Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Haircut

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

About twice a year it happens. I generally do not think about cutting my hair until the week before I have to go to mikvah, which means I do not cut my hair at all since we hold that one should not cut one's hair for several days prior to immersion. The end result? Months frequently go by between trimmings, my hair experiences increasing damage from being yanked into a ponytail and being shoved under various coverings until the final straw is reached: my hair is too long when I go to immerse, and I have to keep going under in an attempt to get down far enough so that my hair is below the water's surface. When that point is reached, a few hours if not a few days later, I take the scissors to my head and cut my hair into a '20s mini-bob.

B'H', my husband loves how I look in the baby bob. But that is now my pattern, and when I consider the history of my hair, I find it most amusing. I grew up with a full, thick head of loose, wavy hair. I may have been the shortest child in my class, and may have had to wear horrendous glasses since a baby, but hair- well, hair was my crowning glory if you will. It was the one part of my appearance that inevitably garnered me compliments.

When I got married, I did not find it tremendously difficult to cover my hair. I cannot really say why, since you would think that it would have been much more difficult as I was fond of my hair's appearance. Indeed, when I got divorced, I continued to cover my hair for several months, much to the horror of my family. Finally, at their insistence, I spoke to a dayan who gave me a heter to uncover my hair. Mulling over the public change in my appearance that was about to occur, I began preparing my friends and co-workers for the event. A few weeks later, I mustered up the courage and left the house with my hair uncovered and no covering in my car or in my purse.

I was quite embarrassed. I felt...undressed, and found it difficult to look people I knew in the eye at first. Finally, after one friend saw me and exclaimed "It's beautiful", I began to relax. Nobody was ready to burn me at the stake, and more importantly, nobody added to my already extreme discomfort. After a few days, I began to sink more comfortably into my uncovered hair state.

A good year or so passed, and I got engaged. One day the topic of whether or not I had to cover my hair for the chatunah arose, and since I had heard rebbeim rule both for and against, I decided to pose the shilah to my rav. There I sat at my desk when I heard the verdict: As soon as I got engaged, I should have started to cover my hair. Once again I had mull my predicament over. How was I going to get home? I did not even have a scarf to wrap around my head! I finally decided that Hashem would have to forgive me for the few blocks that stretched between my office and the dollar store, where I would purchase some shmata to do the ob until I got home.

Those few blocks that afternoon, I spotted more frum yiddin than I had seen yet in Manhattan. Relieved does not come to close to how I felt when I finally entered the dollar store and found a suitable item amongst the Ebony hair products. Upon returning home, I relegated my purchase to the "use when cleaning the house" pile, and trotted out my existing collection of hair paraphernalia.

Looking back now, I am still amused by it all. But in the end what the saga underscores is how integral my hair has become part of my spiritual being versus my physical being. And, with Hashem's help, it should never be any other way, bli ayin hara.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rushing Rushing

I had something amazing happen to me a few weeks ago...right before the intersection of my getting some nasty strand of the flu and my laptop going ka-boom. I was waiting for the train in Manhattan one Friday afternoon when I spotted a woman obviously travelling to my part of Brooklyn, aka Flatbush. What I happened to catch my attention, aside from her being a compatriot and her evidencing exhaustion by slumping against a column, was the fact that her sheitel had a completely tznius and yet very attractive cut.

I decided to amble over and asked her where she had got her sheitel. Not that I was planning on shelling out a bundle on a new sheitel; my most recent hair piece cost me a total of $32, shipping and handling included. Instead what piqued my fascination was the fact that the cut was so very flattering. We struck up a conversation and proceed to talk the whole way to Flatbush. In fact, so engrossed were we that we neglected to hear the conductor announce that the train was going express and we had to travel to several stops out of the way in order to double-back to our respective stations.

We talked a lot about what constitutes tznius, about married life, about the hectic state of life here in New York. Never enough time despite all the modern conveniences, never enough time to sit down for a minute and relax. I had never really thought about it before, but I realised how much I had the feeling the past year or so that I do not stop all day long. I can be home for hours after work and yet I only sit down right before I go to sleep. Why is that, we wondered? We could not figure it out, except for the fact that what I learned in university seemed to ring true for New York: the more modern life seeped into women's lives, the more modern technology became commonplace, the less time women had for themselves.

