But we're not discussing the halachot.
Because it's the attitude of tsniut, the ideology of tsniut that is the key to everything.
In fact, it's almost impossible to keep the halachot of tsniut unless you have the mentality of tsniut.
That's why some girls & women get fed up with all the halachot.
Knowing ONLY the technicalities of inches & centimeters & decibels & colors & designs is not enough and sometimes even makes this mitzvah confusing.
(This is in contrast to most other mitzvot: Tsnius is very individual with a lot of nuance involved.)
In fact, if you internalize the ideal of tsniut, you almost don't need to learn the technical halachot because they're actually self-evident once you get the mentality correct.
(Please note: I did not say that the halachot are irrelevant – on the contrary, they're quite important! But tsniut is unusual in that the knowledge of halachot ALONE is really not enough to keep this mitzvah properly, especially with changing times & styles.)
Also, while it is a major mitzvah for women, tsniut also applies to men.
Contrary to what some people think, Jewish men cannot actually go around with all their hairy chests, armpits, and knees showing. No offense.
That's why most frum men dress in a dignified & modest manner.
Significantly, covering themselves was one of the first acts of rectification Adam & Chava performed after eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
(Actually, Chazal say that prior to that Original Sin, they were enclothed by a material similar to our fingernails, but more luminous. So they weren't bare in the way people tend to assume.)
People Wear Clothing; Animals Don't
"Blessed...is He Who clothes the naked."
The less you cover yourself, the closer you are to an animal state.
The more you cover yourself, the farther you are from an animal state.
(Rav Avigdor Miller discussed this idea, but I can't remember where.)
Since time immemorial, people have understood that one way to degrade the humanity of a person is to remove his clothes.
This affects the self-perception of the victim (he or she feels humiliated) and it also affects the perception of those around the victim (they see him or her as degraded & less human, which either inspires pity or cruelty).
Even cultures that go around wearing very little can still have strict customs about removing that little bit.
Despite this innate common sense, certain cultures throughout history have warped this intuitive response, like the Greek Olympics promoting unclothed participants as a glorification of the human body.
Or today's Western world insisting that the less covered a woman is, the more liberated she is.
Unfortunately, feminism's dumbing-down of even very intelligent women has blinded most women from seeing the hypocritical double standard. If body-baring fashions are so liberating, why aren't professional men encouraged to exchange the 3-piece suit for shorts & a sleeveless undershirt?
Why, in the last line-up of Republican candidates, did we see a line of men from different backgrounds & body types all wearing dark neutral-colored 3-piece suits with neck-hugging ties...and the one female candidate wearing a red suit with a miniskirt and a plunging neckline?
Did anyone think she looked "liberated" in contrast to her male colleagues?
Did anyone think she looked "equal" to them?
(To me, combined with her paradoxically modest hair style, the whole look at her age made her look more like a madam than a presidential candidate...and according to the guardians of political correctness, such an observation now makes me catty, jealous, and repressed. Oh well.)
Conversely, professional women ARE supposed to cover their face...with make-up.
Skillfully applied make-up can actually transform ALL facial features (including the shape of the face) so that the woman is unrecognizable from her natural bare-faced state.
So you are:
- a liberated woman if you bare your body yet smother your face into unrecognizabilty.
- you are also equal to your male colleagues who do the diametric opposite and cover their entire body from ankle to wrist to neck, while leaving their faces bare of any creams & powders.
Yeah. Right. Sure!
And I've got a bridge to sell you...
A Covering as Physical Protection
(The most basic level of this is the Mama Bear archetype.)
So let's look at the idea of protective clothing, starting with physical protection:
Many cultures who inhabit some of the hottest places on Earth actually cover themselves from head to toe.
(Think of traditional Arab dress.)
Their clothing protects them from the sun, from sunburn & sunstroke.
Long, loose clothing allows air to circulate around shaded skin while total exposure cannot do the same.
Clothing also protects against mosquitoes & other pests.
In areas of excessive dust, sand, or smoke, people place some kind of covering over their face to protect their eyes and lungs.
