Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 38 Modesty


Back to chapter 37 about gluttony

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


In the opinion of the philosophers, modesty is a virtue which enables one to limit his desire for carnal relationships and everything related to them. And if he or she is a married man or woman, to remain faithful to his or her spouse, even after the other's death; also, to be modest and cover even the permitted [body parts].

We can compare the trait of modesty to the dove, which will not be disloyal and will always remain faithful to its pact with its partner. And if one should predecease the other, the survivor remains single and unattached for the rest of its life. It will not drink clear water and it will not perch on a flourishing and thriving tree.

King Solomon said (Proverbs 5, 18) "May your source be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth". He also said (ibid. 6, 7) "A courtesan will reduce a man to poverty etc.". Our Sages of blessed memory said (Talmud Bavli, tractate Eruvin 100b): "Had the Torah not being given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, [the laws of] theft from the ant, [the laws of] morality from the dove and good manners from the hen", as it is written (Job 35, 11) "Who educates us better than the beasts of the earth and who makes us wise more than the birds of the heavens". They further related in tractate Shabbat about a man who married a woman missing a hand and because of the high level of modesty he was not aware of this [deformity] until her death.

Somebody wrote that in order to be modest one should be cautious in six matters: the first is an excess of food and drink, since just as once fire has settled in straw it is impossible to prevent a conflagration, so it is impossible to restrain the desire once the body is satiated to excess; the second is inactivity, as a wise man said "Remove inactivity and the desire will cease"; the third is too much conversion between men and women, as our Sages of blessed memory said (Pirkey Avot, 1, 5): "Do not have a lot of [idle] conversation with your wife"; the forth is to avoid mixing with a gang of scoffers and giving one's hand to depravity; the fifth is to keep away from a place of immorality and from those who speak vulgarities since the wise man said that the desire for immoral unions can be compared to the monkey, which wants to copy everything it sees others doing; the sixth is to steer clear of places where people sing, play music and dance any kind of dances, since Pythagoras said that lust for depravity will flourish from these things in the same way as willows flourish from near running water1.

We find it written that in a certain city there was a modest and virtuous virgin who did not wish to partake in the vain worldly pleasures. The ruler of the city saw her and desired her. He sent several times secret emissaries to talk to her but was unable to persuade her to comply with his wishes. In the end, he decided to take her forcibly. He went to her house and with an impressive company took her and brought her to his house. When she realized that her cries and shouting wouldn't be headed, she begged from him that he tell her what he saw in her which caused him to desire her more than all the other women and maidens. He replied: "Your beautiful eyes cast a spell over me". She then said to him: "Now that I have seen your fervent love for my eyes, I am ready to comply with your wishes, but please first allow me a short time to prepare myself in private room, after which I will fulfill your request". At this, the ruler ordered that she be brought to a private room. She closed the door behind her, took a knife and gouged out her two eyes. After this, she opened the door and said to him: "Since your love for these eyes of mine is so great, please accept them and do with them as you wish". The ruler was shocked and surprised at this and sent her home where she lived modest and virtuous for the rest of her life.

Note of the translators:
[1] This saying quotes a verse from Isaiah (44, 4).

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 38 about Modesty is found at pages 72-74.