Modesty begins with a different way of looking at yourself. Usually, we perceive things simply as they appear on the surface. We look at a house and see its windows, doors, and roof. We look at a tree and see its trunk, branches, and leaves.
Yet every object or scene has more than one aspect to it, and if put in a different light, can become more than what it initially appeared to be. An old, gnarled tree becomes a stirring statement of the ability to endure and transcend time. A Hebrew-inscribed tombstone in a neglected Polish cemetery becomes a soul crying out from a lost world. Even a single object can take on very different or even opposite meanings. The Kotel (Western Wall) can be a symbol of mourning over the Jewish nation’s fall from its former glory; yet, if viewed differently, that same wall can communicate hope and rebirth.
As a human being, you are the most multifaceted creation of all, and can be seen in an almost infinite number of ways. Upon meeting you for the first time, people may immediately see “stocky build” or “curly hair.” After spending a bit of time with you, they may notice “artistic” or “athletic.” After getting to know you, they may be able to see you as “emotionally complex” or “a highly abstract thinker.” And just as others can view you on different planes, so, too, there are any number of ways in which you can view yourself.
Tzniut begins with looking past your more superficial layers and seeing who, on the deepest level, you are capable of being. Tzniut then means gradually learning how to convey an important message to others — and instilling it in yourself.
The message that tzniut asks you to project is “internality”: that of all the parts of you, it is your innermost self by which you want to be defined. In order to convey this message, you must know when and how to reveal your body, your abilities, and everything else that makes you up, so that these don’t hide but instead express who you really are. The challenge of tzniut is to project every aspect of yourself in such a way that it draws the focus to your true identity.
The following chapters will take you through the different layers that comprise you, from the outside to the inside, and show what it means to turn each one into a reflection of your deepest self. In the process, you’ll get an increasingly clear picture of what internality is, why it’s the most important message you can communicate, and how you can reach your innermost self through tzniut.
Reprinted from “Outside/Inside” A fresh look at Tzniut by Gila Manolson. Available at www.gila-manolson.com