Q & A: Tznuah vs. Anavah

30 Aug

For the longest time I’ve been having this debate in my head. What’s the difference between the two?

When I say “tznuah,” I do not simply mean a way of dressing. Tznuah (modesty), is something that radiates from the inside, out; you can’t fake it, even if your collar if up to your nose and your skirt is the perfect “doody” length. And it’s not only for girls– tzniut is something a man can (and should) embrace as well.

Anavah (humility), is also something that exudes from the inside out. As Rabbi Abraham Twerski explains in many of his books, anavah doesn’t mean one sees himself as a lesser or unworthy being, rather, he is aware of his strengths and abilities and uses them in the service of G-d.  Someone with anavah is neither of a flagrant ego, nor a deflated one.  One with anavah is at the happy medium, with a solid understanding that:

a) he is a capable and talented individual

b) he only has such capabilities and talents because G-d gave them to him

c) thus it is his mission and obligation to use them appropriately and to the best of his abilities.

Both tznuah and anavah are rooted in an understanding that, that which we see as our own is really Hashem’s– they are His gifts to us. So what’s the difference? Any ideas?

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3 Responses to “Q & A: Tznuah vs. Anavah”

  1. Ishkol August 30, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Tznius is a mode of behavior; anavah is a state of mind. You could make the case that tznius is a reflection of anavah or that anavah leads to tznius, but that doesn’t make the words interchangeable. What’s wrong with the translations “modesty” and “humility”?

    I believe the phrase is “duty length”, by the way.

  2. Bluestocking August 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Tznius nowadays is used to heavily, besides being totally misapplied. Tznius is modesty, yes, but also how one behaves, MALE or FEMALE. One can be dressed not exactly according to modern tznius definitions, but whose behavior is so refined that the lack of knee- length hemline is not noticed; on the flip side, there can be people dressed practically in burqas, but through inappropriate behavior, went and shot themselves in the foot of what they wanted to achieve.

    Refinement. Comportment. Being classy. Not being vulgar, which does not only mean swearing like a sailor, but mentioning things that should not be spoken of in public.

    Tznius doesn’t mean denying one’s abilities. Neither does Anivus. It seems that Judaism isn’t into that.

    Anivus – I just heard in explained that the higher one becomes, one realizes how much greater the distance is between oneself and God. Moshe was “Anav mikol adam,” because he was the closest to Hashem and was aware of how far away he was.

    • coralcap August 31, 2010 at 11:19 am #

      Ishkol– You’re right on the mark. Afeter writing this I came to the conclusion that Tzniu is an outwardly expressed while Anivut is more interal, but I like the way you put it better.

      The problem I still have is, how can each exist without the other? How can one truly behave b’tzniut without being in an anivus state-of-mind, and how could one be in the anivus state-of-mind without behaving in the proper way? I understand they are two co-existing traits, but I do not understand how one can manifest itself to the fullest degree without the other.

      Hehe, you’re right. 🙂 When I first heard the word about eight years ago, I was in a Beis Yaakov sleep away camp, and I assumed that it was called “doody” length b/c it was such a nebby, horrid length that it was comparable to doody. Thanks for the enlightenment, I’m glad I learned now. 🙂

      Bluestocking– Good explanation! True tznius is not something you can necessarily see in a person right off the bat, i.e by their raiment or lack thereof. It’s really a way of behaving, though sometimes due to one’s refined behavior they choose to dress more conservatively…sometimes not. Being tznius isn’t as easy as it looks. When I meet someone who is genuinely tznius, I stand before them in awe (though they might might notice). It’s the same with genuine anavim/anavot…there’e something very special about such people. I don’t want to say there aren’t many of them out there because I don’t know that, but I will say they’re hard to find…not because they are so few but because they don’t go looking for attention or recognition.

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