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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Emor

An Improper Chumra

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Parashat Emor and its haftara deal, among other things, with the laws of kohanim. Kohanim observe halachot that are from the Torah, others that are from the Rabbis, and even matters that they accepted upon themselves as stringencies appropriate for their lofty station (see Kiddushin 78b).
We will take a look at some factors that help one make balanced decisions when the question of stringencies arises. Let us first point out that the desire to sanctify ourselves (including by refraining from that which is permitted) in order to advance our service of Hashem is positive and should be encouraged. With that, we must be wary of the related obstacles. Our words are based on the ideas of the great kohen, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Chazal concluded: "Just as it is forbidden to rule that the impure is pure, so is it forbidden to rule that the pure is impure" (Yerushalmi, Terumot 5:3). Poskim apply this idea generally to forbidding the permitted, (see Beit Yosef, YD 115; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 242:66). It is better to have 10 tefachim that stand than 100 that fall. Therefore, in creating walls of halacha, we mustn’t build so high that it threatens the structure. Rav Kook learns from this as follows. "One should not look to be stringent without a tradition from our teachers in a matter that is itself a distancing from sin. A stringency should not be built onto a stringency unless we have found it explicitly or we have clear proofs" (Orach Mishpat, OC 112).
Kabbalah teachings also indicate that one should be careful not to be stringent without a source. Rav Kook quotes Rav Chaim Vital as saying: "About such people it says: ‘They are wise to do bad [forbid] and they do not know how to do good [permit].’ Because they scorn the tree of life, Hashem does not help them, and they err in the details of the tree of life and the tree of knowing good and bad and turn it into bad, and they make impure that which is pure and forbid that which is permitted."
Rav Kook learns from the concept that one must use his teachers’ language that one should not call a minhag a halacha or a prohibition. He should distinguish between different levels of prohibition, and if there needs to be a one-time prohibition, he should acknowledge this. When one lumps things together, people are liable to take real halachot less seriously. Knowing his generation, Rav Kook said that when they see that the rabbis permit whatever they can, they learn that that which is not permitted cannot be permitted. This increases observance. When people find out that things are forbidden without need and the rabbis did not care about the toil of Israel, this causes a great chillul Hashem.
While we await the return of all the applications of the laws and stringencies of the kohanim, let us strengthen our resolve to improve our service of Hashem based on halacha’s guidelines.
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