Hide and The Truth Comes Out

By Josh Zebberman, Crown Heights
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest

Judaism is very particular when it comes to how we dress. In order not to provoke people’s thoughts and invite vulnerable relationships, we dress modestly and cover ourselves up. Our discreet dress is what kept us different from all of the other nations throughout our historical journey as a people. In more current times, people find dressing modestly to be rather challenging and perhaps even repressing. This essay will explore how the teachings of Chassidus can be applied to give us a deeper perspective on the purpose of modest dress. Through some key concepts from a maamar of the Rebbe Rashab and a Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we will see how Judaism’s guidelines of modest dress doesn’t have to feel repressing at all, but on the contrary, quite meaningful.

In the Rebbe Rashab’s maamar entitled Veyadata1, he explains why The Creator, G-D, hides Himself from creation. In order for us to appreciate who our Creator really is, and not just an expression of His Divine “persona” (for example His love, via solely feeling inspired, or other traits that just express Him), He must hide Himself. The maamar explains as a general rule that the only way to appreciate what something truly is, is through concealing what it appears to be. As soon as it’s appearance is expressed, it’s true essence is concealed.

For example, if a teacher delivers a lecture without first adapting the knowledge to the student’s level, the student will not understand to his full potential and will perhaps leave the lesson even more confused. A teacher must condense his knowledge and package it in a way where the student can think about the lesson and can process it and appreciate it.

When the teacher reveals too much information the student doesn’t grasp anything. The Talmud says that one who reaches for too much doesn’t end up reaching anything. Only when he hides and dresses up his lesson can the student then process the information in a way he can relate to it and ultimately appreciate what it’s real meaning.

The same applies to our relationship with G-D. He doesn’t just reveal Himself because, as human beings, we’re not divinely intuitive enough to appreciate it. G-D hides Himself, to enable us to the opportunity to discover who He really is on our own terms and actually appreciate it, much like a teacher who has abridged the depth of his lesson. As we said earlier, In order to appreciate what something really is, what it appears to be must be concealed.

In a talk delivered on Sukkos, the Rebbe illustrated this idea in the context of a Sukka. He explained how the name Sukka, has two meanings: Sukka comes from the Hebrew word sechach, which means “covering” (as the sukka provides a protective covering). Sukka also comes from the Hebrew word yiskeh, which means “seeing”.

On one hand the Sukka is representative of the notion of concealment (covering), but it also represents revelation (seeing). Although at first glance the two meanings of Sukka seem dichotomus, they actually go hand and hand with each other based on what we’ve explained. It is the very concealment that enables a true and meaningful revelation to be able to see what something really is.

When Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge, they lost their sensitivity to spirituality, their innocence, and became more self aware of their physical bodies. They then instinctively covered up their bodies, because, as we’ve explained, through concealing their appearance, they can appreciate the true depth of each other as they did before their sin.

The Tanya explains that in order to appreciate the true depth of another person, of who they really are, their soul, the one must be given primary credence and the body secondary. We must realize that our bodies are not the extent of our life but rather a conduit to facilitate a meaningful life.

At times it may feel tempting to be lax in our modest dress. Perhaps it may seem repressing. However, let us remember that much like G-D, we discreet bodies to remind us that there’s a deeper and more meaningful part of us that it can express. The purpose of tznius – modesty, isn’t because the body is profane, but rather on the contrary, to remind us that it’s there to express a much deeper and meaningful part of ourselves.