Beit Midrash

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43. Cautiously Stringent

Pious individuals follow the more stringent rulings and sway clear of all doubt. However, it is precisely here that a truly pious person must be on guard. He must be careful that his stringent practices do not lead him to belittle the lenient rabbis.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Adar 5676
A pious person is especially cautious and meticulous in his observance of the Torah. He avoids even the slightest possibility of transgression and will not consume any food unless he is certain that it meets the highest kosher standards possible. He relies only on the most prestigious kosher permits.

When it comes to matters which are subject to rabbinic dispute, the pious individual will follow the more stringent position and sway clear of all doubt or discrepancy. However, it is precisely here that a truly pious person must be on guard. He must be careful that his stringent practices do not lead him to belittle rabbis and Torah scholars who rule leniently, nor those who rely upon these lenient authorities.

A person's own stringencies are only matters of piety, but the prohibition against belittling Torah scholars is an actual and serious transgression. The difference between an ordinary and a top-rate ("mehadrin") kosher permit generally lies in a rabbinic dispute; belittling Torah scholars, on the other hand, is a full-fledged Torah prohibition. True piety calls for honoring all rabbis and venerating them, because honoring them is like honoring the Torah itself.

While being stringent with himself, a pious person must also honor rabbis who have a tendency to rule leniently. He must remember that both stringent and lenient rulings "are the words of the living God." If, in his meticulous performance of the commandments, a person belittles those who are not so stringent, he has lost more than he has gained.

R' Tarfon said, "I was once walking along the road and I reclined in order to recite the 'Shema' in accordance with the opinion of the school of Shammai, thus exposing myself to the danger of robbers." They said to him, "You deserved to come to harm for acting against the words of the school of Hillel" (Mishnah, Berachot 1:3). They said this even though R' Tarfon behaved stringently in accordance with the school of Shammai.

Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto explains that there was a great dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, and it was very trying for the Jewish people. Eventually the dispute ceased and it was decided that the law would follow the ruling of the school of Hillel forever. The existence of the Torah depends on this ruling remaining in effect forever and not losing its strength in the slightest, that the Torah not be split in two, Heaven forbid.

According to this Mishnah, then, the more pious path is to abide by the ruling of the school of Hillel. Ramchal concludes, "This should serve us as a guide to perceive the path where light resides with truth and faith for the doing of what is just in the eyes of God."

In the days of R' Kook, the Rebbe of Gur visited the land of Israel. These two rabbis met, R' Kook and the Rebbe of Gur, and during their meeting some untithed fruits of the Land of Israel were brought before the Rebbe of Gur in order to give him the privilege of separating terumot and ma'asrot (offerings and tithes).

R' Kook said to the Rebbe of Gur that because it was the first time he had ever fulfilled this commandment, he should bless "she'hecheyanu." The Rebbe, however, was of the opinion that he should not recite this blessing. They deliberated this matter for some time, and finally the Rebbe of Gur said, "If the Rabbi of Jerusalem says to bless, then this is what must be done," and he blessed "she'hecheyanu." This, then, is an example of true piety.
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