Tzniut: My Story (Part 6)

tumblr_mipe1i5krv1s5098to1_1280I keep guidelines of tzniut, because I feel most comfortable in doing so, and I must say it has been a progression over the last few years. I feel more feminine and beautiful in skirts and dresses, and I love to mix and match my outfits with beautiful scarves. I never expected it would become a way for me to express myself in an artistic way–my body as a canvas, covered and draped with all kinds of delicious colors and patterns–to reflect and complement my personality.
I suppose I would be dishonest if I didn’t disclose that I don’t really do it for any moral or even religious reasons (not that those aren’t perfectly legitimate reasons). It is a conviction purely at the whim of my Heavenly Father, Who put the desire in my heart to do so. And after contemplating the “why” over the past few years, I can only conclude that I do it as a type of encouragement to those that desire do the same, so that they know that there is someone else in the world who dresses modestly and enjoys it.
I am by my very nature an encourager. I am not afraid to stand out from the crowd, and I will do it if it means giving others a little courage to stand out, too. So that’s my story; maybe it seems too simple to some, but why should it be more complex?

Shalom and blessings,
S~

For more on tzniut/modesty click HERE

Crown

Ticheltichel.com
photo courtesy of ticheltichel.com

Hair hidden
Under wraps and folds,
Twists and braids,
Bright colors, rich textures,
And patterns galore.
No oppression or shame here,
Just freedom
To frame the conversation
To make it about
Revealing one’s true beauty
That comes from within.
For the woman who fears the L-rd,
May she be richly blessed,
And may the glory of Hashem
Rest as a crown
Upon her head.

~This poem was inspired by the beautiful scarves that can be found at ticheltichel.com and the even more beautiful sister in Messiah who selected them with great care for women who have the desire to cover and let their true beauty be seen.

© 2015, Sarah S. Walters

Tzniut: A Story About Cake (Part 5)

This story is for the ladies. 🙂


Your mother comes into your home and proceeds to bake your favorite cake, but it’s not for you. She told you from the start that the cake is for a neighbor. The smell fills the house and you can almost taste it; your tummy rumbles. She pulls the cake out of the oven and tells you to “shoo”. You can’t even pinch off a bite of that delicious, sweet, decadent, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth goodness; it’s not for you, but you want a bite so badly. She lets it cool and the house is now nothing but the smell and sight of this cake that you can’t have. You just stare at it, licking your lips and smelling that wonderful smell, dreaming about it being yours for the taking. It is PURE TORTURE.yummy-cakes-photos

As soon as it is cooled off, she frosts it, adds decorations, making it even more tantalizing. You have to have it, and you’ll do anything to get it. You may regret it tomorrow, but now all you can do is think about fulfilling your desire for that luscious, scrumptious cake. So you take it and eat it in your room, and immediately feel guilty because you know it wasn’t your cake to begin with.


Now imagine that the cake is actually an immodestly dressed woman, and you are a man. This is the best way I can try to help women see what they do to a man when they dress, not just immodestly, but provocatively. There’s immodest dress that is ill-fitting and may, unbeknownst to the woman, show off her best assets such as her bum, chest region, and legs, and then there is the deliberate accentuating of those assets with push-up bras, low-cut shirts, and short shorts.

Imagine if your mother had not come over to your house to bake the cake, and you didn’t have to smell it or see it. The temptation to eat it would be completely removed. She might call you up later and tell you she baked a cake for her neighbor, but you would most likely associate it as being a gift for her friend rather than a means by which to satiate your craving for cake. So, too, a woman who adequately covers her body may be admired for her intellect and abilities rather than as an object of desire.

I speak now, specifically, to the women within the covenantal faith community. What are you willing to give up in order to protect your brother in Messiah from stumbling and lusting after you instead of being content with his own wife? I am not a beautiful woman, but a pretty face is not all men are attracted to. They are prone to lust after those things that distinguish a woman, namely her curves. Every man deals with the temptation of lust; those who have an encounter with G-d don’t just somehow, as if by magic, cease to have a desire for sexual pleasure. Our bodies, both male and female, were created to come together in one of the most intimate of acts, bringing new life into the world to perpetuate humanity, but they were also created to teach us about being one, being united with one mind and purpose. We were created to have one spouse and be content with the mate G-d made for us. We were meant to see that human connection, that oneness, that intimacy, as a picture of what we should have with Hashem.