Nowhere else that I had lived have I felt so deprived of time. And yet I do not find that life in New York is hurried as it is so often portrayed. Rather, the sense of rushing stems- at least in my case- from the fact that everything takes so long, often for no apparent reason. When I walk in Manhattan, I am generally walking faster than everyone around me. But at every single corner I miss the light and have to wait for the walk signal. When I shop, there can be a half dozen cashiers on duty but my 12 items take five minutes to ring up. And, it goes without saying, I may live in Brooklyn, but I am almost 30 painful stops from my job in lower Manhattan.

The morning I met my fellow train traveller, I had made the uncommon decision to skip reading an additional five lines during my morning learning. I was running late and it being Friday I figured I had to get out the door already. How did Hashem pay me back? By reminding me in the form of my train trip home both via our conversation and via the fact that I had to spend an additional10 minutes doubling back. The moral of the story: make time for those few final moments devoted to Hashem. Because in the end you gain nothing but cutting back on that time.

Since that train ride, I remember the lesson Hashem reiterated to me. And I consequently ensure that no matter how powerful the urge, I always focus on the fact that I am here only to serve Hashem. My train, my job, the shopping, the cooking- in the end, none of it is more important than Hashem. So, let the shopping and the train ride be a bit longer than I would like. As long as I have done my daily learning and davening, and have spent my day in constant awareness that I am here for Hashem and representing Hashem, I figure the exhaustion is worth it.

After all, we only get one trip through this lifetime. Best to make the most of it...

Monday, February 25, 2008

The New Word

Evangelicals. What would New York be without them? You can be riding the train, minding your own business, when suddenly they emerge from the crowd and start testifying away fortissimo. Even better is when they identify you as a frum yid, and consequently either approach you for a little one-on-one discussion or simply preach just a tiny bit louder. I will admit to often wondering: if you really believe that your speech is truth, why do you have to yell it out? Would the message be less effective if it was relayed more quietly? I suppose the logic is that by interrupting our davening/reading/snoozing/first cup of coffee, we will be shocked into "awareness", if you will. Roused from our literal slumber, LOL.

A few days ago, a woman stood up midway through my commute and launched into a most fervent, repetitious, holy roller session. Riders around me were nodding solemnly in agreement as the woman carried on, although I was most pleased to see one frum gentleman whip out his gemara and start learning as a magen. As for me, I chose the time as opportune to recite a few pasukim of tehillim. I mean, maybe I was davening imperceptibly, but I was certain that my tefillah was transmitting nice and clear over the din.

When I arrived at work that morning, with the sounds of the "prophetess" ringing in my ears, yet another incident occurred. There I was in the kitchen innocently making my first cup of coffee when my reverie was disrupted by an office mate whose acquaintance I had not yet made. Her straight-to-the-point opener: "Are you an Orthodox Jew"?

My heart sank. Now I was going to have to deal with this at work! I bit my tongue and squelched the overwhelming urge to explain that I was in fact a Jewess, deciding instead to go with an uninterested "uh-huh". She was nonetheless encouraged, thus proving my suspicion that the conversation had more to do with her than me; I was simply the "prize" she was after. She proceeded by sharing that she loves learning about the various "feasts" of the Old Testament and tried to interest me in particular by mentioning one such feast that occurred in the springtime. I managed to escape the ordeal by informing her that the terminology she is familiar with is different than the terminology I am familiar with, and so I incited enough confusion to escape further discussion.

Sadly, I am lacking when it comes to dealings with religious yeshke-lovers. My husband, B'H', is the antithesis of me in this regard and can convert such attempts at conversation into glorifications of Torah. However, since my new workplace is now manifesting this spiritual pitfall, it looks like I am going to have to finally learn how to successfully negotiate these encounters. I suppose it is a lesson I should have mastered long ago.

That being said, I would greatly appreciate it if you could please share any strategies you may have for successfully managing encounters with evangelicals. Your suggestions could prove invaluable in helping safeguard not only myself but other frum yiddin as well.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Remembering We Were Slaves

Here in New York, Purim and Pesach have become inextricably intertwined in my psyche. The day after Purim, you can see most of Brooklyn descending on the shops in a melee to start their Pesach preparations. The shop at my corner is, by motzei Purim, almost fully turned over; they keep a single aisle chometzdik until a few days before Pesach.

Every other place I have lived, you could comfortably turn your house over in the weeks following Purim, and that was without all the conveniences that Brooklyn offers: kosher l'Pesach food galore, inserts of every size and shape, plastic ware in a mind-boggling array. And, you can find several choices for each possible item you might think of purchasing in practically every heimishe shop. What then is the source of this frenzy? I can only surmise that it stems from self-imposed pressure, or chumras. Or both.

