Climbing the Ladder of Holiness…Without Stepping on Others

In Elul, if we enhance our levels of observance, I’ve heard we get help from Above to be successful. Some take on getting to shacharit on time (or davening shacharit all together), lighting Shabbos candles a bit earlier, smiling more (this alone can change the world!), learning a little more Torah each day… You get the idea.

I think I might take on Guarding My Eyes. I will make sure not to look at anything, or anybody, that might cause me to become less holy, because I aspire to be a Holy Jew! And Women of the World, I need your help. I may have to go shopping for food at the market, and what will I do if I pull a bottle of tomato sauce off the shelf and there is a woman on the label? I may have to join my brethren and go through market aisles with opaque tape in hand, covering any images that might knock me off the holy ladder I’m trying to climb.

But wait, what if there are women shopping when I’m in the market? Hmm. I propose there be set hours of the day when women should be allowed to shop and hours when I and my holy brothers can pick up our pasta sauce without fear of tarnishing our neshamot.

Oh no! What about on the way to the shuk? I may pass women on the street. Ladies, would you mind leaving your homes only in the morning so that I could walk freely during the afternoons? Thanks. I can feel the kedusha already!  And while you’re out in the mornings, you can get your shopping done! It works out perfectly…and I’ll be able guard my eyes unchallenged.

But is that the point, to be unchallenged? If I decide to guard my eyes in public, it will be a challenge.

I know there’s a concept for men to guard their eyes, and it’s a lofty level and in my opinion, praiseworthy. But can anybody tell me where in our mesorah is the idea to cover pictures of women? I know a rabbi who has a picture hanging on his wall of the Chofetz Chaim…and his wife.  The picture was taken prior to 1933. At what point in Jewish history did covering images of women—a chumrah on others’ cheshbon—become injected into our mesorah?

I know another rabbi who opts to daven in his seat on transatlantic flights so he won’t disturb his nonreligious seatmates over and over and over again. He doesn’t want his davening with a minyan to be on the other guy’s cheshbon. I don’t know if this is wrong or right, but I do know that making somebody move four times to be able to daven will not inspire that person to want to come closer to the religion. It will probably just annoy him or her. (If we’re trying to influence others, or m’karve others, you catch more flies with honey, so the saying goes.)

In my quest to be kadosh, I do not want to offend others or worse, push them away. If I want to strive to be holy, it’s my challenge. At the same time, I would hope that others would respect my right to want to be holy and not try to derail – or de-ladder – me. Instead of covering labels and encouraging women to stay out of my sight, (which I do not actually propose), maybe I could just focus on the words on the label instead of the image. And when I walk outside, maybe I could bury my eyes in a sefer. And maybe you can support me: If you see I’m about to walk into a pole, say, “Look out!”

About the Author
Ira Somers grew up in America working first as an advertising copywriter and then as a school teacher. He is compassionate about inspiring others to see the best in everybody and helping people and businesses to succeed. In July, 2015, he made aliyah with his wonderful wife and amazing children.
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