I say all of these things, because we, who say we are a part of the covenantal faith community and still dress like the vast majority of the world instead of being intentional about protecting our brothers from sinning, are not fulfilling the commandment to “love our neighbor as ourself.” Our brothers in Messiah are our neighbor; if we wouldn’t want to be tempted by a scrumptious cake (as silly as that may sound in comparison), then why should men have to deal with our improper dress? It is unfair.

I don’t accept the argument that men should “just control their urges”. MEN CAN’T (unless, of course, they always have there heads down while in public.) I am not saying that a woman cannot look attractive, i.e. fix her hair, wear make-up, and look put together. We were created to “dress to impress”; we want to look nice. Men are created to notice; they like it when we look nice. But there is a way to be attractive and not provoke lustful thoughts. I would much rather be with a man who values and respects my thoughts and ideas–a man that wants to converse, have a partner to walk beside, and live life with me after my physical beauty fades–than snatch a guy who wanted a trophy wife but when I began to sag after childbirth and turn grey, he traded me in for a “newer model”. We can either be people worthy of relationship or objects for men to stumble over.

We have the power as women to bring about the redemption of the whole world and help to usher in the Messianic age. One of the ways I see us doing this is in taking on a more intentional mode of dress. How can we expect our men–husbands, fathers, and sons–to become great leaders within Klal Yisrael, if we do not take the steps to help them keep the covenant with their eyes (Job 31:1)? It is a great responsibility and privilege to be a woman in these last days; for I believe we have been called to lift up and support our men by being beacons of purity and positive speech. By elevating our homes (families), we can elevate the whole world. The old adage “a man is only as good as the woman who stands beside him” reflects just how important our actions are in repairing the world. When we choose modesty and positive speech, our men will be encouraged to step into the positions of leadership that they were given by G-d.

“If not now, when; if not you, who?” ~Hillel the Elder

 

My Thoughts on Mikvah Immersion

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Jewish halacha regarding immersion. However, I do the best I can under my present circumstances. I do not claim this to be a Torah commandment, but rather a beautiful tradition that I have found to be profoundly beneficial for my own spiritual growth. The following is my current understanding of this practice and my personal testimony.


The concept of immersing in a mikvah, or ritual waters (referred to as baptism in Christian circles) is a common practice among religious Jews. The differences between ritual immersion within the Jewish tradition and Christian baptism is, primarily, the way it is done. In the Jewish tradition, no one and no thing is supposed to touch the individual who is immersing. They dunk themselves, and the act is done often in a pool of living waters called a mikvah, or a living body of water such as a lake, sea, or river (it must be moving in order to count).

Ritual immersion is done at the time of conversion to the Jewish faith. It is also customary to go to the mikvah before Yom Kippur. Some men immerse every morning before going to pray. Women usually go to the mikvah right before they marry, and after the days of their separation (for more on family purity, read about it HERE).

Immersion is what my husband refers to as a “restart button” and, I think, serves as a pretty accurate picture.

Recently, I have become more “religious” about immersing at the end of the required time of separation between my husband and myself. Not that I believe it is explicitly commanded in the Torah, but because I see in the tradition of immersion, just as in the Havdalah ceremony, a way of “marking” the end of one thing and the beginning of something new. I love the intention of the mikvah. I try to be deliberate and thoughtful as I ready myself to immerse in the living waters of renewal.

First, I remove all my jewelry. I trim and clean under my nails–fingers and toes. Then I shower. Lastly, I fill up my tub (yes, I am aware this may seem unorthodox, but it’s all I can do at this time), and then I dip three times while I unstop the tub and turn the water back on. This causes the water to flow out while new water flows in (mayim chayim), but also ensures all of me is completely covered by the water. When I am done, I say the following blessings:

ברוך אתה יי אלוהנו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצבותיו וצונו על הטבילה

Baruch ata Ad-nai El-heinu melech ha-olam asher kid-shanu b’mitzvo-tav v’tzi-vanu al ha-tevilah.

Blessed are You, L-RD our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with the commandments and commanded us concerning immersion.

ברוך אתה יי אלוהנו מלך העולם שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

Baruch ata Ad-nai El-heinu melech ha-olam she-heche-yanu, ve-ki-y’manu, ve-higi-yanu la-z’man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, L-RD our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.

One can also choose music that will add to the experience. During my most recent mikvah, I listened to two songs from one of my favorite singers, Yonatan Razel. The first was “Et Paneicha” (Your Face), which comes from Psalm 27:8, 9a, 14:

You have said, “Seek my face.”

