Modesty is the conscience of the body. -Honore de Balzac
In order to understand the Mitzva of Tzitzit, the commandment for men to wear fringes on the four corners of a garment, Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 15:41 takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, and the sin of the forbidden fruit.
Eve took the fruit because it seemed pleasurable. Adam and Eve ignored God’s direct warning and let their instinct for physical gratification supersede the spiritual reality they were a part of. That is when they lost their innocence. That is when they demonstrated the strength of their animalistic nature and the weakness of their human resolve. That is when they realized that their nakedness was a source of shame and embarrassment, for they proved themselves no better than animals, though they were blessed with a divine spirit, intellect, intelligence, free will. That is when they are exiled from the Paradise of Eden.
That is when God gives them clothing.
The clothing served two purposes: one, to cover the nakedness, to demonstrate that they are indeed human, distinct from animals, that there is such a concept as modesty, that our instinct for physical gratification must be controlled, channeled, even sanctified. The second purpose is to protect them from the environment. The world outside of Eden is one of thorns and thistles, where weather, the elements, the surroundings are no longer idyllic.
The language of the command of the Tzitzit warns not to go after “your heart and after your eyes,” exactly the error and language used to describe the sin of Adam and Eve. The Tzitzit is a direct reminder as to the primal purpose of clothing: We are humans, not animals. Do not give in to animalistic urges. We are spiritual beings encased in flesh and bone. The body, that source of potential physical pleasure, needs to be clothed, needs to be modest; physical pleasures need to be partaken in specific, healthy, constructive ways.
When we forget the lessons of Adam and Eve, when we “go after our hearts and after our eyes,” when we forget the concept of modesty, when we forget the intrinsic nobility of man, then we risk becoming little more than sophisticated animals, driven and controlled by our urges.
May our clothing ever be dignified.
In support of Rabbi Joseph Dweck, a modest and dignified leader.