Let us pause for a moment from our talk of airlines and chickens, and before going on to eiruvin, tefillin, mikva’os, and buses, let us try to understand exactly what we are talking about.
A layman assumes that halacha, and halachic matters, are basically black and white. Something is either mutar or assur, treif or kosher, posul or kosher.
But that is not at all so! Something can be wrong to do initially, but may be acceptable after the fact or when there is a great loss involved. There are, many times, a plethora of opinions, and one could be lenient or strict. Many times something is technically okay, but is not a good idea because over time it will inevitably result in a breakdown — and you don’t want to be the one who is there when that happens! Something may be technically okay but may easily lead to something else which is not technically okay. Sometimes the physical reality is not totally clear; sometimes the halachah is not very clear in a particular case. Sometimes the reality is that there will be a problem one in 100 cases — to some, that is acceptable risk; to others, not.
The amount and kinds of foods that we demand; the mass-production that has become a norm; the sheer number of people demanding religious articles, items, and services is boruch Hashem overwhelming. And every process is made up of tens, and at times hundreds, of parts and procedures. And we live in a complex universe, both physical and spiritual, with choices every single step of the way.
Yeshaya Hanavi states (66:5 ),”Listen To G-d’s Word, you who fear His word!…” Can you guess what the Hebrew word for the phrase “you who fear” is? That’s right: CHAREIDIM!!! GASP!
Let us try to put aside the social element of belonging to this stereotypical grouping nowadays and its native habits (you know: no job, doesn’t pay taxes, hates other Jews…) and let’s try to understand what it means to be chareidi in the sense that Yeshaya Hanavi meant it.
The Mesilas Yesharim (in perek 4) starts his description of climbing the ladder of perfection with zehirus — caution. A person should examine the path he is taking in life, to see if he is dangerously close to various pitfalls. The trick is to avoid doing things by rote, to avoid doing things out of inertia or habit, to think about one’s actions or lifestyle and to take an honest look if this road will lead him into “pushing the envelope” until he is dragged down in a quagmire that he can no longer pull himself out of. In other words, think about what you are doing: be cautious, check it out; find out the risks, the likelihood of messing up, the degree to which you need fear that something is or may go wrong. What a pity, Mesilas Yesharim says, if a person lives his or her life, and finds out that due to carelessness, he or she did not reach the goals s/he otherwise might have. “Good enough!” is their battle cry. ”What could be a problem?” “Oh, leave me alone,” are the intellectual, rational, arguments of non-zehirim.
Mesilas Yesharim gives another name for this level: yiras cheit, fear of sin.
Be aware, be cautious, be careful. Don’t live mindlessly.
Later on in the sefer (Chapter 24), Mesilas Yesharim talks about a higher level of yiras cheit. When a person is actually afraid — either of punishment (a lower level) or a fear born of awe of the Almighty — he takes care not to even possibly come in conflict with the Master of All. This “fear” leads a person to constantly be on the alert that he is not, and has not been, violating the will of Hashem.
(The above is a very cursory treatment of a topic which could and should take hours and hours upon hours of study.)
Those Who Fear My Word, says Yeshaya Hanavi. Be afraid that something is going wrong, has went wrong, might go wrong.
Really? Always? Where and how does one draw the line? After all, Rabbi Dr. Avigdor Bonchek just wrote a very fine book entitled, Religious Compulsions And Fears where he describes a neurotic fear that some frum people sometimes have of violating issurim which turns out to be nothing less than what he calls a mental illness. Is this an anti–Mesilas Yesharim, anti-chareidi book?
The answer to this question is, of course, dependent upon knowledge of Torah, knowledge of halachah, knowledge of Shulchan Aruch, knowledge of reality, knowledge of how things really, truly work, knowledge of the latest pesakim — an undeniably daunting task that your average person could not possibly fulfill. So what does one do, how does one know?
To sum up: Using the word chareidi the way Yeshaya Hanavi does, and studying Mesilas Yesharim, we have a concept that fear should play a role in our lives: fear of G-d, fear of sin; caution, fear, concern, suspicion. If you really care about your relationship with Hashem, you will be afraid you are not doing “good enough,” that you are messing up, that you are not living up to what you’d like to. Surely you do not want to fall prey to a flippant, nonchalant, light-hearted, who-cares attitude. In a healthy Torah way, you have fear.
But if you go over the line, you are a victim of self-imposed religious compulsion, abnormality, obsession, despair, and should probably read Rabbi Dr. Bonchek’s book for a cure. (There are other cures as well.)
And isn’t there a middle ground? Can’t a person ever decide “enough is enough!” without being a kal? Can’t a person be machmir without being branded a neurotic?
Join us next week in the final part of this series, as we examine questions such as these, as well as:
Is every mehadrin chumrah necessary?
If I use one mehadrin hechsher, can I use them all?
Is every non-mehadrin hechsher suspect?
Is every chareidi person a yerei shamayim?
Can’t a non-chareidi be a yerei cheit?
Am I chareidi but don’t realize it?
Does a “regular” hechsher violate Mesilas Yesharim’s imperative of yiras shamayim?
Is there such a thing as a mindless Chareidi?
Is there such a thing as a mindful non-chareidi?
What do I do if my cousin invites me over for a Shabbos meal and I don’t use that hechsher?
What do I do if my parents booked me in a non-mehadrin hotel for Shabbos? For Pesach?
If I moved into an apartment where a non-mehadrin person lived, do I have to kasher the counters?
How am I supposed to make intelligent choices?