“And she lifted her eyes and saw Isaac….she descended from the camel….took the scarf and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:64-65)
To understand the Torah’s approach to any given topic, the place to start is by analyzing the first instance that topic appears. So, Isaac and Rebecca, which is the Torah’s first description of a meeting between husband and wife can help us understand the Torah’s perspective on marriage.
Why do people get married? What are they looking for when they “take the plunge”?
I posit that they are looking for a deep, intimate connection with another human being that only the commitment of marriage can provide. If we accept that, the next question is: “What promotes connection and what cripples it?”
Sight, the visual sensory experience curbs our ability to connect, while listening deeply facilitates it. When you see something, you think: “I’ve got it”! Your eyes have taken a picture and they tell you: “What you see is real. What you see is truth.” The problem is, it’s not. Our visual perception is constantly misleading us to conclusions that are inaccurate. And even if a conclusion is partially accurate, it’s not the whole truth, and a partial truth is really a lie.
Relying primarily upon one’s sight is most damaging when relating to another human being. When you look at a woman, you are not seeing her for who she truly is, but rather as an extension of your visual perception.
Therefore, the more you rely upon your visual sense to determine the nature of the relationship, the less of a relationship it is. Who are you relating to? An image that you yourself just produced!
Listening on the other hand is a much different experience. In order to really listen, you have to set yourself aside and create space for that input. To put it in other words: While seeing begins with you and is nothing more than a projection, listening begins with the other and focuses on their reality. Relationships are thus bolstered by deep listening and handicapped by an emphasis on the visual.
When Rebecca noticed her future husband, she got down from the camel and covered herself with a scarf, both acts of modesty. Why? Because marriage, if it is going to accomplish its goal of facilitating deep and meaningful connection between two human beings demands modesty. Modesty turns down the visual sensory experience and creates a more neutral space where two people can begin to listen to and truly experience one another. They connect.
Modesty is not prudish. Rather, it serves the couple as they create a marriage permeated by deep passionate connection on the emotional and physical level. Modesty creates a shared space that the couple can inhabit safely, listen, be heard, and become one.