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Modesty in private


Rabbi David Sperling

Elul 14, 5781
Hi- I know that the shulchan orech advises us to dress and undress modestly- even when alone and even in a dark room because the Shechina is with us. Why should we be embarrassed of our bodies in front of the being who created it? In addition, the way I understand it, the only reason we wear clothing in general is because as humans with a yetzer hara we have a hard time looking past the physical and seeing the spiritual (the reason adam and chava pre-sin didnt have clothes) but surely G-d can have no such difficulty. I know my question sounds trivial but its been bothering me for years. Thank you in advance for the time your taking to help me All the very best
Shalom, Thank you for your question. I’m so glad that you wrote to us, and your question is not trivial at all. It touches on some of the major issues of our relationship with Torah and Mitzvot. Let’s start with on practical halacha level. While you are correct that this law is found in the Shuclah Aruch, there are discussions amongst the latter day Rabbis as to it’s level of obligation. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l understood it to be a binding law, while Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l saw it as an ideal to aspire to, but not an outright obligation. However, both of them agree that in a situation that one normally stands naked, it is perfectly permissible. So, for example, Rav Feinstein zt”l advices changing cloths in the bathroom, where it is normal for a person to undress in order to bath. Also, they would both agree that disrobing for washing etc is fine. (It could be that in a place and time where people generally get dressed in their private bedrooms [where they have their cloths wardrobe] they might agree that one may undress there are change cloths). Now let’s turn to idea behind the law. The concept of personal modesty, especially our physical modesty, is something that we need to understand. Different generations and cultures have related to this issue in different ways. While we see general western culture today being very open with displays of nakedness – Judaism has a different approach. In short, we believe in creating an outlook that (as you mentioned) focuses not on the physical, but on the inner value of a person. We need to start acquiring this way of being with the way we approach our own sense of modesty. You are absolutely correct that Hashem has “no problem” “seeing” our nakedness. The issue is not how Hashem sees us – but rather how we feel. Do we internalize a sense of Hashem’s presence? Do we have a personal sense of innate modesty? The practice of not standing naked comes to instill this in us. Note that according to what we wrote above, that the law does not come to limit normal acts of washing etc, then we can begin to understand that the halacha is not trying to make us neurotic about our bodies. Nor is it trying to negate a positive body image. (This is not the place to discuss intimate issues – but it is enough just to hint that in the area of married relations there are a different laws that come to emphasize the need of personal closeness and love between the couple). Rather, the issue is one of going to the other extreme and desensitizing oneself to the modesty that we would like to have. I hope this short answer is of some help. Blessings.
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