Refining the Rough Edges

“”Tsnius” is a broad concept that encompasses more than just clothing.

We need to be tsnius in thought and demeanor, learning to speak softly and carry a soft stick, modifying how we speak to each other and how we react to those inevitable “event cards” in our lives. How do we learn to be pure in thought and action, G-dly in manner and deed?

For the fledgling BT, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Growing up, I was known as “Foghorn Leghorn” in my family. As the disappearing middle child, I learned how to be noticed by developing a powerful set of lungs. I’m pretty sure I would have made it on the stage were I less shy than I was. In my family, you had to be LOUD to be heard, as rambunctious as we all were.

My aggressive and strong voice reverberates across the miles. People know I’ve arrived before I do. It’s just the way it is.

But just because I’m LOUD doesn’t mean I’m bold and confident. My ebullience masks a mass of insecurities and shrinking violet-itis.

I am a shy person. There you have it. Socially inept, tongue-tied and lacking in confidence, that’s me.

I don’t particular notice FFBs being modest and quiet all the time. In fact I’ve met some wonderfully outgoing and rambunctious characters in my travels – to my delight! I don’t think being a shrinking violet or a mouse is what is meant by being tsnius, modest and G-dly.

I do however need to smooth out the rough edges. I think we all have a desire to enhance our positive attributes while diminishing the negative – refining the nefesh to refine the neshama.

When I became frum, I tore into my wardrobe and eliminated the “not tsnius” clothing, mostly jeans and leggings. That was fairly easy to do. Okay, I admit it was a little hard to give away some of my favorite outfits, but I was never that flashy to begin with.

So now it’s time to overhaul my personality wardrobe.

I confess – I used to have a few swear words in my vocabulary. There’s nothing like a good expletive to make you feel better when you hammer your thumb. It just works.

I’m happy to report that I’ve eliminated these words, with just an occasional minor slip up, like when a pot falls out of the cupboard and hits me in the head. My husband always tells me to thank Hashem for the tikkun.

I’ve been able to successfully replace bad words with less damaging ones like “jeepers!” or “darn!”

I’d like to revamp me entirely though, so my automatic default isn’t anger or a negative behaviour mode when bad things happen.

I’d like to become the kind of person that doesn’t need to vent when things don’t go my way.

I’d like to be the kind of person that takes it all in stride and is comfortable knowing there’s not much I can do about life’s little annoyances, or even major catastrophes, since it’s G-d’s will anyway.

So, how do I do that?

How do I learn how not to let things get to me, to be less cranky when things don’t go my way? How do I quiet the internal road-rage when I hit life’s potholes and traffic jams?

How do I match my personality and demeanor to my tsnius skirts and blouses?

I think it’s by stilling the internal noise, and opening my mind and my ears.

Mishlei 23:12. Bring your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge.

51 comments on “Refining the Rough Edges

  1. Somewhere else on this blog I mentioned that one year, as part of my Elul self-evaluation, I decided to step away from those type conversations. I clearly explained why to my co-workers, and it’s amazing how tolerant they’ve been. Since this are people I spend 7 hours a day with, I didn’t want it to appear like I’d suddenly gone snobby, but rather I chose to explain the scenerio. And we all lived happily ever after – we still shmooze and joke around, but when the conversations veer, I go back to my desk.

  2. Shalom Fern,

    I know what you mean. In my workplace things do tend to slide given the nature of the conversations. I have to try and remember I’m carrying the Torah banner everywhere I go.

    I’ve had a similar experience in groups of frum people mostly around popular cultural references. I might say something like, “I’ll…be….baaaack” in an Ahnold tone of voice — and my frum friends will just look at me blankly. Actually, you can have a bit of fun with it. :-)

    Have a wonderful Shabbos!


  3. Great post Leah!

    Recently I started working for an Orthodox organization. The area I live in has a very small Orthodox community and a pretty large secular/Liberal Jewish community, so my job is really the first time in my life that I have spent a lot of time with frum Jews for an extended period of time. Until this job, I never noticed how often immodest topics are discussed in modern society. It was a real wake up call to me that tznius means more than covered elbows.

