The sotah, wayward wife, has deviated from the prescribed moral path of a Jew by acting inappropriately and cavorting with another man after being admonished by her husband to desist from this relationship. The word sotah may also be derived from shoteh, which denotes a fool/an individual who has deviated from the normal psychological profile. The shoteh has no emotional control. The sotah has acted in a manner that bespeaks a breakdown of her mental faculties. Indeed, Chazal say that one does not sin unless he has first had a mental lapse.
To deviate morally is not simply a shortcoming in one’s moral fiber; it is a sign that one has sustained an emotional breakdown. The woman who acts immorally, who degrades the marriage bond with acts of infidelity, demonstrates a deficiency in her mental state. V’es tzenuim chochmah, Shlomo Ha’melech says in Mishlei 11:2, “Those who are private (in their Torah learning) will achieve wisdom.”
Why is a tzanua, a chaste, private person, considered wise? He is pious; he is righteous, but how does that trait indicate that he possesses wisdom? We infer from here that tznius is based on chochmah, wisdom. The individual who is secure, who sincerely believes in the Torah way, will not act inappropriately. One who dresses or acts in a manner which demonstrates a lack of tznius is acting irrationally. He displays a faulty mechanism in his mental state. When anyone – male or female – serves Hashem, he or she must concentrate on the inner-directed aspect of striving, which is the essence of the Jewish heroic act. While this concept applies equally to men and women, the woman is particularly enjoined to develop this character trait to its highest degree. This is implied by the fact that woman was created from a part of the body that is private in two aspects: first, it is generally clothed; and second, it is located beneath the skin.
Indeed, tznius is a woman’s ultimate distinction. The Imahos, Matriarchs, had many unique qualities. Yet, they were immortalized by a name that denoted their tznius. They were given the name of levonah, frankincense: “The Shechinah visited a hill of frankincense” (Shir HaShirim 4:6). This pasuk is a reference to the Matriarchs, because – by virtue of their good deeds – they were analogous to this delicate and aromatic spice. Moreover, the literal translation of levonah is white, and the lifestyle of the Imahos epitomized whiteness and purity. This is why the sotah, who is suspected of immorality, does not bring the usual frankincense with her sacrifice. Levonah represents whiteness and purity, while her behavior reeks of the antithesis. Last, to paraphrase Horav Elya Svei, Shlita, “Tznius must be the foundation of the Jewish home. The essence of womanhood is tznius, and this trait is the woman’s anti-toxin to the yetzer hara, evil inclination.”
May we be so bold as to posit that people who are deficient in the area of tznius are very insecure. They feel the need to call attention to themselves either by the way they dress, speak or act. They are weak and have no pride. Last, as we see from the sotah, one who lacks the trait of tznius will resort to stupidity and act in a manner unbecoming a rational person. A Jewish person – male or female – should reflect refinement, purity, and humility. Whatever happened to the eidelkeit, refinement and class, that was the hallmark of the Jewish female – and male? There was a time when we used to have class and pride. Has American society weakened us so, or are we that insecure?
David Ha’melech tells us in Sefer Tehillim 45:14, Kol kevodah bas melech penimah, “The entire glory of the daughter of the king lies within.” This pasuk is absolutely non-debasing. The pasuk underscores the Torah’s positive attitude towards the female role. It has also been used by Chazal to promote the private nature of the religious experience in general. True achievement is always in the private sphere, hidden from the public arena. The Jewish hero is he who reaches his zenith on the inner stage, not in the public forum. We serve Hashem only for the sake of Hashem – neither for the accolades nor for the sake of any other audience. The audience to which one directs his performance defines both the act and the actor.