When I was growing up in Canada, Pesach was my father (olev hashalom)'s holiday. No single holiday, with perhaps the exception of Shavuot, held more significance to us as a family. I remember clearly my mother diligently, calmly preparing the house and assembling whatever "convenience foods" she could find: a few boxes of non-schmura matzah and matzah meal, some nyfat and preserves, a tub or two of margarine, and a good amount of tea and drinks. Everything else was prepared by us or catered by one of the two caterers in town. Our house was neatly lined with either wax paper or tin foil, our Pesach dishes were trotted out, and we did the bedikah chometz calmly and happily. Never did the preparations seem stressful or insurmountable.

How sad then, that in the midst of Brooklyn, I find myself coming to dread Pesach...or at least its preparations. How, I find myself saying as soon as Chanukkah is over, will I be ready in time? And here we are, a few weeks prior to Purim, and I already find my stomach in knots. I have planned out my cleaning schedule, since with my new job I have only Sunday afternoons to clean, and am mentally gearing up for this coming Sunday when my attack on chometz will begin.

That being said, I have added one new item to my cleaning itinerary this year; I am dusting off my mindset. Because I want to remember that, despite the swirls of panic around me, there is no reason for Pesach preparations to incite trepidation. Instead, my overall goal this year is to not only ensure my apartment is chometz-free, but that I perform my preparations with the kavannah of my childhood, namely with an aura infused with calm, purity of intent and love of Hashem.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shalach Manot Central

Despite what I said a few posts ago, I have been mentally preparing for Purim. In fact, it would be fair to say that since my move to New York, Purim has become a most stressful spot on the calendar for me.

It was my car drive to New York that started the equation of Purim with chaos in my mind. I experienced car trouble en route to New York, which delayed my arrival be by a day and half. I consequently screeched into town layil Purim, and speed-walked my way down to the shteibl halfway down my block to hear the megillah. The next morning, figuring that there would be megillah readings well until mincha, I stepped out of my apartment at 8:55 AM. and asked a passerby if she knew of a megillah reading soon in the area. She looked at her watch and asked if I could somehow make it to the Yeshivah of Brooklyn by 9 AM. When I got to the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue L where the Yeshivah is, I was met by a most amusing site: women were scurrying from every direction towards the Yeshivah in an attempt to make it in time. B'H', heart-pounding, I managed to cram myself in with the other ladies by the skin of my teeth, and spent the megillah reading desperately trying to ensure that I heard every word over this and that noise, etc. Purim was suddenly becoming a more complicated than I had anticipated.

On my way home from the megillah reading, I was introduced to another new phenomenon when I stopped in at Moisha's Discount to pick up items for my shalach manot. The place was a madhouse. I somehow managed to get what I needed (after drastically cutting down my shopping list) and went home to assemble the packages. Having been warned that the traffic made driving/parking pointless on Purim, at the allotted hour, I started walking toward Boro Park to where I was eating the seudah. That is where perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was awaiting me.

When the door opened, my bag of shalach manot was wisked from my hand directly into a box on the kitchen table. Crammed into the box, which was overflowing, were all the items that the host/hostess were discarding and interested in having others pillage. The box contained silver platters. It contained top-of-the-line chocolate. It contained, in short, premium goodies galore. My host/hostess had, B'H', received such an overwhelming abundance of shalach manot that they weren't concerning themselves with just any chocolates, just any cookies, just any wine...or anything. Only the best were being sent to them and for those of us who showed up without only the best, it was straight into the box.

I felt horrible. Obviously, the purpose of the box was to fulfill the mitzvah of giving anonymously. But I had the distinct, sinking feeling that my bag was not up to snuff, and that I had offended my host/hostess by showing up with sub-par offerings.

With that realization, the pressure of Purim in Brooklyn came into full focus. Many people wait the entire year until Purim and use shalach manot as catch-all "thank you" gifts. I can certainly relate to taking the opportunity to show gratitude to the recipient. But in Brooklyn, people easily spend at least $30 a basket, because a very pretty $5 offering is just not going to cut it. No matter how delicious the food being offered. As with everything else in New York, things are done on a grander scale, and what could pass muster elsewhere is looked down upon here.

