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    It’s All a Matter of Inches

    One Friday morning, about a month ago, I awoke late.  The evening before, I was working till the wee hours of the morning and slept through my alarm clock.  Staten Island, where I live, does not yet boast any late shacharis minyan so I got into the car and drove across the Verrazano Bridge to daven in a later minyan in the wonderful Munkatcher shul.  What I didn’t count on was that parking erev Shabbos morning in Boro Park is a near impossibility.  So, after circling for about 20 minutes, I took a risk and parked a little too close to a fire hydrant.  I then proceeded to Munkacs where I found a wonderful minyan just waiting for me.

    After davening a well-earned shacharis, I returned to my car to find a $115 ticket with the explanation that one has to be 15 feet away from the hydrant while I was not far enough.  I, of course, was not pleased with the $115 penalty for being a few inches off the mark.  But, after my initial disgruntlement, I began thinking that, l’havdil, that’s the way it works in Yiddishkeit.   There is a sudden cutoff in many of our laws.  If the sukkah is 10 tefochim high, around 40 inches, it’s kosher.  If less, it’s posul.   If you have 2.9 fluid ounces of wine, you have a reviis; if not, you can’t make kiddush.  If the mikvah has 40 saah, then a woman can become tahor, pure; if not, she can’t.  The candles need to be lit Friday at a certain time; afterwards it’s too late and sometimes a woman needs to light an extra candle every week for the rest of her life because she missed the cutoff.

    And that got me thinking about the Torah’s expectation concerning women dressing modestly.  Above the elbow, below the elbow; above the knee, below the knee.   It sounds like only a matter of a few inches but these inches are much more serious than a $115 parking ticket.  In a pragmatic way, they can make the difference of whether a young girl will be eligible for an entire category of shidduchim or will be summarily rejected because of her cavalier attitude towards halachic modesty. 

    It is so easy to say, “Let’s not quibble about a few inches.”  “This is what’s available in the stores.”  “All the girls are wearing this.”  But, as we’ve seen, Judaism is all about inches.  Whether it is a kosher eruv or it is too low is a matter of inches.  And, the same thing applies to women’s dress.  Many a young lady defends her practice hotly by declaring, “If it’s good enough for my mother, it’s good enough for me.”  I’d like to point out that that’s not fair for many mothers did not have the advantage of a Beis Yakov upbringing like they did.  And, because of this, more is expected from them.  And, if you’re a married woman, remember that an elevated hemline will for certain attract the gaze of other men, especially the lewd notice of the goyim around us, which is something you pledged under the chuppah that you will save only for your husband.

    I’d like to sincerely appeal to the wonderful young women who are reading this article that, besides from a halachic standpoint which dictates laws of personal modesty, be a pragmatist and realize that by adding a few inches you open up for yourself an entire world of dedicated young men who are looking for chaste, modest, wonderful women.

    While talking about cutoff points, notwithstanding my late morning prayer davening, we should remember that there is a cutoff point in the morning by when we need to say Krias Shema called the zman Krias Shema.  Since the saying of shema is our acceptance of the yolk of Heaven, we should try to get our daily acceptance statement right.  So too in the evening, if we daven maariv early before tzeitz hakochavim, the coming out of three medium stars, we should be sure to say Krias Shema over again after the prescribed time which is, according to many opinions, 45 minutes after sunset.

    And while we’re on the topic of getting the time right, let’s try to plan our Chanukah parties around lighting the menorah at the proper time and not visa versa.  Let’s remember that in the Beis HaMikdash, they tried all kinds of machinations and finally earned an open miracle in order to light the menorah.   So let’s try, as much as possible, to structure our day, at least on Sunday, when many of us don’t have work, to light at the proper time.

    Finally, during these days when Shabbos is so early, let’s not flirt with possible chilul Shabbos by leaving work too late and getting onto the freeway where we are just one accident away, or one pothole repair crew, away, from getting stuck in the car at Shabbos’s onset.   We pride ourselves on being shomer Shabbos, guardians of the Shabbos.  To guard the Shabbos means we take no chances in getting stuck in a traffic jam right before Shabbos.  In the merit of keeping the Torah’s measurement, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful. 

    Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

    You can learn Shas Mishnayos with Rav Weiss anytime by dialing 718.906.6471. Or you can listen to his daily Shiur on Orchos Chaim l’HaRosh by dialing 718.906.6400, then going to selection 4 for Mussar, and then to selection 4.   Both are FREE services.

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