“The Secret of Tznius”
A Kabbalistic look at Personal Dignity and Modesty
Excerpt from 'Sod Hatznius'
By Rabbi Yekusiel Fish, Author of ‘Sod HaChashmal’
Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov, Author of ‘Jewish By Choice’
According to Kabbalah, during marital intimacy, there is a shefa of life given over from God to the husband and the wife. However, the wife receives this shefa by way of her husband, as it says, “See life with the woman that you loved” (Ecc. 9:9). As we discussed in the book ‘Sod HaChetzi’, the husband transfers half the shefa he receives to his wife, and in the merit of this transference he renews the shefa he has coming to him. This parallels that which takes place in the Sefirotic system: Abba gives to Ima half of the shefa he receives from the world above him. And from this half-shefa, Ima gives birth to Zeir Anpin and Nukva. Zeir Anpin and Nukva then unify in the same manner and Nukva gives birth to the world below her.
Similarly, the Arizal says (‘Shaar Maamarei Rashbi’ p. 9) that a woman has the life force for her 365 sinews, but receives the life force for her 248 limbs from her husband at the time of marital union. In fact, since she is dependent upon her husband for the life force of her 248 limbs, she is exempt from some of the 248 positive commandments, because the body’s limbs are the physical parallel of the spiritual 248 positive commandments. (Specifically, a woman is exempt from positive commandments that are time-bound. See ‘Shaar Maamarei Rashbi’ for the reasoning.)
For this reason, the Rekanti on Parshat Lech Lecha teaches that Sarah’s being taken twice – once by Pharoah and once by Avimelech – hints to the Beis Hamikdash being destroyed twice. At first glance this requires explanation. After all, Pharoah and Avimelech never actually did anything to Sarah – so why were their mere thoughts about doing something to Sarah so impactful? Similarly, the Talmud (Yoma 29a) states that the thought of sin has more of an impact than the sin itself.
If another man has thoughts about a woman, her shefa descends by way of the improper thoughts of this individual – the thinker “steals” the shefa from her. Despite the fact that he didn’t do any action whatsoever; the thought itself steals the shefa.
This ”theft” has a damaging impact on the woman being thought about as well as the wife of the thinker. The woman being thought about does not receive the shefa that was truly designated for her, and the thinker’s wife now receives the shefa that was truly designed for the woman her husband had improper thoughts about. This results in the thinker’s wife not receiving the life-force that God truly designated for her, leading her to feel that something is lacking and missing in her life.
Thus, we find in the Ten Commandments that the directives not to commit adultery and not to steal were placed next to each other, hinting that the adulterer is also a thief.
So, even though Pharaoh and Avimelech didn’t do any action with Sarah, the thought itself caused Sarah’s holy shefa to come down to them, and this paved the way for the future destructions of the two Temples.
What is the connection between the Temples and Sarah?
In order to properly explain the connection between the Temples and Sarah, we must first give a brief overview of the Male-Female dynamic in Kabbalah: “Male” refers to inner essence, whereas “Female” refers to outer expression. The union between Male and Female occurs when the outer expression (Female) matches the inner essence (Male).
The Temple is the place of union between Kudsha Breech Hu and the Shecheena – God and His Presence. Or to put it another way, it is the place where the level of “outer expression” of God (Shecheena/ Female) is elevated to unite with the “inner essence” that all is God (Kudsha Breech Hu/Male).
In a certain respect, Sarah was the personification of the Shecheena concept. She corresponds to the all-inclusive expression of God that was present in the Beis Hamikdash. Thus, if Pharaoh and Avimelech stole the shefa of Sarah with their thoughts about her, it is as if they stole the shefa of the Shecheena itself – therefore the illicit thoughts of Pharaoh and Avimelech led to the destruction of the Temples.