In the Philippines and other areas in the East, hikers are advised to avoid wearing red garments and other bright, eye-catching colors when entering the forests (which they say attracts unsavory entities – and they don't mean the physical 4-legged kind) because many people have gone missing while wearing red and other such colors. In the US too, an unusually high number of missing people were wearing the color red and other bright colors.
(Wearing a red garment is a problem in Judaism too, interestingly.)
So all in all, we see that physical covering offers physical protection.
A Covering as Spiritual Protection
- ayin hara – the evil eye
This comes from envy. One of the best protection against ayin hara is to keep a low profile.
- Bracha ba'ah b'seter – Blessing comes in secret/when hidden.
This means that good things are more likely to happen behind the scenes.
- Ein habracha matzuyah eleh b'davar samui min ha'ayin – Blessing is only found in something concealed from the eye. (Bava Metzia 42)
Very similar to the concept above it.
Likewise, if concealment enables & enhances blessing, then the opposite must also be true: Publicity can decrease or eliminate blessing.
In Nefesh Chaya, Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus notes that the most amazing miracle of life occurs in a completely hidden manner: the creation of a human being.
Think about it: According to halacha (and traditionally common sense), conception occurs in the dark under a bedsheet or blanket.
Then the process of pregnancy occurs under the concealment of a woman's layers of flesh, in a completely dark environment.
The angel sent to teach the child Torah does so in complete concealment, its miraculous & holy mission invisible, silent, and unfelt by even the pregnant mother herself.
For reasons of ayin hara, increased blessing, and modesty (they're all connected anyway), some frum communities have a custom not to speak about a pregnancy until a certain month or they don't even speak of it at all.
(For these same reasons, ultrasounds are controversial for some frum people.)
Going back to humanity's beginnings, the Creation of the World was a massive light show.
But the creation of Man was not.
Adam was quietly formed from the clay of the Earth.
Woman's creation was even more subtle. Adam was even put to sleep for the event.
It was not witnessed by anyone except Hashem Himself.
Yet what a powerful, world-changing event it was!
Tsniut & Miracles
The widow & orphans of Ovadia Hanavi turn to Elisha Hanavi after King Yehoram's officers threaten to enslave the orphans if the widow cannot pay the taxes.
In verse 4, Elisha Hanavi, after encouraging her to gather as many empty vessels as she possibly can, he instructs her to then close the door "about yourself and about your sons."
(The word ba'ad, translated here as "about," can also mean "for the sake of.")
Rashi comments: "The kavod of a miracle is to come in hatsne'ah" – hiddenness, modesty.
You probably recognized the root of hatsne'ah as the same root of tsniut or tsnuah.
Okay. It's admittedly not so clear in English.
Here's the Hebrew:
Hatsne'ah is simply a core Jewish concept that concerns protection & blessing.
Many of us know that every real Jew possesses the following 3 middot:
- chessed (loving-kindness)
- rachamim (mercy, compassion)
- bushah (a healthy sense of shame, which should naturally lead to tsniut in behavior)
Jewish who show a serious lack of one of the above are suspected of not being Jewish at the soul level, according to Chazal.
And now that we understood the physical & spiritual protection of hatsne'ah, we can better understand why terrorist & missile attacks often result in a call for increased tsniut.
In other words: increased spiritual protection.
As noted by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus in Nefesh Chaya, page 72:
"If a war would break out, chas v'shalom, and there would be a lot of casualties, with blow after blow from the enemy and troops falling every day, people would ask: Where is the missile defense? Where is the air-force cover? Where is the navy protection?
"If there are a lot of casualties, it is a sign that there is a problem with the protection..."
The Greatest Achievements are Unseen
Yes, David Hamelech became quite famous later on. But the greatness that led to his kingship was achieved at home and out alone in the pastures surrounded by sheep.
For some of them (like Chana), we only know about them because Hashem chose to publicize their greatness in Tanach. With Chana, she's always indoors, either at home or davening in the Beit Hamikdash.
Even her tefillah, which became the basis for our all-important Amidah prayer, was barely above a whisper.
Who would ever know of Chana without her appearing in the book named after her holy son, Shmuel Hanavi?
So please note: Tsniut is a quintessentially JEWISH middah.
If you're Jewish, whether male or female, it's a core part of who you are at the soul level.
Modern society is trying to mash it out of you.
Don't let them do it.