Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Truly, marriage could only have been invented by G-d, because who would ever venture into it, or suffer through it, or enjoy the benefits of it, if it were not for the Divine law that compels us. And I am not specifically speaking about my own marriage, but rather about the institution per se.

Who but G-d could ever have come up with the idea that living together, one man and one woman (yes, for the record, that is the only definition of marriage that I accept) in a committed union is a good idea, considering how much hard work is involved? Far easier to be a serial monogamist. And yet, there is a certain quaint charm to it.

When I was still waiting for Mr. Right, I often heard married people talk about the “hard work” involved in marriage. “Fair enough”, I used to think, “but what does that really mean – what kind of hard work?” I am currently taking a poll among my married friends, but while I am waiting for the results to come in, I have thought a lot about it, and for myself I think it means: accepting the fact that marriage is meant to change you for the better. It may sound easy and self-evident, but it isn’t. One’s inner sloth – the Evil Inclination – just wants to take it easy, and resists change the whole time, and that is the fight that is hard work for one’s better self to win. It is so much easier to denigrate the marriage, or the spouse, than to take oneself to task and demand improvement.

We do not know the man we have married until we have lived with him for quite a while, but neither do we know ourselves until we are tested. Marriage comes to provide that test. You go around thinking you are an absolutely charming specimen of womanhood, but then – once again! – he puts away the ketchup bottle upside down, and it leaks all over the refrigerator – and there goes your charm down the drain for the umpteenth time.

When we met, my future husband declared, in an unguarded moment, that he could take very well care of his own physical needs and that he wasn’t looking for a wife to do so; he had experienced freshly ironed underwear in his first marriage and felt it was overrated – what he was longing for was a wife he could talk to; a wife who would understand him. Obviously, his words have come back to haunt him. In his present, considerably happier, marriage he knows himself to be lucky if his underwear are reasonably freshly laundered.

There was an incident once, when I had actually been neglecting the laundry to a degree that was quite unusual even for me – no doubt due to a pressing engagement with a pint of ice cream – and there was not a clean undershirt to be had either for love or money; but did he complain? No, never saying a word, he just quietly went out and bought himself some new undershirts, thereby further endearing himself to me for all eternity. (A little tip for all you husbands who might want a little tip.) And all you radical feminists out there, who are braying: “why didn’t he just wash his own undershirts?” – shame on you! I really can’t afford to buy new washing machines all the time.

But hark! – there is a murmur in my little writing chamber. It is a chorus of disgruntled readers’ voices: “Wasn’t this article supposed to be about how you are being tested, oh charming specimen of womanhood?” you are saying. “So far, all we can see is that your husband is the one being tested – and passing with flying colors, we might add – while you are floating about all day on a cloud of ice cream!”


Who is writing this article – you or me? I thought so. Let me therefore assure you that I am being tested too; sometimes I pass, sometimes I fail. In the early days there used to be many more fails than passes – criticism (constructive or otherwise) or various types of dissatisfaction on my part would be clearly voiced at even minor provocations – but the ratio is changing, slowly but surely; I am learning to keep my mouth shut, or to use it in a more pleasant way. A little trick I discovered along the way was to try to stop even the irritated thought when it would pop up, and not give it any real estate in my brain, because once a thought is rattling around inside your head it can so easily slip out through the mouth. And yes, in case you are interested, since this is a great challenge for me, it is very hard work.

But G-d wants us to work on ourselves, and grow and improve, so he gives us marriage, with its daily opportunities for character refinement, and it is a wise woman – or man – who takes advantage of those opportunities. The reward will surely come, hopefully already in this world.

Ultimately, speaking of marriage, we might be faced with the question: does a woman really need a man, or is the single woman “like a fish without a bicycle”? Personally, I would say that she might not need him, but that without him she won’t be all that she can be.

Shalom Uv’racha!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tichel Pride

I was browsing about on some Jewish websites the other day when I came across a blog post called – I hesitate to even type the title – “The Tale of the Magic Tichel and Its Hijab Envy”, written by one Chaviva Gordon-Bennett. In her article, the author complains that she doesn’t feel beautiful in her tichel, which doesn’t fit her well, and that she thinks the Muslim headscarf – the hijab – does a better job of bringing out a woman’s beauty and modesty; one of the supposed reasons for this being that a tichel reveals some of its wearers hair (?!), while the hijab does not. All in all, Chaviva is not happy with the situation – she knows something needs fixing, but she is looking in the wrong place for the remedy!