I do not put a dollar amount on showing gratitude. We should all be able to thank those we need to thank in the way that will best demonstrate that gratitude to them, i.e. in the way that they will most appreciate. And I try, as best as I can, to not wait to show that gratitude; I try at the earliest opportunity to demonstrate it. Maybe that is why, that first Purim in Brooklyn, the spectacle at the seudah left me with an impression not of gratitude, or of doing a mitzvah, but of "one-upping".

We are supposed to give shalach manot. And we give to everyone we know in order to not offend anyone. But in the end, is Hashem being served any better by making others feel badly about doing the mitzvah?

I hope that I have adequately showed gratitude to all of you who know me over the years, and if I have in any way been lacking in that department, I humbly ask mechilah of you now. And with that, I better get back to this year's shalach manot list. Because you can never start planning too soon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Traces Left Behind

Back when I was single and frustrated with shadchanim, I decided to give Internet dating a try. I did some research and came up with a shortlist of the sites I wanted to try out, and enrolled on each for a few weeks to determine if the given site would prove useful. With most sites proving unproductive, I generally ended up deleting my profile upon finishing my trial period. When I did finally settle on one site as my site of choice, I decided to maintain a profile on a couple of the other sites regardless, since I was getting hits on them and figured a little extra exposure could not hurt.

After I got engaged, I dutifully went online and tried to delete any traces of my online dating identity. Some sites made this process easier than others. However, I persevered, devoting several hours to the supposedly simple task of deleting my profiles, placing phone calls and writing numerous emails in pursuit of my goal. In the end, only one site was so technically deficient that my profile could not be deleted. So I informed my now-husband and left things at that. I assumed the rest of my dating past was history and assumed that I could sleep well at night knowing that my online profiles could no longer generate hits.

Alas, my sleep-filled nights proved unfounded. I have been receiving stray marketing-related emails sporadically since I got married from the various sites from which I had disassociated myself. However, recently the frequency has increased dramatically. And I believe that the reason for this increase is rather insidious, namely that the longer someone is inactive on a dating website, the better the chance that these emails might find someone who is once again back on the market.

Disgusted as I was by having received the latest email, as well as why I may have received it, I decided to investigate the matter further and logged into the website that generated the email. I wanted to see what was in fact going on with my profile, that same profile I had devoted so much time and effort already to deleting. Imagine the shock I felt when I saw that my profile was not in fact deleted, but had instead only been marked as "suspended" by the website administration. In order to delete my profile- which I had already deleted- I had to log in and email customer service. But, logged in as I was, I was unable to successfully send the email; their sever rejected my half-dozen attempts.

As yiddin, we need to pay close attention to our behaviour. We need to contemplate the ramifications of our words and actions before we say or do, because our behaviour has halachic ramifications. When these dating sites are emailing me, they are failing to uphold their end of our agreement. By retaining my email and profile information against my explicit instructions, they are betraying the code by which we, as frum yiddin, are supposed to live. But even worse, by emailing me when the chances are overwhelming that I am now either married or in a relationship en route to marriage, such communications are dangerous. Dangerous is strong word, but I believe it to be appropriate in this instance, since these emails have the potential to wreak havoc on Shalom Bayis or destroy trust in a fledgling relationship that would otherwise result in chuppah.

So, to all the supposedly frum dating websites out there, please focus less on marketing and more on providing kosher customer service. Maybe when your websites are administered properly and feature adequate technology, you will no longer run the risk of doing aveirahs (disrupting Shalom Bayis, misrepresenting yourself, misusing personal information, etc.) instead of mitzvahs (marrying off couples). Because whatever you could possibly lose materially from a lower number of emails will be rewarded in spiritual dollars. As a frum website, I hope in the end the latter dollars become your true objective.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I know that I should be thinking of Purim, not Sukkot. However, for the last few days I have been contemplating the incredible joy of the Nisuch Hamayim (Water Libation service). I suppose I have been unconsciously preparing for Adar. Anyhow, with such thoughts on my mind I was struck by an idea or two while reading the parshah that I wanted to share.

