Daf Yomi Nedarim 15
Pesach was fast approaching. I was in yeshiva in Israel and my roommate and I would be spending the festival in the dormitory. I thought we’d cleaned our room pretty well until to my surprise, I walked into the room two days before Pesach to find Levi throwing boiling water up onto the ceiling.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ I asked incredulously.
‘I’m kashering the room,’ he replied.
‘Seriously?’ I said, ‘I don’t know about you but I’ve never eaten any bread on the ceiling!’
‘Well,’ he responded, ‘that’s my family’s custom.’
If there are permissible behaviours that certain people are stringent in and avoid doing, you may not do those things in their presence, for the Torah states, “He shall not desecrate his word.” Since he has pledged to act more stringently, he may be tempted by your actions to break his pledge.
When it comes to matters of mitzvah stringency, you always need to be careful not to denigrate anyone else’s practices. Often, we look at someone else’s devotion and we think they’re going overboard and so we poke fun. That’s not cool, says the Talmud. It is one thing not to do it yourself, but don’t go jeopardizing others’ dedication.
Now certainly not all practices are valid stringencies. I’m still not sure that Levi’s boiling water on the ceiling was religiously meaningful in any way. (My guess is, he’d seen his parents clean for Pesach above the stovetop for fear of food evaporation; but I’m sure they didn’t do likewise in their bedroom!) But valid traditional stringencies that others adhere to must be treated with the utmost respect even if you are not accustomed to practice them yourself.
Whether it is cholov yisroel (supervised milk), pas yisroel (Jewish-baked bread), avoiding carrying in an eruv, or a host of other stringencies, you should never put down those who go the extra mile. It’s easy to find the simplest way to do mitzvos; it takes a lot of commitment to choose to practice Halacha beyond the letter of the law.
Chumros (stringencies) may not be for everyone. But their performance should be respected and admired and certainly never denigrated. May you merit respect for everyone, regardless of whether their adherence to mitzvos and chumros is greater or lesser than your own!