  4. Thanks, Leah. I appreciate the advice!

    Also, try singing Shir HaMaalos (bentching) with the tune of Chim Chiminey from Mary Popins. We’ve worked it aout pretty well, and my children love to sing it like that…

  5. Bob, going all the way back to #3 here, does this come under the same category as some Chassidim not wearing a tie because they figure it resembles the thingy upon which you know who was allegedly nailed? What I’m getting at is that there are tons of chumras associated with such a being(s), and how much of it is halacha? I think I’ll save that question for when my Rav resumes his open floor “ask the Rav” sessions at winter Seudah Shlisheet.
    When I was taking a computer class at an Agudath run program, there was one teacher who always made a plus sign without one of the vertical lines (like a T). It took me awhile to figure out what she was writing, and then even longer to realize why. I’ve never had any other charedi teacher who did that.

  6. Of course, you could try switching tunes in mid-stream. At least, that way, you’d get people’s attention. ;)

  7. Free advice on using “tunes from left field”:

    The tune ought to really fit the words. If you find your tune doing one or more of these…

    1. zooming through bunches of syllables to keep up
    2. over-lingering on one syllable
    3. accenting many wrong syllables
    4. coming to a stop in mid-phrase
    5. sounding happy about a grim subject or grim about a happy subject

    …it could be time for a different tune.

    Actually, some semi-traditional tunes have these problems, too!

  8. “But remember folks, let’s try to keep the shul shmoozing limited to after davening – at a kiddush, or outside the shul.”


    (My husband tries to do musical scales with it. It doesn’t work.)

  9. Forgot you’re from Toronto. Your last post is revealed that!

    Actually, I remember hearing that Shir Hamolos will work to almost any tune, and we’re really stretched things at times trying to do just that.

    More importantly, I think you’re on to something about the shmooze (as opposed to The Shmuz) factor. For those of us who are working FT 5 days a week, going to the local supermarket can be socially stimulating.

    But remember folks, let’s try to keep the shul shmoozing limited to after davening – at a kiddush, or outside the shul. The shul I went to when I was first becoming frum would have a kiddush every week, even if it were just grape juice and cake. Several shiddichs came out of that, plus, my hunch is that the Rabbi felt that if he didn’t make kiddush for this heavily NEW BT congregation, many wouldn’t be yotzei kiddush.

  10. Charnie,

    Try “I am 16, going on 17.” We’ve been known to sing different tunes on the long walks to and from shul. :-)

    Hey, you just made me understand why people love to go to shul and shmooze. It never occurred to me. They need the social contact, and that may be the only time they get it. Hmmm, something to think about.


  11. Re #28 – also works to “Meet the Mets” & “Scarborough Fair”, among others. My personal favortite is Od Yeshama.

    Leah, I can definitely relate about the two worlds we live in – it’s part of the reason why it’s so hard for my husband to “drag me” away after shul on Shabbos – after all, he sees frum men 3 times a day – I can often go from Shabbos to Shabbos almost completely sans Yidden (outside of my own family, of course). Fortunately, the non-Jews I work with are quite familiar with me by now, and have gotten used to my excusing myself from the saltier conversations. There are 2 frum men in my department, but obviously, they’re not the ones to shmooze with.

  12. Shalom Dovid,

    Well as a lifelong “loud person,” I know I’ve always been very sensitive when people told me I was loud or told me to pipe down. I’ve always felt very misunderstood that way, as if they wanted to bury my natural exhuberance and make me something I’m not. :-(

    My advice re your neighbour is to try and focus on her positive qualities, try not to let her bother you, and make ample use of the “white noise” in your kitchen, like your humming refrigerator.

    I can’t think of anything you could possibly do to try and let her know about her “little problem” without hurting her feelings and possible creating a rift with her, and you don’t want that kind of problem with a neighbour and a fellow Jew.

    Perhaps you can give her a gift of a book that deals with the topic of tsnius and behaviour, or have your wife invite her to attend a shiur with her on the subject and maybe chat about it afterwards in a non-personalized way. No doubt she’s heard it before, but it might “twig” something for her.

    On the other hand, some people are just not sensitive to it or aware of it, and she may not even see it as a problem for her and others.

    I basically came to the realization myself (well, after reading and hearing many different things about it) that a change in demeanour is part and parcel with a refinement of the soul.


