08 January 2012

It's That Time Again - Shovavim

13 Tevet 5772

It is certainly not a coincidence that in recent days there has been such a focus on modesty and what constitutes modest dress and behavior. From what I see, we are far, far, far away from the ideal as exemplified by our holy mothers - Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Fashions change, but Hashem does not. We are held to the same standard as our holy mothers. Now, during the "shovavim" period, is as good a time as any to begin to make improvements.

Shovavim: Self Improvement11 01 2010
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
Shovavim is an acronym for the parshiyot that we read during the period between Chanukah and Purim. Rav Nachman Cohen writes that this period is an auspicious time to repent for Adam's sin with the Eitz Hadaat and his subsequent errant behavior, pegimat habrit, for which mankind suffers until today. Why do we specifically repent now for the sin of Adam?

This period falls after the winter solstice when the days begin to get longer. When Adam sinned, the days began to get shorter and he thought it was because of his sin. When the days began to get longer again, he realized he was not doomed and that his repentance had been accepted. Thus this period is an eit ratzon where one can connect to Hashem.

Working on curbing one’s physical desires and avoiding inappropriate pleasures seems male focused. What is the corollary for women? The Maharal says that the primary praise of a woman is her level of tzniut. Rav Pincus writes that because Adam and Chava did not conduct themselves modestly, the snake desired Chava and devised a plot to make her sin. Therefore, in a sense, the sin of Eitz Hadaat came about through immodesty.

What is modesty? It is a call to concentrate our energies on our inner personality, our spiritual nature, which is deep and hidden within us. We must become attuned to our souls instead of getting caught up in the outer trappings of the physical world. Shovavim is not only a time to work on tzniut but a time of introspection, a time to work on our relationship with Hashem. This entails watching our behavior with the awareness that we are in the presence of Hashem. It is irrelevant what other people think. Life is about walking alone with Hashem. Elevating mitzvot to a higher level by practicing modesty in deed – not talking about the mitzvot you’ve done, is an appropriate goal to work on during Shovavim.

These levels of modesty can be applied equally to men. How do we understand that the major accolade of a woman is her tzniut? Tzniut is to protect. The more valuable something is the more protection it needs. Our soul is our most precious possession. A woman’s job is to protect her soul and the souls of her family. A mother determines her child’s Jewishness. It is within the mother’s womb, rather than in the beit midrash, that the angel teaches the fetus Torah. Whatever the mother exposes herself to has a tremendous effect on her children.

Rav Wolfson explains that during Shovavim we re-experience the parshiyot of the weeks. We ourselves go through slavery and redemption. Ultimate redemption is when we succeed in bringing the secret of Hashem into our tent. Shovavim is feeling Hashem’s presence in our home. It is a time of introspection when we try to positively create harmony and the proper environment within our homes.

Adam named all the animals because he knew their essence. He named himself Adam since Hashem formed him from earth. The Alter of Slabodka explains that we are like the earth, in which there is a constant cycle of planting and harvesting. Human life involves constant effort and growth.

The Netivot Shalom writes that the 42 days of Shovavim are a microcosm of the 42 places the Jews encamped in when they left Egypt. The Baal Shem Tov notes that we go through 42 major experiences in our lives. Shovavim reminds us that life is about moving forward, not standing still. The Torah says about the Jewish nation in the desert, “Vayisahu vayachanu, They traveled and they encamped.” Life is not only about growing and changing but about making time to integrate what we’ve gained into our lives. We also need to recognize that the encampments of life may sometimes be difficult. Moving forward despite challenges and recognizing that Hashem is leading the way, is living life with true emuna the way Hashem meant it to be.