My heart says to you, “Your face, L-RD, do I seek.”

Hide not your face from me.

Wait for the L-RD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the L-RD!

Et Paneicha (Your Face)

Following the immersion and the blessings, I listened to “V’erashtich Li” (I Will Betroth You To Me) from Hosea 2:19,20, which says,

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.

I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the L-RD.”

V’erashtich Li (I Will Betroth You to Me)

Immersion has become something that I look forward to. It is truly otherworldly and my spirit feels elevated after coming up out of the waters; it is rebirth; it is freshness; it is renewed beginnings. It is truly a beautiful experience, and one I highly encourage all women to do, if they feel so inclined.

I hope sharing my personal testimony encourages you to consider this wonderful tradition, which has added so much beauty and meaning to my faith walk.

Blessings and Shalom,

S~

My Thoughts on Family Purity

Right away I want to make it very clear that these are only my opinions based on my own personal study of the Scriptures and extra-biblical sources; that I am still learning; and that I may at some time in the future append my beliefs on this subject. I am not fomenting rebellion against Chazal (the Holy Sages), as they have much wisdom to offer on this and other subjects found in Torah, but rather I desire to provide a basic foundation for the observance on the laws of family purity in the simplest of terms, so that women (and their husbands) who may be new to this walk will not be overwhelmed by the extra-biblical observances found within the traditions of Judaism.

Note: The goal should always be to do the things Hashem asks of us in His Word to the best of our ability and knowledge, and allow for more understanding as we continue in walking in His commandments out of love and reverential fear.

What constitutes Niddah?

In Leviticus 15:19 and 24, we are told:

“If a woman has an emission, and her emission in her flesh is blood, she shall be seven days in her [menstrual] separation, and anyone who touches her shall be tamei [a bearer of tum’ah] until evening…And if any man lie with her at all and her [menstrual] separation will be upon him, he will be tamei for seven days….”

Next, Leviticus 18:19 warns:

“Also you shall not approach a woman in the tum’ah of her [menstrual] separation, to uncover her nakedness.”

Finally, Leviticus 20:18 states:

“And if a man lie with a menstruating woman and reveal her nakedness, and she revealed the fountain of her blood, both of them will be cut off from among their people.”

Through the pashut–simple reading/interpretation of the text, we see that a woman is ritually impure for seven days, from the time she begins to bleed until the end of the seventh day. It is with the ceasing of blood flow and the allotted seven days that allows her to mikveh–immerse and become ritually pure.

More than seven days?

The rabbis in the Talmud (BT Niddah 66a) claim that women took upon themselves to extend the time during which couples are to refrain from sexual relations from the biblical minimum of seven days to at least twelve by waiting until the end of her flow, as described above — five or more days — and then waiting an additional seven days in which there is no flow or spotting. ~Issues in Jewish Ethics: Menstruation & “Family Purity” (Taharat HaMishpacha)

As we can see from the quote above, the plain interpretation of the texts in Leviticus were added to by the women of Israel, as a way to ensure that they did not transgress the laws of niddah. There is nothing in and of itself that is wrong with adding to the Torah if the motive is to ensure complete obedience–this is called conviction. It is a very serious thing to be cut off from one’s people. I, therefore, commend the heart of these women to obey the letter in the spirit of fear and love of their Creator.

If a woman wishes to extend the days of her purification because of conviction, then this is, I believe, permissible especially when she and her husband are in agreement. However, if a woman is not inclined to count past the required of seven days of separation, it should be understood that she is in compliance with the Torah and nothing more is needful, except immersion.

What about Physical Touch?

Again, taking the pashut into account, there is no explicit command to not touch, only the clarification that a person who touches a woman will become tamei, and were the Temple to be built, any man who desires to go and worship and/or offer sacrifices should refrain from touching his wife in order to not become tamei. Specifically the Torah states that a husband and wife are not to engage in sexual intercourse during the period of a woman’s niddah. It should be noted that it is highly encouraged by the Orthodox Jewish rabbinate, for a man and wife to abstain from all touch, even casual touch, so as to allow a woman complete separation and personal space during the time of her separation. Again, if a woman wants to completely separate from all contact with her spouse, it should be talked about and agreed upon between she and her husband.

Separate beds? Separate seating?

