Modesty in Marriage

“I have never seen a modest man who lacks wisdom, and I never saw a wise man that had no shame.” Modesty and wisdom are intertwined and codependent.”

7 min

Rabbi Shalom Arush

Posted on 25.12.07

“I have never seen a modest man who lacks wisdom, and I never saw a wise man that had no shame.” Modesty and wisdom are intertwined and codependent.”
 
Modesty and Wisdom
 
“Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed" (Bereishit 2:25). Rashi explains: “For they did not know the way of modesty, to distinguish between good and evil, and even though knowledge was granted him to call [all the creatures] names, he was not imbued with the evil inclination until he ate of the tree, and the evil inclination entered into him, and he knew the difference between good and evil.”
 
After they ate from the Tree: “And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles" (Bereishit 3:7). Rashi explains: “Scripture is referring to wisdom, and not to actual vision."
 
After they ate from the Tree, G-d asked: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Bereishit 3:11). Rashi explains: “From where do you know that it is shameful to be naked?”
 
From the sequence of events, we see that the moment Adam and Chava’s eyes were opened – in other words, from the moment they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – they covered their body: “And they sewed together a fig leaf and made themselves girdles.” From this we learn that knowledge obligates us to be modest! Since a wise person would never do anything to disgrace himself, a person’s modesty is proportionate to his wisdom.
 
The “Orchot Chaim” writes, “I have never seen a modest man who lacks wisdom, and I never saw a wise man that had no shame.” Modesty and wisdom are intertwined and codependent.”
 
Modesty in Marriage
 
Through modesty, a couple can achieve true shalom beis – marital harmony.  What does it mean to be modest? A husband should be careful about what he permits himself to look at, a wife should wear clothing that covers her body properly, and they should both purify their thoughts, so that they think only of each other, and of no other. Through guarding the boundaries of modesty, they will be blessed with successful children, livelihood and happiness.
 
The blessing, “Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime” is recited under the chuppah (wedding canopy). The young couple is being blessed that they should rejoice and have a love similar to that of Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden. What was so unique about that love? They were completely alone in the Garden of Eden. There was no one – except the two of them.
 
When the wife is modest and the husband guards his eyes, they remain focused on each other, and through doing so, they are privileged to develop a marriage – and a love – similar to that unique and singular love that existed between Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden.
 
On Friday night, when we sing Eishet Chayil (Mishlei 32:10) we recite, “An accomplished woman, who can find? – Far beyond pearls is her value.
Her husband’s heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune.”
 
The Vilna Gaon (known as the GRA – the Gaon Rabeinu Eliyahu) explains: An accomplished woman is a woman who perfects herself through the eighteen praises mentioned in Eishes Chayal.
 
Let’s take a closer look at some of these praises. The verse says, "Her husband’s heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune." How does the woman gain her husband’s trust, so that his "heart relies on her?" Through modesty! And what is the reward for her modest behavior? "And he shall lack no fortune” – they will always have a ready source of income!
 
“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children like olive shoots surrounding your table” (Tehillim 128).
 
The Zohar comments, “’In the inner chambers of your home’ – she should act with modesty and cover herself even in the innermost recesses of the home. If she is modest in the home, then they will merit that “your children [shall be] like olive shoots surrounding your table.”
 
What does the verse mean by “olive shoots?” The Zohar explains: Just as the olive tree is full of leaves in summer and winter and has importance over other trees, so too his sons will be important. Furthermore, he will be blessed will everything: Wealth, sons and daughters, as the chapter of Tehillim continues – “Behold! For so shall be blessed the man who fears G-d. May G-d bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children born to your children, peace upon Israel! (Tehillim 128).”
 
The Torah testifies that Sarah was modest. The angels asked our Patriarch Avraham: “Where is Sarah your wife?” to which he answered, “In the tent,” attesting to her modesty. In reward for her modesty she gave birth to Yitzchak, one of the three Patriarchs.
 
For our Spouse
 
The Talmud tells us that when Choni Hamaagal’s grandson returned home accompanied by his students, they were surprised that his wife came out to greet him dressed in beautiful clothes and bedecked with jewelry. When they asked their Rebbe about it, he answered, “So that I will not look at another!” His wife was making herself beautiful for her husband, so that their thoughts would remain focused solely on each other. She was doing her utmost to keep their love at the level of Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden!
 
Common sense tells us that a woman should try to look her best in the home, for her husband, and not outside, for the sake of others. If she wants her husband to appreciate her, she should dress as nicely as possible at home.
 
When both the husband and the wife go out of their way to look as beautiful as possible for the other, they help each other remain focused on each other. This creates a strong bond of marital harmony – and the Divine Presence can only dwell in a home where there is true marital harmony.
 