My father Rabbi Yaakov Fish Shlit"a adds that the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, which was caused by Pharaoh’s illicit thoughts about Sarah lasted only seventy years since it was thoughts that caused it and nothing more. However, the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash, which was caused by Avimelech’s illicit thoughts has now lasted approximately 2,000 years since Avimelech did more than just think about Sarah, as related in the Midrash (Yalkut Vayera 90).
Similarly, the Sun-Moon dynamic is an expression of the Male-Female dynamic . The sun gives forth light, but it is only by way of the moon’s receiving that light and making it accessible to us, that it actually becomes something practical and usable for us (at night). Interestingly, a verse describing Moshiach's time states, “The light of the moon will be like the light of the sun.” In Hebrew, the “backronym” (end-letters) of this verse are the letters resh, hey, resh, hey, which also can be arranged to spell HeeRHuR, meaning to think, hinting that the thought of the husband (the sun) brings light to his wife (the moon). Just as the goal in this world is for the outer expression of God to become “united” with the inner reality that all is God, so too, in marriage, the goal is for the shefa the wife is receiving to be “united” with her true shefa above – and that is dependent on the HeeRHuR (the thoughts) of her husband.
What comes out from this is that the man who sees that his wife is acting immodestly in her dress and speech must take note and reevaluate his own conduct and thoughts. He must be extremely careful not to look at or think about another woman. In particular, during the time of marital intimacy as explained in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 240:2). He must do all in his power to ensure that he is giving over to his wife her true shefa; the shefa that will endow her with complete satisfaction so that she will not go searching for it in other places, God forbid.
Additionally, the woman who feels she is not getting the attention she needs must recognize that searching for it outside her marriage will only cause an increase in her ultimate feeling of dissatisfaction. After all, receiving attention from men other than her husband only makes her more prone to having her shefa “stolen”. On the other hand, acting with tzniut increases the likelihood that she will merit to receive her true shefa from her husband – and through this come to satisfaction and wholeness in life.
Based on all we have said, we can understand why the Torah refers to marital intimacy as “knowledge”, as it says, “And Adam knew his wife Eve”. (Gen. 4:1) Certainly, one who gives over the shefa of life to another knows their essence.
The Talmud (Yevamos 63b) says, "A beautiful woman – her husband is lucky, his days are double". Rashi explains that he is happy with her and feels like his days are double. Just as we learned that when the woman is modest she is beautiful in her husband's eyes, he then receives her life force, her shefa, to pass over to her, and his days are actually double.
In many verses, we see that a modest wife is similar to a treasure found, a 'Metziah'. (Proverbs 8, 22) "Found a wife – found good", and (Proverbs 31, 1) "Eshes Chayil – who shall find?" The woman is dependent upon her husband for her life force, and since the husband finds her life force during marital intimacy, she is as if he found a new treasure, a 'Metziah', every time as new. This is the secret why marital intimacy is done through attractiveness which in Hebrew is called "Metzias" Chen, finding charm, as if he finds a new treasure, a 'Metziah' every time as new.
Similar to all we have outlined, the Zohar (Terumah 171a) teaches that the Shecheena does not “dwell” outside of Eretz Yisroel. The Shecheena is the archetypical dignified and modest woman that does not go outward towards others. Accordingly, the Shecheena doesn’t want to go “outside” (of Eretz Yisroel) so that her shefa is not stolen.
We find in the Arizal (Sefer HaLikutim, Matos 262) that the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe did not enter Eretz Yisroel because of issues having to do with thought. Reuven’s conception occurred when Yaakov was with Leah while thinking it was Rachel. And Gad’s conception occurred when Yaakov was with Zilpa while thinking he was with Leah. Menashe is rooted in the mitzvah of gid hanashe, which is the “other side” of Yesod, which can be seen by the fact that the gid hanashe is at the end of the spine and the yesod is at the end of the spine. Combine this with the fact that his mother was the daughter of Shechem ben Chamor, and we see that in this area there was a problem from the side of his mother, therefore, half of the tribe of Menashe does not enter Eretz Yisroel.
