For example, if you make a slow, thoughtful bracha with real kavanah before eating, the food tastes so much better.
Saying a heartfelt bracha before eating enhances both our physical & emotional pleasure.
Yet we struggle to remember to say a bracha with kavanah, and many brachot are said by rote with little awareness of what we are saying.
Yet the 15 seconds it takes to say a really geshmak bracha which enhances the taste of the food — that's too difficult? Not desirable enough?
It's irrational if you think about it, yet extremely common.
I really noticed this when I started saying 1 perek of Tehillim a day with heartfelt kavanah. (You read about how that started here: Saying Tehillim: Getting Back to the Barest Basics.)
Not only did I say the Tehillim with careful kavanah, but also felt a desire to go through it again and discuss it with Hashem each time.
Needless to say, it is an enjoyable & meaningful experience.
Really taking my time over each verse and using the Metzudah translation & explanation, plus sometimes the classic commentaries, I'm finding new meaning in verses I've been saying for decades, including verses I thought I already understood well.
For example, Tehillim 19 came to vibrant life in a completely new way — as if I'd never read it before.
The experience is absolutely delicious.
I haven't timed how long each perek takes, but I think it's around 10-15 minutes.
Yet surprisingly, I found myself skipping it completely a couple of times.
Or sometimes, I only managed to say it right at the end of the day.
And I found myself saying, "I couldn't find the time" or "The day just flew by and I never managed to do it."
Really? Throughout an entire day, I never had 15 minutes to spare? Or maybe even 5 to just say the Tehillim with kavanah without the follow-up discussion?
It's true that some days are jam-packed and we don't have a moment to think, let alone sit down and do something meaningful.
But the realization hit that I was pushing it off because it felt "heavy." There was an emotional difficulty to it.
So if it's so short, easy, and deliciously satisfying, why not rush to do it the moment I have even a minute of spare time?
How could something so deliciously satifying feel "heavy"?
It ruins everything.
It makes even the most enjoyable things look like a drag UNTIL you actually do them!
Men are obligated in tsniyus too, but women even more so.
(Just like how men are obligated more in certain mitzvot, like praying in a minyan regardless of weather or convenience, keeping his payos even when he's balding & would like to shave it all off like all the really cool secular and non-Jewish guys do to cover their balding, wearing tzitzit no matter how hot it is outside, etc.)
Rebbetzin Heller once mentioned an old photo she saw of herself and her friends in their younger days. They wore skirts that weren't long enough (fashionable in that decade), so they are pulling them down in the picture, maybe sitting kind of cramped to really cover those knees, and are wearing the big clunky shoes fashionable then.
They looked awful, she thought (maybe not her exact words, but approximately). Yet at the time, they were very into dressing like this back then.
And this is so often true of non-tsniyus clothing.
A lot of immodest clothing looks bad or makes us look bad, yet some are mosser nefesh to wear this, spending extra money and risking their Olam Haba (not to mention social disapproval in some cases or problems with her school) for this.
Around 20 years ago, short narrow stiff shirts came in style. They didn't look good on anyone because it made the body look awkward and disproportional.
Also, most women are pear-shaped and the hem of the shirt hit right before the hips, which is unflattering to most and really not modest or dignified.
They didn't even look good on slender girls because of the shirt's shape.
Interestingly, I noticed that the shirt only looked good on short plump girls because they needed the shirt a few sizes bigger, which made it the right length on them and was no longer disproportionate.
It was such an ugly and untsniyus style (especially the short length), I thought it would go out of fashion quickly. But to my surprise, it hung around for about 15 years!
I rarely found a top I could wear during that time.
It also wasn't tsniyus unless you wore a very wide skirt, but even then...
If the wearer bent over at all, the back of the shirt slid up, which revealed the completely forbidden torso area.
If the wearer raised her arm at all, the shirt also often slid up too far.
Once, I was on the bus behind a beautiful young woman, obviously frum. Her hair, nails, and posture announced that she cared very much about looking just right and that she invested a lot of effort in looking good.
When she stood up to go, she leaned over to pick up the bag on the seat next to her (which means she wasn't even bending over so far), yet the shirt went up so much, I was really shocked...
...to see what a hairy back she had!
I had never seen such a hairy back on girl before, a layer of such thick black hairs for a girl, and didn't know that such a thing existed.
I felt mortified on her behalf, even though she had no clue she'd just exposed her hirsute back to anyone behind her.
I can't imagine she would've felt fine with that, especially not when her eyebrows were so carefully sculpted with nary a facial hair to be seen either.
If she had any idea that could happen, I'm sure she never would wear such a shirt (or she would at least wear a longer shirt under it).
And I guess it says a lot about both of us that her hairy back (hairiness isn't forbidden at all in halacha) is considered more mortifying than the total breech of tsniyus. (There is no heter for a woman to reveal her torso area.)
