Modesty and Morality by Rabbi Yoni Mandelstam


Concentrating on the words we say during Davening is a truly challenging task. What is even more difficult is maintaining that same level of intensity and enthusiasm while I am alone. One strategy that has helped me in my own concentration is that I sometimes imagine that one of my rabbis or role models is standing right next to me as I Daven. However, this is not only true by Davening, but, in general, it is not always easy to do the right thing behind closed doors because there is no pressure on us to put forth our “A-game.”

Rabbi Soloveichik ZT”L (Nefesh HaRav 272-273) explains that this very notion illuminates the advantage of Sheim over Yefet in Parashat Noach. When Sheim and Yefet are informed that their father is drunk and naked, they respond with a noble and modest act of covering up their father with a garment (BeReishit 9:20-23). Despite the joint effort, Chazal, as presented by Rashi (Pasuk 23 s.v. VaYikach), explain that Sheim received a greater reward for this action than Yefet, "Because he had more enthusiasm while doing this Mitzvah.” The Rav explains that Sheim understood the necessity to constantly act in the proper manner and stand up for what is right despite the lack of morals surrounding him. In this case, while Noach lay in his lowly state, no societal pressure was being put on Sheim to stand up for his father’s honor. Nevertheless, he jumped up at the opportunity to assist his father despite the lack of outside pressure to do so. This, explains the Rav, is why the descendants of Sheim received the great Mitzvah of Tzitzit. The Arizal (see Magein Avraham Orach Chaim 8:13) believes that the Tzitzit should be worn under our primary shirt, and only the strings should be shown to the public eye. The fact that the majority of the Tzitzit lay concealed from public view symbolizes the modesty of Sheim’s morality. We wear the sacred garment in a way that is not be seen by onlookers because we do not perform Hashem’s commandments in response to societal demands. Rather, the Jewish people have the responsibility to embody morality and purity despite the expectations and standards of the nations around us.

This idea connects very well to the prayer we recite each morning, commonly referred to as “LeOlam,” where we state that, “We should fear God both in public and in private.” There are two critical life lessons to be learned from this prayer. Firstly, as Sheim exemplifies, we must believe that fear of God should be carried out equally in public and in private. This means that it would be inappropriate for a Jew to present himself as God fearing in public but sin in private. However, there is an additional, more challenging life lesson to be learned from these words. The Orchot Tzaddikim points out that even when we find ourselves in public, we have to make sure that our motives are pure. While being viewed by others, it is easy to put forth our best efforts because we know that others are watching our every step. However, the fact that others are watching us should not be our primary motivation. One common example of this is that it is easier to refrain from conversation during Davening when a parent or teacher is nearby. However, the reason to not talk during Davening should not be because of fear of our parents and teachers, rather, we should refrain from disrupting the prayer services out of respect for God and His sacred sanctuary. Therefore, in both public and private settings we should always try to act in the proper manner simply because it is the right thing to do, regardless of other pressures.

Hoarding Skills, Hoarding Sins by Simcha Wagner

Guests Above, Guests Below by Moshe Pahmer and Matthew Wexler