Holiness Depends on Modesty
 
The Torah instructs us: “And your camp shall be holy.” The Jewish people are commanded, “You shall be holy, for I am Holy.”
 
This holiness depends of the modesty of Jewish couples, and especially on the modest dress of the Jewish woman, both in the home and outside the home. We must sanctify ourselves so that we can bring the Divine Presence into our lives. How? Through keeping the boundaries of modesty.
 
The Torah tells the story of Bilaam, a wicked gentile who was granted prophecy. He tried to fulfill Balak ben Tzipor’s request and curse the Children of Israel. Instead, however, he found himself blessing the Jewish people: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.”
 
What did Bilaam see that was so good about the Israelites’ tents?
 
Even in the rigorous conditions that existed in the desert, the Jews took the precautions to guard their privacy and remain modest! They arranged their tents in such a way that the openings were never opposite each other. This modesty transformed Bilaam’s potential curse into a blessing.
 
Immorality Destroys
 
Bilaam knew the truth – the Jews’ existence is contingent on modesty. Therefore, when he saw that it was impossible to curse them, he advised Balak to employ immorality to destroy the Jews: “The G-d of the Jews hates immorality,” advised Bilaam. He advised Balak to entice the Children of Israel into illicit relations with the daughters of Moav. As a result, a plague broke out among the Israelites, killing 24,000 Jews.
 
Finding the Right One
 
In Eishes Chayil we recite, “False is grace and vain is beauty, a G-d-fearing woman – she should be praised.”
 
“False is grace and vain is beauty” – this refers to external beauty. Superficial beauty fades with age, but real, inner beauty, “A G-d-fearing woman,” – is to be praised.
 
When a person looking to find the right one is mainly concerned about: “False is grace and vain is beauty,” in other words, superficial beauty based on externalities, he will end up with a spouse that doesn’t try to improve his or her inner world.
 
But when a person seeks a G-d fearing individual – which reflects inner beauty – then he will find a spouse who understands that external beauty is temporary and seeks the inner beauty of good character traits and fear of Heaven.
 
The Proper Vessel
 
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah was ugly and deformed. The Caesar’s daughter once saw him and asked: “How is it that such great wisdom is contained in such an ugly container?”
 
He retorted: “Why does your father, the Caesar, who is so wealthy, keep wine in clay vessels instead of in gold or silver?”
 
The daughter commanded the servants to transfer all the wine into golden vessels. When the Caesar later asked for wine, he discovered that it had turned to vinegar. His servants explained that his daughter had ordered them to transfer the wine into golden vessels.
 
When the Caesar asked his daughter about it, she told him what Rabbi Yehoshua had said to her. The Caesar commanded Rabbi Yehoshua to appear before him, and asked him to explain what he had told his daughter.
 
Rabbi Yehoshua replied: “Your daughter asked me how such an ugly vessel could contain such wisdom, and this was my answer: Wine is the symbol of wisdom, yet it only keeps well in a clay vessel and not in a golden one.”
 
The Caesar asked, “But aren’t there any men who are both wise and handsome?”
 
Rabbi Yehoshua responded, “Yes, there are. They invest in their inner world, instead of externalities. Although they are handsome, their beauty is a result of their inner qualities.”
 
Finding the right spouse and achieving marital harmony depends on a person’s inner world. Through chasing externalities, we risk losing our sense of holiness -a product of modesty – and our inner world – our real beauty.
 
How can we strengthen our inner world? Through prayer! When we pray for the Divine Presence to dwell in our home, G-d answers our prayers. He desires to dwell in the lower worlds – in the home and hearts of man. As a result of these heartfelt prayers, we will achieve true marital harmony, and succeed in raising good, honest, G-d fearing children.
 
Modesty in the home influences our children, which in turn provides us with nachas (pleasure). A woman who beautifies herself for her husband and a man who guards his eyes from forbidden sights – and a couple who is modest in their home – will merit marital harmony and fulfillment of the blessing: “Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime.”
 
May it be G-d’s will that all the sons and daughters of Israel merit to keep our ways of modesty and holiness, and may we merit the Redemption speedily in our days. Amen.

Tell us what you think!

1. Sarah

7/23/2009

Difficult to understand I understand that we are supposed to dress up for our husbands, but outside the home are we supposed to wear plastic bags or something? Or maybe we are not supposed to go outside at all, just stay in the tent like Sarah? The guys have free will too - they can choose to be responsible as well. Why do we have to carry the weight of their thoughts on our shoulders?

2. Anonymous

7/23/2009

I understand that we are supposed to dress up for our husbands, but outside the home are we supposed to wear plastic bags or something? Or maybe we are not supposed to go outside at all, just stay in the tent like Sarah? The guys have free will too - they can choose to be responsible as well. Why do we have to carry the weight of their thoughts on our shoulders?

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