately a soul and that the truest, deepest part of who they are is hidden within, then they should be aware of the need to emphasize the inside over the outside.

There is a very strong yetzer hara (evil inclination or non-mitzvah doing pull) against dressing tznius. With fashions being what they are and with a girls need to fit in and to express herself, it is very difficult to dress modestly and put ones looks to the side. I also love fashion and it can be hard for me at times too, with all the styles seen on the streets.  However there is something to be said about making tznius personal and that’s what I advise girls to do.

I would say to these girls to take one small step at a time. Not to become a long black skirt, turtleneck wearing Rebbetzin that they can’t relate to, but to take on one thing. If they could commit to just wearing a skirt instead of pants, maybe they would see that they still feel like themselves and fashionable in a skirt they like! Too many times girls think dressing tznius means dressing ugly, but it doesn’t have to. There are so many ways to make a “regular skirt” a tznius one and there are so many fashionable skirts and tops on the market that just happen to be tznius.

The last thing I would say is: this is what G-d wants from us. At the end if the day, we want a relationship with G-d. Just like we can’t have a good relationship with our spouse if we constantly ignore his request to keep our alarm clocks on vibrate or to take out the trash in the evenings, we can’t have a good relationship with G-d if we ignore his heed to cover our bodies and focus on our souls. Hashem does for us constantly and this is what he asks of us. The least we can do is try. Any steps we make towards tznius is a step we make closer to our ultimate goal of coming close to our Creator.

Let me know of anything else I can do to help! I’m happy to speak with or shop with any girls who would like!

From my soul to yours,

Ashley

Our Everlasting Soul: Connecting with the Mikveh during the High Holidays

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mikveh

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time for refreshing. They mark the start of the new Jewish year and they give us an opportunity to wipe away our sins and reconnect to the Creator.

Similarly, the mikveh is a refreshing for our souls. When a woman goes to the mikveh each month, she has the opportunity to look within and analyze herself. She asks herself questions, such as, did I improve myself this month? Have I focused more on what is important to me this month? Have I worked on my marriage? On my relationship with my children? With G-d?

When a woman goes to the mikveh, it is a time to spiritually wipe away sins and hit the refresh button. She hits the refresh button on herself, on her marriage, and on her relationship with G-d. In this experience, she gets to start again. She gets to re-experience herself as a woman, as a Jew, and as a wife and mother. She gets to re-relate to herself and her essence. It is a day for inner revitalizing.

I am recently married and when I first learned of the mikveh experience I was a little hesitant. I would have to dip into a pool of natural waters each month completely naked?! It seemed unconscionable and contradictory to what it meant to be a Jewish woman. However, it is very much so in line with being a Jewish woman. A Jewish woman is primarily and constantly focused inward and on her soul. She recognizes she is a divine being with a divine mission in this world. She knows her body and her clothes are just externals and temporary- but her soul, her essence, is real and everlasting.

When I experience the mikveh, I remember this- my body is temporary, my soul is eternal. My first few experiences have been deeply spiritual and overall self-awakening. Each time at the mikveh I have a chance to introspect and connect. I take time just to myself, and remember who I am and what I am doing here. I am a soul.

On the High Holidays, we also have this chance. We reconnect and realign ourselves with who we are and what we’re doing here. We ask for a relationship with King of the World and we make sure we are worthy of one as well. It is in this time of the year, we remember: I am a soul. I have a mission in this world; a purpose. On these days, we concentrate on our actions and recognize a moment with a potential for spiritual change is upon us. We want to take advantage of these opportunities to enhance ourselves and our relationships. We want to make this special moment (the one of the High Holidays and the one of the mikveh day) everlasting.

May we use these opportunities to reconnect to ourselves, to our spouses, and to our Creator and may we remember, forever, we are a soul.

Finding Freedom On Pesach

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Part 2 of Why I Dress Modestly

 

How does dressing tznius make me feel more free than dressing “freely”?

freedom

G-d commanded us to cover up, to hide ourselves, just as He is hidden in this world. To be like G-d is to exalt one’s physical self to a spiritual level; to the level that G-d is on. G-d transcends physical reality and asks of us that we do the same. By connecting to G-d, to a force greater than myself I give my life more meaning, purpose, and energy. By being connected to the Creator, I am being connected to the origination of creation.

Imagine being sent to a new job. You are put in a room with a computer, desk, and chair. No one is there to tell you what to do, but beforehand you were told that if you complete the first week’s work, you will receive $5 million dollars. However, if the work is not completed at the end of the first week, you will not be paid and will ultimately lose your job. Imagine the panic you would feel in that office-alone-with no one to ask what to do and $5 million dollars on the line. Imagine the lengths you would go to to find out your task, to find out your role.

That is life without Torah. It’s as though coming into the job with no roadmap as to how to receive the “paycheck” at the end.

When I discovered Torah, my task, my roadmap, was opened up to me and I was free. My decisions are made easier, my trials are more manageable, and my perceptive is clearer. That to me, is freedom. Dressing tzniusly each day reminds me, I am connected to the Creator and I have a job to do. I know my job and I am free.

I’m Selfish. And Proud.

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Part 1 of Why I Dress Modestly

“I’m happy to share my jewelry, my books, my thoughts, my time…but let me keep one thing though. Just let me keep my pride.”selfish girl

Growing up as a middle child, I was told I had to share. Chinese food containers were put in the center of the table, drinks were pulled out of my hand and slurped on by my sister, fries were snuck off my plate and eaten by my brother.  The remote control was often a pawn in a tug-of-war game and chocolate was always gone before I could finish opening the wrapper. Like I said, I had to share.