The Zohar (Vayetze 155a) explains that a man’s thinking of another woman during intimacy results in a “soul exchange”, and the son from such a union is referred to as a “soul of exchange”. The Zohar (Vayetze 155b) also states that the thought during intimacy is the “main” thing – i.e. that the thought ”attaches” to the seed of the man, and everything goes in accordance with that thought. The Talmud (Nedarim 20b) also declares that a child born from a union in which a man was thinking of another woman during intimacy is considered “close to the status of mamzer”.
In fact, we find this principle come to light in the Talmud (ibid.) An individual said, “I shall not put my eye on another woman lest his children come close to the status of mamzerus.” The obvious question here is that he should have said lest “my children come close to the status of mamzerus”. What is meant by “his children”? Rabbi Mordechai Gross Shlit"a explains that the individual was saying that he doesn’t want to think about another woman lest her and her husband’s children come close to the status of mamzerus due to the effect the thinker has on that which he is thinking about. According to all we have outlined, we can further explain that since her true shefa will have been “stolen” due to the thoughts of the thinker, her children will not be entirely from her shefa and they will have a certain closeness to the status of mazerus. This should be a wakeup call to men about the real effects of where they put their eyes and their thoughts, as well as to women regarding the real effects of immodest conduct.
Thus, it is brought in the name of the Vilna Gaon that just as a man has the mitzvah to put all his effort into Torah learning, a woman has the mitzvah to put all her effort into Tznius. According to what we have written the reason for this is clear. Just as a man’s learning Torah brings him his true shefa in a holy manner, a woman’s dignified and modest conduct does the same for her.
The song ‘Eishes Chayil’ refers to the plenty, which a man receives from his wife, as the “spoils of war” (Proverbs 31:2). Additionally, the Yerushalmi learns the Mitzva of "pru u'rvu, (marry and bare children) v'chivshuha" (to conquer); who is the one who conquers? The man. The Arizal refers to the seed of a man as arrows that are shot (Likutei Torah, Shoftim), and the Talmud compares the yesod of a man to a sword (Bava Metzia 84b) and the yesod of a woman to a weapon (Avoda Zara 25b). These quotations all seem hard to understand; what do spoils of war have to do with the blessing that man receives in his wife's merit? Why does it sound like a man's wife is compared to a conquered enemy whose spoils of war are taken?
A husband and wife are one unit that are divided into the side of Chessed and the side of Gevura – the man is the concept of Chessed and the woman is the concept of Gevura. Archetypical Chessed is the concept of unending giving forth of energy in potential, whereas archetypical Gevura is the concept of constant actualization and quantification of that energy. Chessed is limitless but unusable and impractical, whereas Gevura is limited but usable and practical. The side of Gevura is where the Yetzer Hara mainly stays, and even if it seems to be friendly, the Yetzer Hara is man's greatest enemy. This is why it is important that the man should lead the spiritual part of life in the Jewish home, just as the Yetzer Tov controls the Yetzer Hara. The shefa of money that comes to the man is truly in the merit of his wife, and it is essentially her portion. Money is rooted in Gevura – and is therefore the “portion of the woman”. As the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59a) teaches: Rabbi Chelbo said: A man should always be careful with his wife’s honor because blessing is only bestowed on his house for her sake. In addition, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches (Likutei Moharan 59) that a man’s money comes to him by way of his spouse, through the light of her soul the money comes to him, that lights sparkle and expand from the light of her soul, and these lights bring the plenty of money. This is why marital intimacy is comparable to a battle. That the man conquers the portion and money that belongs to his wife and takes the spoils of war. This is the reason that the Talmud compares the yesod of a man to a sword and the yesod of a woman to a weapon, and the Arizal refers to the seed of a man as arrows.