  13. Permit me a little irreverence here, but try “Shir Hamaalos” to the “nigun” of “Meet the Flinstones.” It works perfectly!!! (Don’t hit me, but it also works with “Animal Crackers in my Soup” and the “Addam’s Family” theme song!)

    It’s a joyful song and it needs a joyful tune! ;-D

    Hey, we’re observant but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun. Right?


  14. Shalom Zahava,

    I took a look at your blog. Very prodigious! I didn’t see the link to your own personal story though, just some references.

    You said you are a convert, but that your brothers and sisters are “captive souls” and Jewish, so I’m confused.

    I’m very curious to know how a “southern girl made her way north to the heart of the Jewish community.” :-)


  15. Shalom David Schallheim,

    “I think that to the extent you avoid the media and offensive, abusive types of blogs and what-not, you can improve your language more easily …. Our environment has a profound affect on us, and nowhere is this more evident than in our choice of expression.”

    I think you’re absolutely right. I’m different at work “out among the nations” than I am in an environment of frum Jews. My language as a whole is saltier, I’m more gregarious, and I will tend to join in conversations that I would never have in frum company. It’s a bad habit and I have to break it. I am working on it.

    It’s as if you have different hats to wear, figuratively speaking. This is my shul-going holy environment hat. This is my work-a-day “among the nations” hat. And the personality goes with the hat.

    I think it has to do with the refinement process and the schizo-ness of being a relatively recent BT (six-year anniversary this month) and having lived for decades in secular environments.

    It’s really hard sometimes to make the presentation match the environment, and to switch gears depending on the context.

    As for the media, I agree on that score as well. There is such a bombardment of bad messages and bad behaviour pervasive in the media that you have to wear teflon head-to-toe to protect yourself from becoming “infected” with it .. kind of like psychic body armour or a mental biohazard suit.

    Being employed in a secular environment, I’m not quite sure how do that yet. Is there some kind of innoculant for it?


  16. Shalom Chaim G.,

    It’s been pointed out to me a number of times that anger and frustration, hey, virtually any negative emotion, is avoda zora because you are putting yourself ahead of Hashem and showing lack of bitachon in his wisdom and the fact that things happen because it’s part of his plan.

    So, I agree they are different middos and require different approaches.

    The outbursts are driven by anger, and I’m thinking that if a person can control the outbursts and negative reactions, it may have an impact on the emotions that drive the anger.

    That’s how it seems to me.

    If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, hopefully it doesn’t act like a enraged bear. ;-D


  17. Shalom Sharon!

    Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhugar pie!

    I’m working on my list. :-)

    So yesterday, when I banged my knee for the 1500th time (I should move the table already!), I bellowed “OW!” “And, thank you Hashem!” really loudly.

    Okay, I’m not quite there yet. ;-D


  18. Shalom Zvi,

    Thank you! I try to remember that lots of people can identify me as an Orthodox Jew simply from the clothes I wear. Being out and about among the nations because of work, I know that my behaviour and manner better match my “uniform.” Otherwise, it’s a chilul Hashem.

    It’s particularly important at work. They saw me transition almost overnight from a salty secular person to a religious person. There is an assumption of how a religious person should act, and I realize I have to walk the talk or they will doubt my sincerity in other areas.

    I am definitely learning to be kinder and gentler out there, rather than always in “duke ’em out” mode, but it’s a work in progress.

    An example is travelling on public transit. It’s so easy to lose your patience and get angry at the pushing and pulling, and the lack of consideration people sometimes show. I’m just trying to hold in my mind that how I act in response reflects on how the world views Jews and that it’s just as trying and hard for them as it is for me.

    I also try to remind myself that Hashem is in control, and this is happening because he wants it that way. Why is not for me to know. That helps me in a lot of situations, but I’m just learning how so I’m not quite there yet. :-)


  19. Shalom David,

    “The desire to be better is the first step to becoming great.”

    I like that! It’s a quoteable quote and very encouraging. Thanks!


  20. Nicely put, Leah. I, too, am working on trying to become more low key and quietly spoken. It’s not an easy thing to do, as I am a born schmoozer, not at all shy, and always seem to be the one to open a conversation. Frankly, my outgoing personality traits have been part and parcel in my line of work. In sales, it sure comes in handy. Still, I’m trying to leave this side of me at work and then shift gears when I come home.

