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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Holier than G-d

Daf Yomi Gittin 5

There was once a very pious man who always made sure to keep himself as far away from sin as he could imagine.  So every Shabbos, he would tie himself to a chair.  And so, tied to his ‘Shabbos chair,’ there was absolutely no way that he could come to transgress the holy Shabbos.

The Chofetz Chaim heard about this individual and bemusedly commented, “That man sounds like he has it all under control.  But sadly, he has forgotten the mitzvah to enjoy Shabbos, which he transgresses week in week out!”

Bar Hedya wanted to learn the right way to be a messenger for a gett (divorce papers).   He came before Rabbi Achi who was in charge of divorce proceedings.  He said to him, “You must watch over the writing of every single letter.”
He then appeared before Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi.  They said to him, “That is unnecessary.  And if you say, ‘Let me act stringently,’ you are effectively questioning the validity of every previously written gett!”

Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi told Bar Hedya that he could validate a gett simply by watching the first line being written.  Anything beyond that was not only unnecessary, but inappropriate.  Why?  Because if he were to adopt the ‘stringency’ of watching the entire document being prepared, he would be implying that previous documents that were not watched over in their entirety were not as kosher.  And so Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi told him to stick to the accepted, usual practice.

Sometimes people take extra stringencies upon themselves that are not only unnecessary, but may be improper.  Their implication is that doing it the regular way, everyone else does it, would not be kosher enough.  Chumros – stringencies – are defined by the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law); not by what we think we should do to be ‘extra frum.’

I recently overheard someone say that they do not eat broccoli and cauliflower.  Why not?  They were being extra stringent about the possibility of insects.  I’m sorry to break it to them, but there’s no such stringency in Halacha.  Halacha says that broccoli and cauliflower require careful washing and checking; not avoidance of the vegetable altogether.  You can’t blame Halacha on your lack of patience for washing and checking your vegetables.  If you want to, take the time; if you don’t, that’s fine too, but it’s certainly not a stringency.  Claiming it is a stringency invalidates everyone else who does eat broccoli and cauliflower!

Or the classic one of the fellow who wouldn’t walk on grass on Shabbos, lest he step on an ant and kill it, which is forbidden.  Sorry to say, that’s not a stringency.  If it were, you would be implying everyone who does walk on grass on Shabbos is acting inappropriately.    And of course the same thing is true of the fellow with the Shabbos chair – what he figured was a stringency not only cast aspersions on everyone else, but ultimately ruined his own Shabbos observance!

Or the married couple who decided that they would always keep an extra day of Hilchot Niddah (Laws of Family Purity).  Instead of just five initial days of separation, which everyone else observes and is mandated by Shulchan Aruch, they kept a sixth day to be strict.  Sorry to say, once again that’s not a stringency; it’s a meaningless practice that implies everyone else is being lenient; and it is therefore improper behaviour.  What’s more, the couple ends up transgressing the holy time husband and wife are meant to be together by automatically deducting a day each month!

We don’t need to be holier than Hashem.  Sometimes we think we are being strict in our mitzvah observance, but we have to think of the consequences of our stringencies on ourselves and everyone around us.  May you excel at every mitzvah and take on only those stringencies that our Divinely-inspired Rabbis have instructed, without feeling the need to invent your own!

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