As a woman who mostly wears a (synthetic) sheitel, or wig, but also enjoys wearing tichels, kerchiefs, when the mood – or the outfit – is right, my reply to Chaviva – or anybody else in a similar predicament – is as follows:

G-d forbid that the Daughters of Israel should envy the adornments of another nation! (All the more so, when the object of the envy is a nation that, by and large, is seeking the destruction of ours.) If you are unhappy about how you look in your tichel, here is some advice and encouragement; you, too, can look “more tzniut and more stylish – more mysterious”; yes, more holy and more feminine, beautiful and glamorous too!

·      First of all, who says that the tichel could or should reveal any hair? Try to become more diligent about covering your hair completely, and you will see that your beauty and dignity will increase exponentially!
·    If your tichel doesn’t fit you, learn how to tie it better (there are great internet tutorials!*), and use some of the excellent aids available, such as “The WiGrip”, a velvet band which holds your hair in place, while simultaneously preventing the tichel (or the wig) from slipping. There are specially-made liners that give volume as well. There is no reason or excuse to be “perpetually shifting and pulling and tucking” anymore!
·    If you don’t feel beautiful – maybe you need to invest a little more effort into finding really beautiful tichels (there is an endless supply available both in stores and on the internet*), which will sit on your head like a crowning glory. You can decorate them further with ribbons and head bands, brooches, pins and hair clips – there is no end to the lovely things you can find in a trimmings store, a hair accessories store, or even places like H&M, that will enhance your tichel.
·     Since a tichel reveals and emphasizes the face, and particularly the eyes, more than a wig does, you may need to pay more attention to your make-up. A refined and elegant eye make-up will make all the difference in the world! Make sure to keep your eyebrows well-groomed.
·      Earrings do very much to enhance the over-all look as well!

But the greatest adornment of all is the holiness that you will emanate when you begin to cover your hair punctiliously, reminding yourself every moment of the day of Who is your King – and that you are His daughter! I once heard a certain rabbi say that the reason a married woman covers her hair is to be reminded that Hashem is her master – not her husband! It seems like a unique viewpoint, and be that as it may – it is a very holy act to cover one’s hair. Personally, when I tie my tichels, I am also reminded of the headdress worn by the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdash.
 Letting go of that celebrated tefach, the much-disputed finger-breadth or hand-breadth measure of permissibly showing hair, can be a real challenge to many. Chaviva talks about her bangs, and shows them in her blog portrait – the look is, unfortunately, rather that of a sweet little puppy than that of a Jewish princess. As one who also always had bangs, I can understand the fear of the revealed forehead, which I used to share before I was married. (Once I had gone under the chuppah, though, I never showed a single hair in public.) I think the solution may be to try to accept on an emotional level that your image has changed; to admit to yourself that yes, I am now a thoroughly different person – I am changed and transformed, not only internally, but externally as well, and I am at peace with that. As a married woman one is always in disguise - whether I wear a sheitel or a tichel, my true, "revealed" self is not visible in public. In a sense, it is Purim all year round, and what you see is only a part of me - I am wearing a mask, as it were, and if that mask has no bangs, so be it. 

If that doesn’t help, I have found that a piece of sculptural lace or fringe can serve beautifully as a “bangs substitute”. What does not work however, if you want to achieve the maximum levels of holiness and beauty is to hang on to the bangs. You will be neither here nor there; standing with one foot in each camp, as it were, holding back a piece of yourself from Hashem, holding yourself back from growing, and missing out on that mysterious glamour in the process.

The key to achieving the full glory is an attitude of “Ashreinu – mah tov chelkeinu!” (“How fortunate are we – how good our lot!”). Let us be proud to be Jewish women, and let us be proud of our tichels – let us wear them as banners!

Shalom Uv’racha!

*A few websites with tichel tutorials and products that I greatly enjoy are: