Latest update: April 16th, 2013
The passionate desire to serve God represents a type of religious zeal. Its practice often includes acts which go above and beyond the demands of the law. While at first glance this might seem commendable, there is also a downside.
For some, this can lead to religious excess, fanaticism or elitism and thus on numerous occasions one will find in Talmudic literature that our sages strongly criticize these practices. (See: Quotes About Chumrot at end of book)
If one sees the Talmud as a source (or the source) for helping define how one should best serve God – then the current tendency to go to the more stringent and more ascetic routes would appear to be misdirected.
What is the intent (kavanah) of the person who practices stringencies above and beyond? And why was this specific stringency chosen? Is it to better serve God? Is it better to serve himself? How does this fit into the concept of Clal Yisrael (the unity of the Jewish people)? What about becoming an elitist?
If proper intent is a requisite for the fulfillment of certain laws (i.e., prayer, Shabbat), then improper intent (for example, one upsmanship) might invalidate any stringent act being practiced.
Stringencies can be admirable – IF one undertakes them in private. IF one doesn’t mention or point out his practice to others making himself a paragon of virtue. IF the chumrah is practiced out of deep commitment – not simply flowing with the local fashion – to be one of the ‘in’ crowd. IF practicing this chumrah is consistent with one’s total religious behavior – both in terms of fulfilling the commandments between man and God and man and man.
In today’s materialistic society there is a tendency not only to compensate but to overcompensate. I’m not referring to salary and perks but rather to the realm of relationships.
Today’s busy parents have found that it is easier and quicker to buy the child a toy than to spend an hour or two walking together in the park. Or to put it another way – there is a prevalent thought that you can ‘buy love’.
So it is in religion.
To reach a spiritual connection with God is both difficult and time consuming. But what if I do something else? What if I start to take upon myself a more stringent practice? Won’t that show God that I love Him and connect with Him.
Instead of delving more deeply into my true relationship with God, I take the easier, quicker way and forbid myself this, or lengthen the time for that.
Does a box of candy or a piece of jewelry given to your spouse really equal an honest declaration of ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I love you’?
I have tried not to mention specific chumrot (plural of chumrah) that are being practiced. Rather I present the history, evolution and reasons for the phenomenal growth of this tendency – particularly in the past decade or two.
This book will deal with practices – not in debates over halachah where one rabbi is lenient and the other stringent. I will try to avoid taking stands on specific halachic decisions and treat the subject on a general level.
As you can see by the title of this book I spelled out the word God without the use of the almost ubiquitous hyphen in place of the ‘O’. It wasn’t to provoke anyone or heaven forbid to insult God’s name. Many people question writing our God’s name in full, in any form or language. I am simply following the precepts laid down by many Gedolim * (super sages) who say that the special treatment is exclusively for the Hebrew version of His name.
Others rule even further that this concept should be followed in pronunciation as well.
If this is carried to the extreme, one would limit the pronunciation of the name of the prophet Elijah (Eli-ya-hu) as Keli-ka-ku – because it involves verbalization of elements that form of God’s name.
About the Author: Chaim Burg was born in New York and was strongly influence by the teachings of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Z.D. Kanotopsky. A graduate of Cooper Union, Burg spent most of his active business career as a communications consultant for major U.S. and international corporations. A well regarded author and lecturer, he mainly deals with thought provoking views on the evolution of Halacha. Burg made aliya in 1975.
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