As with personal touch, the need for awareness is greater when the Tabernacle/Temple is present so that the man not become tamei, excluding him from freely going to worship and offer sacrifices. It is not required to sleep in separate beds or to sit on different chairs during a woman’s niddah. It should be clearly understood that should the Temple be rebuilt in our days, so may it be, that we all may want to rethink the necessity of separate sleeping arrangements and being more conscious of sitting on seats that would cause our husband to become tamei. Hashem is not saying that a man cannot become tamei, but that he should be aware of his spiritual state before coming into Hashem’s presence.

What about Mikveh?

Now this is something that I really have an increasing desire to do in a more ritualistic manner. I think it is because of the spiritual meaning I see. Mikveh is alluded to in the book of Exodus with the exodus of the Children of Israel. After they rushed through the bloody door of their homes, departing Egypt, and were born again as a holy nation, they entered the waters of the Reed Sea and mikvehed, being “purified”, in order to prepare them for the divine revelation they would receive at Mount Sinai.

Every month, [there is a great] potential for holiness, a woman’s potential to engage in the sublime power of creation, reaches a peak in her body (an “ascent”). When the potential is not fulfilled and the holiness departs, the now-lifeless remnants leave the body. And this “descent” is susceptible to tum’ah. It is precisely because of the high level of G‑dliness involved in the procreative process that tum’ah can occur at all.

But here again, this “descent” into niddah is for the purpose of a higher ascent, through purification in the mikvah and a new cycle of building up to a higher level of holiness the next month. The mikvah—as will be presently explained—enables one to ascend even higher than the previous month.

In this sense the mikvah and the monthly cycle of a woman may be compared to Shabbat and the weekly cycle of every Jew. The alternation of the holy day of Shabbat with the mundane days of the week is the same cycle of ascent and descent, reenacted every seven days. The six mundane days lead up to Shabbat, during which the world becomes elevated, purified, ascends to its source. Every Jew then receives an “extra soul,” which he loses as the Shabbat departs and he must “go down” again into the struggles of the coming week. It is the very struggle to purify ourselves and the world we confront during the six days that becomes elevated on the Shabbat, and enables us to ascend higher and higher every week, in constant progression. ~On the Essence of Ritual Impurity

It is this belief as stated above–that a woman’s cycle teaches us about the potential for holiness–that leads me to be more observant in the immersion following my own niddah, not only as a woman, but as a daughter of Israel.


I hope that this brief overview of my thoughts on family purity has given you a balanced view of what I believe is required and what is simply conviction-based. Regardless of the level one’s observance–whether sticking strictly with Scripture, or adding to the Scripture out of conviction–we should all be responsible for and aware of our bodies, so that we do not sin or cause our husbands to sin.

In this, as should be with all the commandments found in the Torah, let us be careful to do all as the Lord our God commanded.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Blessings and Shalom,
S~

Tzniut: Modesty and Headcovering (Part 3)

Today, I want to share a post from Rivka Malka that she wrote for Fashion-Isha’s blog. Rivka Malka’s view of modesty and headcovering is so very helpful in getting a proper perspective of what modesty/tzniut is really all about. I have posted the first bit of the article for you here so as not to infringe on the original blog’s rights to the material, so to read the rest, go to Fashion-Isha’s post: Wrapping With Wrapunzel

“My 17 year old daughter sat in class the other week and the teacher asked “When I say modesty, what words come to mind in the first sixty seconds.”

In the living room tonight, my daughter posed that same question to me. “What would you say, Ma?”

I easily answered “self – worth, protection, inner beauty, creative, gorgeous, inspired, whole.”

“That’s so you Ma. The girls in my class answered, ‘Rules, below the knee too tight’ etc”

Why? Why is that their response?

Blessings and Shalom,
Sarah

Tzniut: Modesty and Borders (Part 2)

Tacking onto yesterday’s post and video about modesty, the following video is for women, but in many ways these concepts can apply to men, who should also dress modestly. I hope it encourages you and gives you a different perspective about the true meaning of beauty, and the need for modesty and boundaries.

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

Shalom and Blessings,
S~

Tzniut: Merely Outward? (Part 1)

I have tried, for a few days now, to write a post about modesty, but I just can’t seem to to find the right words to express the reasons why I have taken upon myself the mitzvot of tzniut. I have every intention of sharing my own testimony on modesty sometime this week. I also will be posting various videos on this important topic, so be on the lookout. For the time being, I want to provide you with what I believe is a brief, but good introduction to the importance of modesty and how it goes beyond just “covering up.”


Shalom and blessings,
Sarah