“Women are obligated to learn those halachos which are pertinent to them, such as the laws of...and the prohibition of Yichud...”

Shulchan Aruch Harav, Laws of Talmud Torah, Ch. 1:14.

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Issurei Biah Ch. 22:18.

“There is nothing in the Torah that is as difficult for the majority of people to avoid as Arayos and forbidden relationships. The Sages said that when Klal Yisroel was commanded with the prohibition of Arayos, they cried and accepted the mitzvah with complaints and with tears, as it states: ‘crying for the families’ — meaning, over family matters. And the Sages have said, ‘The soul of man craves theft and Arayos.’ One does not find a community in any generation in which there are not those who breach the laws of Arayos and forbidden relationships. Furthermore, the Sages have said, ‘The majority are guilty of theft, the minority of Arayos, and all are guilty of Avak Lashon Hara.’ Therefore, it is fitting for a person to subdue his inclination in this matter and to train oneself to conduct oneself with utmost purity and pure mind and correct state of mind in order to save oneself from them.

“And he should be careful about Yichud, for it is the greatest cause. The great Sages used to say to their students: ‘Be careful of me because of my daughter, be careful of me because of my daughter-in-law,’ in order to teach their students that they should not be ashamed in this matter and thus distance themselves from Yichud.”

In today’s society, the challenge facing Bnos Yisroel to act in a dignified and tznius manner is immense since we are surrounded by a promiscuous society which constantly bombards us with non-tznius messages and stimuli. Commensurate with the challenge, however, are the powers which Hashem gives Bnos Yisroel to overcome the challenge. The righteous women of today’s generation understand that the kedushah of the generation — as in all generations — is premised upon their tznius.

On the verse “Kedoshim Tihyu” — “You shall be holy” (Vayikra 19:2), Rashi comments: “Wherever there is a separation from immorality, there is holiness.” The Talmud Yoma 39a states further: “ ‘You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy’ (Vayikra 20:7) — if a person sanctifies himself a little, he is much sanctified. If he sanctifies himself below, he is sanctified from Above. If he sanctifies himself in this world, he is sanctified in the World to Come.” Rashi comments: “One who comes to purify himself is aided from Above.”

The first step in this acquisition of kedushah is the distance that the Shulchan Aruch demands there must be between men and women. To quote from Shulchan Aruch Even HoEzer section 21:

“A man must distance himself exceedingly from women. He may not make suggestive movements with his hands or feet, nor wink or joke with them, nor act frivolously before them. He may not gaze at their beauty or even smell the fragrance of the perfume they are wearing.”

The sefer Apei Zutre (quoted in Otzar HaPoskim Even Hoezer Vol. 9 p.21) explains the term “exceedingly” (in the Hebrew m’od m’od) in the following way: The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos Ch. 4 states that a person should be of exceedingly lowly spirit before all men. The term “exceedingly” is used to indicate that when it comes to the character traits of arrogance and humility, one should swing to the extreme of humility. This is an exception to the general rule enunciated by Rambam that a person should always follow the middle path and not swing to extremes. In the case of arrogance, however, one should not follow the middle path; rather, one should veer to the extreme of humility. So too, explains Apei Zutre, since the Shulchan Aruch employs the same term “exceedingly” in the above passage, it indicates that regarding the distance between men and women, one should veer to the extreme.

Yafeh Lev (Vol. 5:1 quoted in Otzar HaPoskim) adds that just as men are to distance themselves from women, so too should women distance themselves from men.

It is self-evident that in order to preclude any conduct that would involve Arayos, a man or woman should not place himself/herself in any situation that could be conducive to Arayos; hence, we have the prohibition of Yichud.

A Bas Yisroel must know the laws of Yichud and be careful never to place herself — not even for a moment — in such a situation. Through this measure, we will safeguard the Kedushas Yisroel and merit the greatest blessings of Hashem for ourselves, our families, and the whole of Klal Yisroel.

A person should not feel that these laws were given to make life cumbersome and difficult. On the contrary, if one looks with a perceptive eye, one will notice that all the halachos were designed chiefly to protect the dignity and kedushah of Nshei Ubnos Yisroel. Thus, the Torah with great foresight prevents them from being placed in a very vulnerable situation. This is indeed a great gift, as no other such system of protection can be found in any other culture or religion lehavdil.

It is interesting to note that the term Yichud is used to describe the prohibition of a man and a woman being together in seclusion. The same term is used to describe the Oneness of Hashem. There is a positive commandment in the Torah Leyached Shmo, to unify His Name. In fact, before the daily prayers we say Leshaim Yichud — for the sake of the union of the Holy One Blessed Be He with His Shechinah.

The two meanings are related. Klal Yisroel is married to Hashem, and the Torah is our wedding contract. If Klal Yisroel is constantly aware of the unity of Hashem and His omnipresence, we will not transgress the prohibition to be in seclusion with any other foreign partners. By being faithful to Hashem, we will unite the Holy One and His Shechinah and ultimately draw down the revelation of His presence with the coming of Moshiach — may it take place speedily in our days, Amen.