Photo Credit: Jewish Press

As the summer and warmer weather approaches, we would like to present a story of the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose slogan was “lechatchila ariber” – that one should always “go over” an obstacle as an initial option rather than first trying to go “under.”

The Rebbe Maharash told the following story, which brings out his lechatchila ariber approach to the matter of tznius (modesty). As we know, tznius is a very sensitive topic, and it has to be approached in a very sensitive manner. We see from this story how the Rebbe Maharash approached this topic.


In the year 1854, the Russian government enacted a decree called “the decree of the knupin.” In Yiddish, knupin means a “knots.” The women at that time covered their hair with a shawl that ended with a knot on top of the head. These shawls covered the hair nicely and stylishly. The government, however, made a decree that the women are not allowed to wear those shawls.

The Rebbe Maharash continued that in 1874 – twenty years later – there was a new decree, called “Nova Palazhenye,” meaning “New Condition.” Until then, the army draft was restricted to a certain quota from each town. In the “New Condition,” however, they took everyone into the army. For Jewish young men, the army meant an uprooting from their Jewish way of life.

The women who stood up to the decree of 1854 and continued to cover their hair as before did not encounter this problem when the draft was decreed in 1874. Not one of their sons was drafted.

However, the women who stopped covering their hair in 1854 did have problems twenty years later when their sons were drafted into the Russian army. “They are coming to me (for help) so I know of the problems they have,” said the Rebbe Maharash.

We see here the Rebbe’s lechatchila ariber approach to conveying the importance of tznius. He didn’t say that you need to appoint supervisors and use tactics to enforce tznius. His approach was very simple: Tznius is relevant for the children that will be born later. If a Jewish daughter conducts herself in a manner of tznius, then, with G-d’s help, her children will be spiritually safe. Otherwise, she is endangering the spiritual welfare of her own children.

It is self-understood that no Jewish daughter would want to endanger her children. Therefore, the Rebbe Maharash’s approach is to teach that tznius is important not only to the individual, and not only to the general community, but to one’s own children.

We should merit to have a lot of Yiddishe nachas from our children in much joy.


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].