In case of “union of klippa” when the husband and wife are not modest, (Klippa here refers to that which is external and lacking real substance) the intimacy is like war, the woman wants the shefa that comes by way of the man, and the man wants the money that comes by way of the woman. However, marital intimacy in which each side is looking to do good for the other, leads to unity and peace. In such a union, both sides understand that God created the world in such a way that the woman has nothing on her own, and she needs her husband to transfer her shefa, and that he gains from her shefa as well. This is a “union of kedusha” (holiness), they both want the conquering and merit the spoils of war. This is why the Chofetz Chaim wrote that all of the man's success in finances are in the merit of Tznius, since a woman who is not modest, her life is stolen and her money is taken.
Before a woman is married, the money she has coming to her from above is “transferred” to her by way of her father. For this reason, the Talmud (Bava Basra 141a) teaches that a man is better off having daughters than sons when it comes to his finances. Once married, the money she has coming to her from above is “transferred” to her by way of her husband.
The Chassam Sofer writes (answers of Even Haezer part 2, 170) that a widow and widower are called "Alman" or "Almanah" to hint that they do not have real livelihood, (Al-Man, no food.) since the real plenty is dependent on marriage. The Sod Hatznius article explains at length why the Talmud (Sota 10a) refers to marital intimacy as grinding wheat. In addition, the Arizal refers to the seed of a man as the wheat that comes out from the grinding stones. The article also explains the connection between money, which is called Damim, blood, and the blood of a woman's yesod.
The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayishlach 5) says, "Women must not wear jewelry outside, because simple people may look at her and this is not to her honor. Jewelry was given to a woman for use in her home, as not to cause an opening before a thief". From this, we learn that a woman, who causes other man to sin, opens the door for thieves. The Midrash teaches us the secret, why this sin is called 'Pritzus', as she creates an opening, a 'Pirtza', for other men to steal her own shefa.
We can now understand why the Talmud states that a man ought to take a lesson from a rooster who appeases his mate before cohabitation (Eruvin 100b). After all, we might have asked why a woman needs to be appeased when it comes to something that she desires and in which she takes pleasure. However, now that we recognize that there is a “battle” and a “taking of spoils” occurring in this act, the necessity for appeasement in order to achieve a “union of kedusha” consisting of mutual consent is easily understood.
Additionally, we now see a deeper reason for the Kiddushin of a man and woman taking place by way of the man giving something of monetary value to the woman with the woman willingly receiving it. Upon getting married, the couple’s shefa and monetary success comes by way of their inner thoughts and outer conduct. Just as she is sanctified and betrothed to him, her shefa is sanctified and betrothed to him. If the man has the proper thoughts and the woman has appropriate conduct, all will be passed smoothly from husband to wife. Therefore, the act that actually binds the marriage entails the groom giving over to his bride something of financial value.
In particular, the item of value that the groom typically gives over to his bride in the marriage ceremony is a ring – a piece of jewelry. This implies that her jewelry is to play a role within their marriage – as opposed to using jewelry to draw attention from those outside their marriage, God forbid. Instead of being a vehicle by which her shefa is “stolen” by another man, a woman’s jewelry is to be a vehicle that helps her shefa come to her by way of her husband.
The Vilna Gaon explains in his commentary to Sefer Yetzira that the twelve “senses” of human experience correspond to the twelve tribes – and the “sense” of thought corresponds to the tribe Yissachar. The name Yissachar connects the Hebrew words “yesh schar”, meaning “contains reward”. Perhaps this is a hint that a person who properly rules over his “sense” of thought merits great spiritual reward.
Additionally, the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 1:3) states that Tznius is beautiful. Another Medrash (Pesikta 46:1) relates, “There is nothing more endearing to God than Tznius.” We see the concepts of beauty and endearment in relation to Tznius. Accordance to what we have written, we can understand a reason why: Those who act in the dignified and righteous manner of Tznius in their thoughts and actions, arouse feelings of beauty and endearment since their transfer of shefa and their connection is complete.
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