One of the most misunderstood middot is Modesty. The word brings images of women hidden behind long sleeves, skirts and head scarves. While this is one interpretation of modesty, it is not the deeper meaning. The Kabbalists know that lust is a powerful life disrupter that is balanced by the practice of modesty, but not just in how we dress. On a mystical level, modesty is about what we reveal. When we find ourselves in a situation in which we could reveal something, be it our body, an idea, a feeling, or information, we are asked to reveal only what is necessary. Acting with this type of wise privacy brings us dignity.
Modesty is a boundary that allows me to own what is private in my life and honor what is private in yours. It is a curtain that, much like clothing, allows me to choose who will see into certain parts of my life, as well as what I deem private. Acting with modesty empowers me to create quiet boundaries that demonstrate and communicate my self-worth. When I value my boundaries, I demand respect.
A central mystical concept is that we are souls living in a body. Modesty prevents us from judging a person only by their body, the home of their soul. We need to look deeper into another person to truly know who they are. Looking deeper enhances our practice of loving kindness and prevents us from believing only what we see.
If we are modest in all things, then we are decent in private, as well as in public. We are kind even when no one can see us. And equally as important, modesty allows us to stop worrying about ourselves and focus on the needs of others. Imagine celebrating at a wedding without worrying about what we are wearing or if people are looking at us. We focus our love and attention on the new couple.
Find a way to practice modesty for one week. Visualize a curtain between what you want to share and what is appropriately private. Let me know what changes for you.