Tucked away in this weeks Parsha, unbeknownst to many, is one of the chief M’koros the Gemara uses for the Mida of Tznius. The Gemara cites Rochel Imainu as the standard bearer for Tznius, telling us that it was on account of her great Tznius that she was Zocheh to have Shaul Hamelech as a descendant. Precisely what behavior was manifested by Rochel Imainu that caused the the Gemara to hold her out as the pinnacle of this Mida?
Consider, in the last few weeks we have been told many classic examples of modesty by the Imahos and others, why wait for Rochel before citing an example? The Mepharshim discuss Sarah as being “B’Ohel”, in her tent, as a testament to Sarah’s modesty (Vayera 18:9); Rivka covered her face upon seeing Yitzchak as an act of modesty (Chayei Sara 24:68); even Eliezer is praised for riding in front of Rivkah as they returned to meet Yitzchak for the first time, so he would not be tempted to gaze at her improperly (Chayei Sarah 24:61). Yet, it is Rochel who is cited as the model for Tznius. What is the Gemara so impressed with that it passes over these seemingly obvious earlier examples?
Perhaps if we examine the particular greatness of Rochel discussed in the Gemara we can gain an insight into the reason for this choice. The Gemara (Megilah, Daf 13b) states Rochel’s great example of Tznius was that she gave the Simanim to Leah. Yaakov had given Rochel signs so Lavan would be unable to switch Leah in her place, and rather than allow Leah to be embarrassed on her wedding night, Rochel gave Leah these code signs. It was this act that the Gemara cites as demonstrating Rochel’s great Tznius. While this surely was an act of compassion, even great self sacrifice, it does not seem to be an act of modesty, the contemporary translation for Tznius. Indeed, the Gemara goes even further and explains that Rochel’s reward was that her descendant was Shaul and he exhibited the same Mida of Tznius. What was Shaul’s Tznius? The Gemara says that Shaul met with his Uncle shortly after being informed that he was to be the first King of Klal Yisroel, and kept this information to himself. Another enigma – the Gemara tells us of two great illustrations of Tznius and neither seems to fit within our modern day framework of this concept.
In reality, it is through these examples that we can learn the meaning of true Tznius. Tznius is a concept far broader than the way we dress. Tznius, understood properly, is sensitivity to others. The lesson from the Gemara is inescapable. Rochel’s gadlus was in not allowing Leah to be embarrassed. Shaul’s was in not revealing the tremendous honor to be bestowed upon him. In each case, they did something, or resisted doing something which would have been personally desirable so as not to cause any ill feelings or suffering by another.
Our mode of dress is just one obvious derivative of this Mida. We would not want to dress in a manner to cause anyone else to feel uncomfortable or be insensitive to how we may cause them to feel. Nevertheless, a proper understanding of Tznius, as defined by the Gemara, elevates this Mida back to its proper place, central to us as Jews. It applies to men, women, children, the elderly and the young. How ironic and tragic that we may be guilty of the greatest lack of Tznius by pointing out someone else’s inappropriate dress. There are undoubtedly more private and constructive ways to engage someone, or even give them musar where appropriate, rather than embarrassing them. Let us not permit our zeal for Mitzvos to confuse Ikar and Tuffel. (Primary and Secondary) We all must constantly guard our behavior and actions so as not to cause discomfort to another or to be insensitive to how our actions may make them feel. Through this type of zealousness we can home to achieve true Tznius.