By Sruli Schochet – Los Angeles
I was once teaching a yahadus class to a group “modern Orthodox” girls. They were complaining about what they perceived was a double standard by some religious girls they knew in other Chabad schools.
“Sure, they have their tznius uniforms”, they said. “But we know for a fact that when the adults are not around, they do this and that. With us, what you see is what you get!”
The Torah puts such an emphasis on someone being ‘tochoi k’boroi’ – their internal feelings and external appearances should be consistent. As hashgacha protis would have it, a clarifying example came to mind.
It is true, I said, that sometimes we find what appears to be a juicy and delicious orange. Yet, when we peel away the skin, we find that it is all moldy on the inside. However, you will not find an orange with a moldy peel, that once the skin is peeled away, there is a nice juicy fruit inside waiting to be eaten. Usually, once the peel is moldy, that is a clear indication that the entire fruit is rotten through and through.
One of the main character attributes that make up our Jewish DNA is the element of shame. Not that we need to walking around with our head down and embarrassed all the time. On the contrary, we need to walk with confidence, with a sense of pride to be Jewish.
What it does mean, is that we as Jews have a natural refinement within us. For a Jew to do something unrefined, should naturally cause an element of shame. There is no doubt that people who dress in the most tznius fashion could also be doing all kinds of inappropriate things in secret.
But the fact that they do said things in secret, is a level unto itself. They still have that element of shame. They lack the brazenness to declare to their world through their actions or appearance that they don’t care what anyone thinks, let alone G-d. That shame is what leaves the door open for their return onto the right path. To be completely devoid of shame, would only serve to show that they are potentially rotten through and through. Coming back from that spiritual chasm is exponentially harder.
Are they many things that need fixing in the Crown Heights community? There are many things that need fixing in every community! But you only get one chance to make a first impression. The way we dress, especially if it is consistently prevalent throughout the community, is a reflection of the whole community.
If we are willing to brazenly walk around, or even just act indifferent, to our external ‘moldy peel’, that can G-d forbid be a reflection of a deeper level of dissonance to Halacha as a whole and chassidus in particular. We have a concept of ‘metoch shelo lishma, bo lishmah’. We may not feel or care to dress or act with refinement. But by doing so, whether we like it or not, and acting as an example for our children, our neighbor and our friends, how can that not help sow the seeds towards a more uplifted spiritual community?
Improving oneself internally is difficult. It requires serious honesty and introspection. Changing our outward appearance is easier. It is a simple step we can take in recapturing our natural refinement, which in turn will be a step in the direction of improving our inner core.
This should not be taken in any way shape of form as a criticism of anyone, Heaven forbid! The laundry list of self-improvements that myself and my family need to make is quite extensive. However, even though I do not know him, I applaud Rabbi Motty Gurary of Bnos Menachem school in Crown Heights for taking a step in the right direction.
To the author of the op-ed “More Shocking Than Leggings,” let us not be guilty of not seeing the forest because of the trees. You don’t like the ‘style’ in which the letter was written? Focus on the message and build from that.
To jump up and criticize is easy. However, take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Did his letter offend me because he is wrong, or did his letter offend me because he is right?