Modesty, sometimes known as demureness, is a mode of dress and deportment. The word “modesty” comes from the Latin word modestus which means “keeping within measure”
As a wig stylist with many years of experience, one of the first questions I am asked by those who are not part of our community is, “Why if you are wearing a wig is it so naturally beautiful?”
People assume that when you cover up your hair, or when you get dressed, it is par for the course that you should look like you came out of the 18th century.
This is the story of how Jewish women and modesty, is not equivalent to Jewish women and not taking care of oneself.
Many years ago, before houses were built by builders with machinery, in a faraway land in the Arabian deserts there lived a young woman named Shayna. Every morning when she woke up, the sound of sticks hitting hard sand could be heard all around her dwelling. Mixed into this were the groans of hard- working men being whipped by their masters to work at a faster pace. Shayna was aware that one of these voices was that of her dear husband Gershon, and in her heart she cried for him every minute of the long hot day.
The desert was extremely hot, and the men would come home each evening without an ounce of energy left, to be able to eat. They knew that in the early morning as the sun started to rise, they would be repeating the work under their master’s evil hands.
This continued for many years. One day as Shayna washed her clothing at the washing-stone she was startled to realise that in the past few months none of her friends who gathered each day at the well for their bit of drinking water, had seen their husbands for many weeks.
She started thinking about this in earnest and realised that since the summer started the men would fall asleep in the desert sands rather than come home. The sun overhead was making them very lethargic. Shayna understood that if she and her friends didn’t do something about this state of affairs their husbands would never come home and therefore her nation would be finished. Gathering her friends together one day they began to put in place a plan of action, one that would remind their husbands that it was worth coming home, even though they were so tired and beaten.
These brave women gathered their copper mirrors and cleaned and shined them until they reflected their images. To make their image even more enhanced they would beautify themselves. Before long the steady trickle of their tired husbands coming back after work began to take place. Once again, the Jewish nation was saved from extinction.
This is not a folk tale but the story of what happened to our ancestors in Mitzrayim.
When the time came to build the Mishkan, Moshe Rabeinu asked the people to bring voluntary contributions of gold and silver. As one, the women brought all their copper mirrors to the front of Moshe’s tent. He was reluctant to accept these gifts as he thought they conveyed vanity. Hashem said, “On the contrary – these mirrors are the tools that were instrumental in the survival of the Jewish Nation. They should be used in their entirety to make the Kiyor Nechoshes (washbasin) from where the Kohanim washed their hands before performing the services.”
The most amazing detail is that the basin is the only part of the Mishkan without any measurements or weights, this is because Hashem wanted the full mirrors to be included, whatever the size.
This is the story of Jewish Women throughout the millennia – whatever obstacles are thrown our way we make sure our loved ones find comfort and support in our homes. Yes, the Torah has taught us how to attire ourselves and we are proud to adhere to the Rotzon of Hashem.
This is why we must carry ourselves with a dignity that creates a kiddush Hashem.