See how the yetzer hara totally messes with our minds?
The Low-Down on Skirts
Long, wide skirts are infinitely more comfortable & convenient than short skirts — and also more than narrow skirts, even if they have a slit.
Especially if the wearer constantly needs to tug down the short skirt as she walks. Very inconvenient & awkward-looking.
In hot weather, long loose skirts allow the air to circulate and cool the body, which is one reason why Arab men traditionally wear them.
Unfortunately, a skirt came into style a few years ago (and has not yet disappeared) that looks completely tsniyus on the hanger. It's more than wide enough and definitely covers the knee.
The problem is, it doesn't cover much more than that.
Because the hem is flouncy and the skirt is so loose, I think it's hard to tell even when trying it on that it's actually too short.
It's a real optical illusion for a skirt, something I never saw before.
And the slightest breeze or movement causes it to fly up.
So if a girl is even just almost running or if there's any wind, you end up seeing a lot more than you bargained for.
I heard at least one very embarrassing story in which the wind caused this type of skirt to fly up over the girl's face, much to her mortification (because the skirt is wide and not as long as it looks, it catches the wind even when it's not a flimsy fabric).
Yet so many good frum girls & women wear this skirt.
(Note: Wide ankle-length skirts can also fly up in the wind. Pleated skirts are the least likely, as are straight skirts that aren't too narrow. Tsniyus is so individual, it's hard to come up with hard-and-fast rules that apply to everyone. It's very much intuitive, sort of like the female personality.)
Does Corona Hint at a Jewish Woman's Crown?
A caring & spiritually sensitive reader sent me a link to an article on the great protection provided to a married Jewish woman for covering her hair properly.
Corona means "crown" or "crown-shaped."
In astronomy, the corona is the gaseous envelope of the Sun, usually only visible during a solar eclipse when the pearly glow of the Sun's corona surrounds the dark disc of the Sun...
...sort of like how a Jewish women's hair-covering surrounds her head.
Interestingly, cameras that can photograph auras also capture an enhanced aura around the covered hair of a married Jewish woman, very much like the stunning corona of the Sun. (Please see The Human Aura for more.)
Also, the Kli Yakar compares righteous woman to the Sun, considering righteous woman as essential to the world's existence as the Sun itself.
(Please see for more about that here The Kli Yakar - Parshat Chayei Sara and scroll down to the end.)
According to the article, the corona of coronavirus hints to the unique protection Hashem endowed women by bequeathing Jewish women with the mitzvah.
And this should give us pause for some thought.
The Good, the Bad, and the Las Vegasy of Hair-Covering
(A real New York Yankees-type baseball cap, not one of those brimmed hats for women.)
I derided it to an older friend of mine because I thought it so sloppy & undignified in general, and especially inappropriate for shul on Shabbos.
(This was outright lashon hara, by the way, and I should never have said a word about my thoughts. Assur, assur, assur.)
But my older friend stopped me short and said: "No. Covering your hair is HARD. If she's covering her hair, then you cannot criticize her. Some women won't cover their hair at all unless they can wear a baseball cap. So never criticize a woman who is covering her hair al pi halacha. Her hair was actually all covered, right?"
Yeah, it nearly all was, surprisingly, considering that baseball caps aren't really made for that.
"So there's no room to criticize her."
And that was that.
At that point, I hadn't realized that covering hair was so hard for some people, and I especially did not realize that even a frum-from-birth woman (like the baseball-cap-wearer) might find hair-covering a very challenging mitzvah.
But some do.
And whoever doesn't have that particular challenge has her own challenges in another area.
It's good to know this and be more aware of other people's challenges, even though I still don't think baseball caps are dignified headwear for daughters of the King.
But sure, they ARE a million times better than nothing.
(And I think they're also much better than these knock-your-eyes-out long luxurious shaitels.)
For me the idea of covering my hair wasn't hard at all; it was even fun — although when I stopped wearing shaitels, I struggled to find a hair-covering that was convenient to use, looked nice, and was dressy enough to wear to weddings.
That aspect was my hair-covering challenge.
But I never felt I didn't want to cover my hair; I did, but struggled to find the most compatible solution for a couple of years.
When pre-tied headscarves came into fashion, my hair-covering frustrations vaporized as if they never existed. Thanks, Hashem!
But it's true that some women really dislike covering their hair, no matter what.
This is despite the fact that hats, shaitels, and pre-tied scarves are so much easier as far as convenience & maintenance go — much less fuss because they're all ready to go and you don't need to do much except make sure they're not crooked when you put them on.
You don't need to worry about bad hair days (although bad shaitel days do exist, as do days when you just can't tie the scarf evenly or when the pre-tied scarf isn't sewn properly — actually, I'm not coordinated enough to tie a scarf properly so I was always having bad-hairscarf days until the pre-tied came along).
