Halacha for Thursday 24 Tevet 5778 January 11 2018

Question: Is one permitted to act stringently in any situation one pleases?

Answer: In the previous Halacha we have discussed that one must wait six hours between eating meat and cheese in accordance with the ruling of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch. This law is based on a Gemara in Masechet Chullin (105a). For the purpose of our discussion, we shall quote the words of the Gemara regarding the waiting period between meat and dairy.

“Mor Ukva (one of the great Sages of the Gemara) said: With regards to the issue of waiting between meat and cheese, I can be considered ‘vinegar the son of wine’ (an expression referring to him being on a lower level than that of his father), for when my father would eat meat, he would not eat cheese afterwards until twenty-four house had passed; regarding myself, however, when I eat meat during a meal, I do not eat cheese during that same meal, but during the next meal, I would eat cheese (provided six hours had passed).” The commentaries ask: Why would Mor Ukva, who was a pious and saintly individual, label himself “vinegar the son of wine” over such an insignificant issue? He could easily have acted stringently and likewise not eat cheese until twenty-four hours passed, similar to his father’s practice!

Maran Ha’Chida explains in his Sefer Arvei Nachal that the reason Mor Ukva was not as stringent as his father was based on the Gemara (Berachot 16b) which states, “Not all who wish to bear Hashem’s name (i.e. to act in a pious manner) should do so,” for many do so perfunctorily and merely mimic practices they observe from their rabbis even if they are quite distant from their spiritual level.

Nevertheless, if one has failed or transgressed in a certain area, one may act as stringently as necessary in order to ensure that this does not happen again. We find a similar idea regarding the Maharam of Rottenberg who would ridicule those who would act stringently and abstain from eating meat after cheese (which is halachically permissible, for only after eating meat must one wait six hours before eating cheese, however, if one eats cheese, one may eat meat immediately after washing out one’s mouth and washing one’s hands). Indeed, this practice seemed foreign to him and contrary to the Torah way, for there is no source for this stringency in the Talmud. This was until once, Maharam found some cheese stuck between his teeth at which point he accepted upon himself to act stringently regarding meat after cheese as is the law regarding cheese after meat.

The Rama writes in one of his responses to a certain sage who wished to act stringently regarding a matter which was completely permissible that he may not do so and scolded him, “Is what the Torah prohibited not enough for you that you are looking for other things to prohibit?” Nevertheless, many Poskim write that one may indeed act stringently regarding any matter that comes to one’s attention either because of a specific concern or in order to ensure that one does not transgress a certain prohibition.

Approximately twenty years ago, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l told the Avrechim (young married Torah scholars) of the prestigious Bet Midrash Yechave Da’at in Jerusalem that it is appropriate for a Ben Torah to adopt as many stringencies upon himself as he can in order to be concerned with all of the opinions among the Poskim, even if the Halacha in a certain situation has been decided leniently against this opinion.

Clearly, one must exercise great wisdom when approaching these matters, especially in our day and age when many erroneously accept excessive stringencies upon themselves which eventually lead to more loss than gain. On the other hand, one must constantly strive to climb higher and higher in one’s Mitzvah observance and service of Hashem.

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