Meira E. Schneider-Atik
marching to the beat of my own drummer

Leaving the Slave Mentality

This past Shabbat, we read Parshat Beshalach. One of the themes was that we must not return to Mitzrayim. Many commentators take this literally and say that we Jews are not allowed to live in that country. I think it’s more about the psychology of it. First, we’re not supposed to go back to that culture and decadence. We assimilated into that culture and merited redemption only because we kept our names, our dress, and our language. Second, we’re not supposed to go back to the slave mentality. We are supposed to serve no one but Hashem and we’re supposed to use the disciplines of Torah and Mitzvot to maintain our identity as individuals and as a nation and to not allow ourselves to be enslaved again. 

However, today, we are living in the most insidious Galut of all. For many generations, the dangers were primarily physical. Other groups and nations wanted to destroy us physically and they used crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, and gas chambers. Those physical attacks haven’t gone away- today we have terror attacks. But nowadays, the dangers are more psychological and social. Secular society has had its influences on us and while some things are good, or at least benign, some are bad. Now the goal is to draw us away from Torah and Mitzvot by way of so-called “openness.” Today’s society is all about doing what you want and having what you want, when you want, and how you want.

Naturally, Jewish society has tried to combat this. But one of the ways used to combat it is actually backfiring. Supposedly, it’s about “upping our mitzvah game” but the focus is on “tznius” and on women. That is, women need to be more careful about tznius so as to protect our communities from the temptations of secular society. How is this a bad thing? Because it’s exactly what’s going on in secular culture- people demanding everything they want and not taking responsibility for themselves. Protecting our communities from the temptations of secular society is NOT exclusively on women- men have to do their share. Instead, the men are panicking at the mere sight of women’s faces and insisting that we women hide ourselves. 

Of course, one can claim that secular society is turning people into objects. I don’t disagree with that. And true tzniut allows us to see each other as real human beings created B’Tzelem Elokim. But when we insist on women hiding their faces and reducing us to disembodied hands, some hair, kitchen objects, or green beans, that’s the definition of objectification. And all of this is being done in the name of tznius even though it’s the antithesis of tzniut. 

All of this means that in fact, we are back in the slave mentality. We’re slaves to our physical and emotional desires and to the desire for purity. Instead of working with those and taking responsibility, which slaves cannot do, we have men who panic. And it’s not as though they try to hide themselves- rather, they insist that we women hide. This is a classic avoidance tactic and it only makes things worse. 

Instead, we need to take a stand in favor of the disciplines of Torah and Mitzvot. We need to take a stand in favor of TRUE tzniut, Kavod HaBriot (human dignity), and Derech Eretz (respect for others). We, men AND women, need to stop thinking of the erasing and silencing of women as “what’s the big deal?” Instead, we should be thinking that it’s no big deal to decide that “no, I won’t pay or donate any of my money to anyone or anything that allows women to be erased from view. It’s dehumanizing for women, infantilizing to men, and a Chillul Hashem.” Point made. No big deal.  

We need to be the Jewish nation that left Mitzrayim and the slave mentality and never went back.

About the Author
Meira E. Schneider-Atik is a wardrobe stylist, personal shopper, and writer/blogger. Her goal is to help women feel good about themselves and to dispel the myths about tzniut and dressing well. Her heart is in Eretz Yisrael, but for now, she and her family live in Queens, NY.