When you cover your hair, you don't need to worry about dandruff, limp hair, dry hair, hair crazy with static, brillo hair, gray hair, or hair-thinning & female baldness.
Redhead women who didn't enjoy being redheads finally found relief when they could don a brunette or auburn shaitel.
When I was still single, I often held my hair back with a scarf (not outside, but if I was reading or cleaning) because my hair bothered me when it hung in my face and a ponytail was too uncomfortable or the ponytail didn't catch all the shorter hairs around my face that were still long enough to bother me. A scarf around my head did the trick.
Also, I remember when a 60something woman took off her shaitel next to me as we were at a shaitel macher together.
I was shocked to see this elegant dignified woman was bald except for a few tufts of hair and then a thick lock of gray hair above her forehead, into which she inserted the little comb of her shaitel to hold it on to her head.
So there are lots of enjoyable reasons about covering hair, but it's true that a great many women find it extremely difficult, emotionally speaking, and find all sorts of reasons why they can't, or why they can't do so properly, or even why they stop doing so after having done so for years.
Please note: I am NOT talking about people who are just getting started in tsniyus and still trying to find their way (sometimes coupled with extreme opposition by friends & family members, especially an anti-haircovering husband).
That's tsniyus-in-progress and NOT the same as someone who is already firmly grounded in frumkeit (whether they're FFB or came to it later) and gets married knowing this is a halachic obligation, yet still gets really upset about it.
The other extreme is the women who spend thousands of dollars on a shaitel that looks exactly like real hair and is styled and colored to knock your eyes out.
Because covering hair is hard, they reason, you need to feel good about it. Like, Las-Vegas-showgirl-good.
Or they mistakenly assume that va-va-voom is a kiddush Hashem.
(Seriously. It's very common for women to think that looking like a total babe is a kiddush Hashem. They mean this in all innocence. Strange how their husbands never try to disabuse them of this notion, which of course the husband, being a man, knows how she really appears in the eyes of others & Hashem. Hmm...)
BTW, really long hair is an incredible nuisance. These elbow-length or waist-length shaitels are clearly yetzer hara because they aren't tsniyus and they aren't comfortable and they're exorbitantly expensive.
Or the shaitels that have tons of hair piled up like a beehive tower. VERY uncomfortable. And exorbitantly expensive.
Meaning, there's no advantage to them except to be eye-catching & turn heads. It's a weird phenomenon.
And just to be fair, let's take a quick look at those who have actual sensory problems with hair-covering: There IS a minority of women whose hair grows in the opposite direction and they experience anything from minor discomfort to actual pain when covering their hair.
This can also go with having a sensitive head; these women struggled when wearing barrettes or headbands as little girls.
This is a genuinely challenging situation. No joke.
They're still obligated, however.
And yes, they need to be more flexible when looking for solutions.
But one woman who wore either shaitels (one of the least comfortable things to wear if your hair grows the wrong way) or berets told me that because her hair grows the wrong way, it's a real mesirut nefesh for her to cover her hair.
She's in constant discomfort.
But she did it. She always did it and she never stopped. And you should know that she is receiving MASSIVE reward just for this.
Believe me, if Jewish Law ordered women to NOT to cover our hair or if it commanded us to wear revealing clothing, we'd complain about how hard it is like:
- "I can never have a bad hair day because I'm forbidden to cover my hair so I always have to invest so much to make sure it looks nice!"
- "I get so cold when I can't cover my hair!"
- "Exposing my hair all the time is bad for it — all that sun dries it out!"
- "I'm experiencing female old-age balding, but the rabbis refuse to let me hide it under a head-covering!"
- "My really long hair keeps getting in the way; I wish I could restrain it somehow."
- "I have really hairy back, yet I'm not allowed to cover it!"
- "The pigment and dry skin of my elbows makes them look black and dirty all the time, yet I'm not allowed to cover them — so embarrassing!"
And that's how the yetzer hara works.
Battling the Yetzer Hara: Try to Focus on What TRULY Provides You with REAL Enjoyment & Satisfaction
I have my own battles (like how I spend my time & how I eat), which end up being hour-by-hour battles throughout the entire day.
And the next day, I wake up knowing I have to start them all over again from the beginning.
That's how it is until you win that particular battle and move on to your next level.
We all have this.
- The yetzer hara strives to convince us that something genuinely enjoyable & fulfilling is a drag.
- And yetzer hara equally strives to convince us that something annoying, inconvenient, expensive, bad-mood-inducing (like Facebook or any news outlet), and embarrassing is the most desirable thing in the world.
Our job is to embrace what we truly enjoy and find both rewarding & fulfilling despite the obstacles.