I will begin by confessing that I have always found Terumah (not to mention next week's Tetzaveh) difficult. I find myself not absorbing the parshah, because I instead get caught up in trying to visualize how the items looked, i.e. how they could be assembled from their various components, and how they in turn came together as a completed unit. B'H', this year, for whatever reason, I managed to focus on the descriptions themselves more and noticed two elements of the parshah for the first time:
  1. All "work"-related items where made of copper
  2. The term "on the mountain" is used twice
What is so interesting about copper being used for the vessels, the altar, the pegs of the courtyard, etc.? Copper is contrasted with silver and gold, metals that are used here for beautification. This contrast emphasizes that these items, which were the ones most frequently used by the Leviim and Kohanim in the Temple and which formed not only the foundation of the Temple service but the supporting structure of the Temple itself, were self-effacing. To put it another way and use a word that is perhaps being overused on this blog, this contrast emphasizes that copper is a humble, commonplace metal. The description thus intimates that as beautiful as the multi-coloured curtains, silver, and gold were, humble copper was the true star. The copper reflected the humility that was the prerequisite for successful service by the Kohanim and Leviim. After all, we only have to read almost any Haftorah to see that most rebukes refer to lack of humility on the part of Kohanim. Humility was the foundation of the Temple, and the source of its beauty; the gold, silver, and vibrant colours enhanced the fundamental beauty that was encapsulated in the copper vessels, etc. that constituted the Temple service.

A basic interpretation of repeating "on the mountain" is that the phrase reinforces the notion that Hashem is the source of the Temple's design, and that Moshe received the elaborate instructions twice in order that he understand them perfectly and communicate them precisely to the craftsmen. That being said, this phrase also reinforces the connection between the gold and copper used: In the first instance, "you are shown on the mountain" refers to the gold of the menorah, and in the second "as you were shown on the mountain" refers to the copperwork of the altar.

In its purity, gold is an often-used symbol for the highest level of spiritual experience. Thus, it is fitting that the menorah, which illuminated the Temple and generated light outward from within, would be made of gold. By using the present, active voice ("you are shown on the mountain"), we understand that the golden menorah represents the highest form of closeness to Hashem, that immediate, unhindered basking in his presence. This proximity is seemingly lessened by the use of the past tense ("as you were shown on the mountain"), and that is the point: in our daily lives post-Har Sinai, we must build up our service of Hashem since we are further removed from Him. Therefore, the "cleansing" aspects of the service that purified the Kohanim and atoned for the Klal were performed with copper, a humble element, but were related to achieving a closer, more perfect relationship with Hashem as represented by gold.

So, a Rosh Chodesh Tov everyone. B'H', we have made it to another Adar! Of course, while I am not chassidishe, I do believe that we should always act as if it is Adar, i.e. we should be b'simcha, which shows the greatest level of bitachon in Hashem. Not that I am claiming to be at that level. But I suppose I am hoping that once I achieve that mindset, I will merit being able to see the Nisuch Hamayim performed again. After all, it is Adar. And there is always hope.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Open Letter to NY MTA

To My Representatives at the New York Metro Transit Authority (MTA) :

I recognize that your service is used by tremendous numbers of people daily. And I recognize that, although my tax dollars subsidise your service, you are above all a business that must generate a profit margin. As a result, I am willing to look the other way at the bumping/jarring/lurching ride, frequent delays, unreliable schedules, too hot (summer)/too cold (winter) stations, and lack of personnel to assist me when I require help. However, since I am paying $4 for a return trip, which is far beyond anything I have ever paid in all my years of using public transportation, could you somehow manage to clean your trains/buses/stations more frequently? I am tired when I get home after a long day of work, and exhausted after arriving at my doorstep subsequent to using your service. So I would appreciate it if I did not have to wash my attire every other day once home due to the lack of cleanliness in your facilities. In fact, while I am asking, could I humbly request that when
  1. the metrocard reader deducts too much money from my card, you provide me with a refund at the given station versus requiring me to mail the card in to you? After all, since you are costing me a substantial amount of money already, must you add insult to injury by costing me more time and a stamp as well?
  2. the train conductors make announcements, they do so clearly and at a level that is neither ear-shattering nor audible only to dogs?

To My Fellow Transit Riders:

Like you, I am tired, hungry, and quite possibly in a bad mood. I understand therefore your general demeanour. However, we are all required to share the same little train car/bus and narrow train platform. To that end, could you please avoid:
  • Banging others in the head/arms/chest/legs with your bag
  • Playing your music at a volume that prevents others from enjoying their own iTunes collection
  • Sloshing others with your coffee/tea/breakfast/lunch/dinner
  • Spreading your legs so that you occupy part of another person's seat
  • Sneezing/coughing directly in someone's face (it is flu season!)
  • Stamping on people's feet in an attempt to garner more space
  • Letting your child run amok (swinging around/from poles, banging into adults without an apology, climbing over other passengers, etc.)
  • Keeping your knapsack/packages on a chair when all other seats are taken
  • Refusing to acknowledge an elderly, pregnant or physically incapacitated passenger who needs a seat
  • Having a deafening conversation on your cell phone (we are only a few inches from you, and value our hearing!)
  • Acting like the train/bus is your apartment (stretching out across several chairs, cutting your nails, combing your hair and then cleaning the hair off the brush, etc.)
A favourite phrase of mine is "We're all sharing the planet, people". And I am a firm believer in public transportation being a viable alternative to driving everywhere. But please, let us all just remember that in order to help the environment by taking transit, we need to first help each other have a pleasant ride.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Standards of Beauty

