Modesty Behind Closed Doors: What To Keep From Your Spouse

There are two concepts that have become the religious world’s pillars for a healthy marriage.
1. Be modest in how you approach the outside world.
2. Don’t ever keep anything from your spouse.

Well, I think both of these ideas are stupid. Ok, I take that back — they’re greatly misunderstood. Let me explain why both of these are shams — at least, in our on-the-surface understanding of these two topics.

Modesty: The Long-Skirted Misunderstood Gorilla In The Room
One of the definitions for the word “modesty” in the dictionary sums it up perfectly: “freedom from vanity.” I have seen some religious people who parade”modesty” to the point of it becoming this definition of vanity. When someone’s vibe says, “Look how modest I am,” that person might as well put on a mini-skirt and spike heels. This is false modesty because modesty isn’t putting something on, but rather taking something off – phony vanity. Now, I’m not knocking dressing appropriately, but it’s easy to spot someone who is wearing the “modesty costume one that, I might add, can become one of vanity. How can someone be covered up but reeking of immodesty? Because true modesty — true “freedom from vanity” — starts on the inside –and it has little-to-nothing to do with clothes. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Mental Modesty: Putting The Right Images In A Mental Photo Album
Based on past experiences, I’ve come to realize that there is something that I call the Mental Photo Album. Depending on the experiences you observe or allow to exist is what fill up other people’s Mental Photo Album of you. If you’re mean to them, their MPA will be filled with rude “images” of you when they call you to mind. If you’re sweet, they’ll have sweet “images” of you. So-on-and-so-forth.

I believe that this MPA has a limited number of “pages” you can fill. To test this, quickly think of a co-worker. What immediately came to mind? Was it how nice they are or how much you’re not looking forward to returning to work to put up with their nonsense? While you may be able to recall either good or bad, the prominent image will pop up to the forefront of your mind. In the case of spouses, the maintenance of their MPA is of utmost importance. This may mean you need to leave some things out in order to preserve the good images.

If someone were to install a camera in my house to watch my wife and me, many would think the footage was kind of weird. Why? Because even when it’s just the two of us at home and one of us goes into the bathroom, the door shuts. Not only that, but when I go use the toilet, you can start to hear music playing from inside. I also try my hardest to control any potentially rude bodily functions around her. Why? It’s not because we are prudes, but because there are certain “photos” (or sounds) that simply don’t need to take up space in the other person’s Mental Photo Album. When my wife takes a quick mental peek into her Mental Photo Album of my body, I don’t want that picture to be of me relieving myself in the bathroom. I want it to be a positive “photo” (which is also why I mostly drink light beer these days –ok, just kidding).

We didn’t develop this practice in order to thumb our noses at people, but rather for holiness in the home. I know that sounds SUPER weird right now because of the connotation of the word “holiness”, but I’m not really meaning in the religious sense as much as I mean it in the definition of the Hebrew word “kadosh” — set apart for a specific purpose. Our own modesty takes on the dictionary’s other definition of modesty: “a regard for decency” I strive to make my body “kadosh” in modesty for my wife.

(I’ll admit, this wasn’t the advice of a rabbi or any religious book, but inspired by a blog called “Single Dad Laughing” on a post entitled “16 Ways I Blew My Marriage” – this is way #10. “when she does think of your naked body, she’s not going to be thinking about it in a grunting/squatting position.” I just have to give credit where credit is due.)

So, to summarize on the two starting topics:
1. Being modest how you approach the outside world.
– No, be modest (aka: “free from vanity” even with yourself. By that definition of modesty, you can be just as immodest by obsessing over your appearance in a bathroom mirror as you are wearing scantily-clad clothing in a synagogue. Modesty starts from within.
2. Don’t ever keep anything from your spouse.
– There’s no reason why the first image in their Mental Photo Album of your body should be of you sitting on the toilet or the like. Just as you’ve set your spouse apart from everyone else in the world, also set yourself apart in your modesty for them.


Ken's Wedding D'var Torah: To Carry and To Give

Recently, a friend asked for my notes from a d’var Torah I gave for a friend’s wedding last August. I thought I’d put it out here for you guys as well. Feel free to steal it for any wedding! 

Not a Ladder Rung: L’Besar Echad

If you are attending a Jewish wedding, you were called to be witnesses to not the next rung in a relationship ladder as society as made many to believe, but rather to bear witness to sealing of a holy covenant between two people and the God of Israel. This covenant is, as Genesis 2 says, the reason a man ever leaves the home of his parents – to hold fast to his wife so the two may become “l’basar echad” – one flesh. The term “echad” is the same expression Moses uses to express to Israel the very nature of their God – a holy unity that binds the universe together: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. “Hear O Israel, HaShem is God. HaShem is One.”

Ve-Ahavta Le’reaka Kamoka

In becoming “l’besar echad”, this brings about a unique responsibility as expressed the command of “ve-ahavta le’reaka kamoka” to love your neighbor as yourself. Within the unity of marriage, being “l’basar echad“, caring for the other is caring yourself. It is in your best interest to care about their wellbeing from the depths of your heart because they are, in a sense, you. You have been unified.

May You Have the Simcha of Adam and Chavah

In the seven traditional wedding blessings, one of the blessings is that you may be blessed with the simcha, the perfect joy, of Adam and Chavah, Adam and Eve that they shared in Gan Eden. What is so perfect about this simcha, this kind of joy? It is because they, beyond a shadow of a doubt, knew that they were literally made for each other. This is the kind of simcha, the kind of perfect joy that everyone who loves you wants to bless your marriage with this day and every day of your marriage.

Ahavah – Giving, Not Love

You know, oddly enough, though we think we’ve been taught these concepts from a Biblical perspective, there is Hebrew word for the Western concept of “love.” It’s not lovey dovey, mushy gushy puppy dog tails and butterfly kisses. It’s not fluffy. It’s work. The word for “love” in Hebrew is “ahavah.” Many translate this as love, but that’s not what it means. When you break it down, the root of the word “hav” simply means “give.” Ahavah is the expression “I will give.” Ahavah is the promise of action. It is the promise of giving.

Nesuin – Not Marriage, Carrying

By the same odd coin, there is no Hebrew for “marriage.” You won’t find a wedding ceremony spelled out in the Bible – it’s usually a man taking for himself a wife. The closest word we have is “nesuin” – but “nesuin” doesn’t mean marriage – rather it expresses the nature of it. The root of it is “nu-say” – “to carry”. The whole word is plural and means “carryings.”
To marry is to carry. To love is to give. May everyone shower a “nesuin“, a marriage, with their own “ahavah“, their own givings of love just as you two are giving yourself to one another as a source of blessing on the life of the other.