And then, when I got older, I shared a house with 100 sorority sisters, a dorm room with 50 and a shower with 20. I went off to Israel and shared an apartment with 6, a bedroom with 3 and breathing room on the train with 100s. I share my secrets all too often and my time is up for grabs. I write a blog about my thoughts and a Facebook shared with plenty…but I wear a long sleeve shirt, a skirt and tights. Finally, a place not shared.

So, why do I dress modestly? Because, I’m selfish with my body. And proud.

 

I am…Beautiful

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littlegirlmirror

As an assistant second grade teacher in a Jewish school, I am privy to the ins and outs of a bunch of little girls’ minds. I have the opportunity to see up-close and personal, all the fights, the jokes, and self-discovery moments. I get to see the times they are strong and the times they are weak. I see which girls are brave and which girls are shy. I also see the moments they might not want me to…

I was taking my students to lunch one day, when I overheard some of them jabbering to each other, using a phrase all too familiar to me from my sorority days. The phrase went a little bit like this…I’m.So.Fat. That phrase, those three words, instantly took my attention away from lunch pass hand-out. “Girls,” I said, looking at them sternly. They giggled a little, “What?”

“I never want to hear any of you saying that again, OK?” I said. They giggled again. “But I am….”One stammered, giggling again. I took a deep breath. “No, no,” I said. “Try again, I am…” I said, trying to redirect them the same way I do in a writing lesson. “Fat?” One answered. “No,” I said, trying again, “I am…”

“Um…beautiful?” Bingo, I thought. Just the word I was hoping for. “That’s right,” I said, “Say it over and over…I am beautiful just the way Hashem made me.” All through the hall some of them repeated it, and then for a few days after, but then it began to fade, until it wasn’t mentioned. It still troubled me, though.

I lived in a sorority house for three years. There were about 100 of us living in this one house, together. During my years of living in this house, starting from about January 1-Spring Break, weight loss was the number one topic on most of the girls’ minds. They hung clippings of thin models in bathing suits above their closets, wrote “YOU WANT TO BE SKINNY” on their mirrors, complained about an extra inch of fat around the waist line every evening and woke up dreading bathing suit season every morning. It became an out and out obsession. For most of these girls, little mattered more to them than, this in those months. Fact: Most of these girls were average weight-very thin. Fact: Most of these girls spent more of their time concerned with weight gain over ANYTHING else, including school, character, and even friendships. Fact: There was never a Skinny that was Skinny enough once Skinny was the goal. Now, some of these girls were beautiful, wonderful, intelligent people. They had motivations, aspirations, a whole bucket worth to offer. But when they were obsessing about weight, all they saw was the extra pound they wanted to lose.

Skinny-Mirror

The Torah teaches us that Hashem created us in His image. Hashem, the All Mighty, Creator of the World, is not human. He has no body, no physical features and of course, we cannot see him. So what does this mean? Well, it must not mean physically in His image then. It must mean, in his likeness, in his essence. It must mean then, that the part of us that is like Hashem is also hidden.

When Hashem created the world He worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. After each day, He would see what He had done and say “It is good.” That is, until the sixth day, when Hashem created man. On that day, Hashem saw what He had created and said “It is very good.” Hashem saw all that He had done and deemed it “good,” and even more so, He created man and deemed it “VERY good.” Hashem, being all powerful, could have made us however He wanted. Hashem chooses and chose to make us, as we are. If Hashem, the Creator of the World, thinks we are “very good” why do we think we are not? Here is a story:

There was once a very talented shoemaker, who was sought out by all the people in the land. He created the most beautiful, unique, and dazzling shoes. People came from far and wide to buy a pair of these one of a kind gems.

One day, the man was working very hard on a pair of shoes for the Princess. The princess, gorgeous as she was, was peculiar. It was known across the land, that the princess had long blonde hair, tiny blue eyes, and very, very large feet! The shoemaker had never made shoes of this size before, but it had been his dream to make shoes for the royal family! What could he do? After all, she was the princess. So, the shoemaker labored for days and days, creating a pair of unique and beautiful shoes fit for the large feet of the princess.

It was on a certain night, when he was working very late, when he fell asleep. When he awoke, his shoe was talking to him.

“Excuse me, Shoemaker! Wake up!” said the shoe.

“What is it?” Asked the surprised shoemaker, rubbing his eyes.

“Good day sir,” said the shoe, “I have woken you up to tell you of my grievances. I do not like my sparkling stones, or the pointy tip of my front. I do not like my enormous pearls or the height of my heel. My biggest grievance is, however, I do not like my size! Make me smaller! I want to be smaller, like all your other shoes!”

The shoemaker looked at the shoe in disbelief, “But, my dear, beautiful creation, don’t you see, you are for the princess! If I make you any smaller, you simply will not fit!”

If we recognize our great potential, our uniqueness and the specialty and care Hashem took when creating each one of us, we will see how beautiful we are. If we see that Hashem made us the way we are for a purpose, we will delight in ourselves. We will write, “I am beautiful,” on our mirrors, we’ll hang pictures of ourselves, instead of supermodels over our closets, we will overjoy in the excitement of a spring break instead of dreading its approach. We will talk about how beautiful we are and one day, our daughters will hear it. They will go to school and tell their friends, “I see what Hashem has made, and it is very good.”

Here’s the exercise I ended up doing with my second grade girls. On a piece of paper, taped into their folder I wrote:

Hashem made me beautiful.

My favorite part about myself is ___________.

My favorite trait about myself is ___________.

Why don’t you try! It only takes a minute, but you’ll be grateful that you did!

**Being overweight is not the goal. Taking care of ourselves, feeling good, and eating smartly is. May we all merit to know when skinny is skinny enough and when looking good is good enough and love ourselves for that!

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