Captivated, I watched her as she ascended the stone steps.
Dressed in pure white, from her headscarf to her long flowing dress to her shoes, she looked wonderfully Biblical and Shabbosy.
The epitome of tsniut, every part of the outfit was loose and long l’mehadrin without looking shlumpy or nebby. And against the bright sunlight, it wasn’t remotely see-thru. How’d she manage that? I wondered admiringly.
She even held herself like a refined princess, with a quiet self-assurance.
The problem was…staring is incredibly rude. And I’d been doing it.
I first realized my faux pas when she started gliding more slowly and glancing at me out of the corner of her eye.
Inside, I panicked. She probably thinks I’m sneering at her! But I’m not! I’m thinking that she’s doing exactly the right thing by dressing in white on Shabbat and that I wish I had the guts to do that too!
But something in her sidelong glance told me she hadn’t made up her mind about me yet.
“Shabbat shalom,” she said carefully, then waited for my response.
Relieved and grateful for the chance to redeem my rudeness, I said, “Shabbat shalom! And—you look really nice!”
Now her face relaxed into a smile. “Thanks!” she called back, then continued to glide up the stairs.
I learned a lot from my kabbalistically dressed sister that day.
It would have been easy for her to presume that I was some judgmental, sneering stick-in-the-mud who didn’t even have the decency not to rudely stare at her. Instead, she gave me a chance to reveal that au contraire; I was an appreciative, admiring sister who was well-aware of the real halachot of tsniut and also of what the mekubalim said you should actually be wearing on Shabbat—who didn’t have the self-awareness not to rudely stare at her.
The truth is, if she’d said something to put me in my place, I wouldn’t have resented her for it. I’d have understood how discomfiting my unintentional staring was.
(Although I might have also thought that sarcasm or snarliness doesn’t really go with the Biblical Shabbat outfit of snow-white spiritual purity.)
But baruch Hashem, she was a kabbalistic princess inside and out, and someone to emulate.
And she demonstrated how nice it is to give people the chance to show who they really are before deciding that they’re probably just some big uptight wart.