When I was younger, I liked to coast on what was termed "natural beauty". As a die-hard tomboy who found all things girlie (dolls, makeup, ballet, gymnastics) BORING, I had the sense from very early on in life that I should not have to find my self-esteem in attracting a boy. I mean, I was my own person, with ideas and likes/dislikes. Why would I ever want to put on mascara just so some boy would like me? I wanted to be a beautiful person on the inside.

I have long outgrown my tomboy-ishness and learned to embrace my feminine side. Several years ago, I came to understand that after a certain age, a woman is expected to wear light makeup under most circumstances (in the workforce, at simchas, on shidduchim). And so I replaced my slightly over sized, "comfortable" skirts and turtlenecks with properly sized clothing, my "sensible" shoes for pumps, and find myself always on the lookout these days for a new fabulous lipstick or eyeshadow shade. I learned, in other words, that to be valued as a person, I had to act like a woman. After all, would we respect a man if he acted unmanly?

Speaking of men, one mitzvah that I take very seriously is doing what I can to remain attractive to my husband. While I do not, B'H', feel pressured to always be seen with a full face of makeup on, as some women do, I do always try to have a bit of makeup on when my husband is home, to ensure that my hair is neat and my clothes clean. And of course, this consideration for appearance is a two-way street; a man should attempt to remain appealing to his wife. That means showering enough and laundering your clothes enough to banish odour, trying to refrain from wearing hole-ridden clothing (especially socks) in our presence, and striking up a relationship with your barber. Because one thing any woman appreciates on a man is a good haircut.

I had a conversation recently with my husband about tznius, specifically internalizing the concept of tznius versus superficially adhering to the the letter of the law. The conversation turned to the wearing of clothing that may cover all the "important" parts but are tight enough to leave nothing to the imagination, spike-heeled boots, and/or shaggy-maned sheitels.

I mentioned that most girls/women who wear such styles do so to be deemed attractive by men- all men. The intention is to invoke a look on the street, to turn a head and garner attention. The impetus for such intention is a hyper form of that sensibility evidenced by most girls (tomboys excluded) to be considered the most physically beautiful. Girls fuss with makeup, with fashion, with hair, in an attempt to find the most attractive look for themselves. We could come up with several reasons for this general preoccupation, but that's a whole other post. Rather, the point I would prefer to focus on is that there needs to be a balance for everyone, men and women, between attractiveness and modesty.

I go on record as not being a fan of the snood. While I can appreciate that a mother of 6 would wear a snood out of necessity, because she has not time for herself and because her children would ruin anything else she might get a chance to shove on her head, I think we would all agree that it is nobody's best look. Having been in hospital several times in the past year and a half and having experienced the difficulty involved in keeping your tichel on under such circumstances, I can to a degree relate. And, as someone who wore the simplest of clothes for many years, I understand the comfort factor, as well as the sense that somehow "frumpier" clothing is more tznius. But, let's face it, frumpy is not more tznius; we are obligated to not render ourselves repulsive to our spouses. So those who dress in too understated a fashion could move a bit more to the "attractive" side of the balance and those who dress too provocatively could move a bit more to the "understated" side.

Similarly, while we are bombarded from within the frum community and from outside sources with pressure to "put ourselves out there", we should not believe that overtly "come hither" hair, clothing, or footwear is tznius- no matter how well our body parts are covered. Certainly, one should be physically charming to one's spouse. And certainly, one should present a pleasant appearance to the outside world, since our appearance reflects upon our families and even our community, not just ourselves. And, just as the frumpier side of the spectrum can be inappropriate, so too can be a "too attractive" appearance.

I know I am always striving to strike the right balance in my appearance. And maybe, when we all have it down pat, both men and women, our minds will be better freed to focus on other, equally important aspects of life. Such as that idea I had first as a child: to make ourselves into a nation of people who are beautiful on the inside.