    The dress-code tznius factor is important, and I would think that it has an affect on the way one behaves and carries oneself in public. More for some…less for others. Case in point…I have a very nice neighbor, whose wife dresses with proper tznius, but she speaks with such booming volume that we hear her in our yard…an acre away. She probably doesn’t realize it and doesn’t mean to be loud.
    Still, I consider it to be immodest on her part.

    Now, if I could only find the right words to speak to my neighbor about it….

  21. Great post!

    I think that to the extent you avoid the media and offensive, abusive types of blogs and what-not, you can improve your language more easily.

    After twelve years in Israel without a visit to the States, I was shocked at the language I heard in the arirport, etc., which I hadn’t been exposed to for more than a decade.

    Our environment has a profound affect on us, and nowhere is this more evident than in our choice of expression.

  22. It always sounded strange to me, so once, on a hunch, I checked out the possibility it was a euphemism like this. Try Google and you’ll see it’s not so obscure.

  23. Is it mutated enough for a frum Jew to use? The origins being (prior to this thread) obscure and basically unknown.

  24. Regarding “for cryin’ out loud”

    This is an excerpt from :

    Dear Joseph,
    “For crying out loud” is a “minced oath” or euphemism that stands in for “For Christ’s sake.” Although it may be older, this expression was first recorded in the United States in 1924, and has been attributed to cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan.
    S. D. Liddiard,
    Origins Guy

  25. Very nice piece and I like the Holistic approach. Though some might quibble that anger and immodesty are two different bad middos (and the table of contents of many a mussar sefer would seem to corroborate this view) the Chazon Ish famously wrote that, in truth, their is only one good and one bad middah. Once you indulge in a bad middah of any kind the rest and almost sure to follow.

  26. “for cryin’ out loud”

    As I often use this enlighten me. What does this one have to do with Yoshka? I always thought that it was the english cognate of the Yiddish “Gevalt Geshrigen”

    (Did you know that “it doesn’t fly” is a fecetious barb directed at the same badboy?)

  27. Leah,

    There’s a variation of Errgh: Arrgh. Also, there’s a favorite of the little ones I work with at the school here: Yuck. By the way, they’re also a good way to help edit vocabulary. They’re almost two and repeat nearly everything they hear. Also, get creative and make up words that are totally nonsensical. I did after hearing someone who used to live here in Indy do it. He said it helped avoidwords he didn’t want to say. It also helps when you find out that you shouldn’t say things you thought were okay but aren’t. (see Bob’s comment #3) ;)

  28. AJ,

    LOL on your post and your daughter emulating the Oy, Oy, Oy!

    I’m not only trying to break the habit of getting mad when something breaks or goes wrong, but working on the “Thank you Hashem!” stuff. It’s an interesting challenge. ;-D


  29. Good post Leah,

    Case in point: My wife and I are fond of saying Oy! Oy! Oy! loud when something breaks or goes wrong, which is now the favorite expression of my 22 month old girl. Imagine if it were something worse.

    OTOH I am still guilty of saying certain words at work, which I should definitely not say, especially wearing a kippah. This post has reminded me to get to work on that a little. Thanks Leah!

  30. Shalom Bob,

    Errrgh, you’re really limiting my vocab. here. How about:

    – Yowza!
    – Cowabunga!
    – Jumpin’ Junipers!

    Or maybe a good ol’ fashioned: OY VEY IZ MIR!



  31. Great Post ! Thanks so much Leah. Love the connection of Tsinius & Speech & an entire revamping of outlook. Much food for thought

  32. Nice article! But avoid “jeepers” (or “gee” or “sheesh” or “for cryin’ out loud”). The above all describe a certain Jewish boy gone bad.

  33. “I’d like to be the kind of person that takes it all in stride and is comfortable knowing there’s not much I can do about life’s little annoyances, or even major catastrophes, since it’s G-d’s will anyway.”

    The desire to be better is the first step to becoming great.

  34. I’m happy to report that I’ve eliminated these words, with just an occasional minor slip up…

    The best cure I found for this is a 4 year old daughter who loves learning, and using new words. Whenever she hears a word she doesn’t know, she’ll pester me until I tell her its meaning and make sure she pronounces it correctly. Yesterday it was “Daddy, what does antagonize mean?” If she does so well with the big ones, the little 4 letter ones would be a piece of cake for her!

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