Bereishis: Veering to the Right
I have been in discussion with two rabbeim whom I greatly respect regarding the situation in today's (Jewish) world, especially in certain unnamed cities (both in the US and Israel). It's a weird mix between religious obligations and love of politics. In a certain place not to be named here, lest it defile the Dvar Torah, you have a group of people making a certain rabble-rouser their new "Rebbe" and Trump as the new messiah. Here in Israel, you have some groups whose hatred for the government is so strong, that they are unwilling to listen to anything they are told. You have several camps of respected doctors, professors and whatnot, who are at odds on how to defeat or keep Corona at bay. Are masks good or are they not? What should be done with the economy? What should be done with the elderly and more susceptible? Are rules based on politics or economics or a genuine desire to do the right thing? Those who are at home with children: Do you keep to your personal stringencies regarding things like technology or do you become more lenient? Should you daven with a minyan with people without masks? Should you even daven for a person who gets sick when he intentionally put himself in danger? (A real question which was posed, it seems.)
It's not a fun time, because it is a time marked with confusion.
I think there are a few things one needs to remember during these
1. We're still in exile. We are under the rulers of other nations. WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL. We seem to forget that, because in the past, if we had protested in the streets, we would have been killed on the spot. Yet, the "anti-semites" or "anti-religious" governments allow us to do so freely today.
2. Whether or not the decisions by such governments are correct or if they have been poisoned by politics (which clearly they have been, in both the US and Israel), we as Jews, still have an obligation to do our part in making sure that people are not harmed by our actions.
3. Our job is not to be overly involved in the news (even so-called "religious news outlets") and politics. Our job always was and always has been to learn Torah and to act according to the Torah. When big rabbeim go out to protest, then you go out to protest. I have yet to see one big rav going to any protest in any country. I have been to one protest here in Israel, called by the leading rabbeim, and I can assure you
it was very large and very peaceful, and the police were bored out of their minds.
4. We follow the leading rabbeim of our generation, we do not follow those who simply know how to make the news, Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular.
5. Each person should have a rav who has a connection with those greater than he.
All think, by remembering those five things, one can say that they are doing their best to follow Hashem's way through very confusing times.
In the famous standoff between the snake and Chava (how did her name get to be translated to "Eve"?), Chava explained that not only could she not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but she cannot even touch it. Yet, we know that Hashem only prohibited the eating of the fruit.
Rebbe Nachman m'Breslov writes that this extra stringency came from the "Light of Hashem that is in the heart of Yisroel." Loosely translated: it was done out of love for Hashem. Sometimes, he explains, a person's love for Hashem burns so deeply that even the 613 commandments is not enough for them. They need even more closeness. And with that desire, they start forbidding things that are allowed in order to keep this connection strong and unwavering with Hashem.
This idea, Rebbe Nachman writes, is impossible to have and maintain.
As we know, a life is a universe unto itself. And if a person
nullifies himself to such a point, it's as if he no longer exists and
is therefore destroying that particular universe, which is something
that Hashem is not interested in at all. Rather, He wants each
individual to work according to their level and to build their own
personal universe. This is the way of the Torah, not to go to the
left or to the right. Just as going "left" (liberal) is considered
off the path, so too, going "right" (overly strict) is considered off
Many times, Rebbe Nachman writes, a person will experience a spiritual high which is far beyond his level, that he will ultimately crash down to a place far below where he was once previously standing. Here, Chava was being overly righteous by forbidding that which was allowed, which ultimately led her and Adam to not only touch the tree, but to eat from it as well, leaving them in a much lower place than where they were before.
This was the sin of Adam and Chava. It was not an act of rebellion, but rather an act to fulfill their desire to be close to Hashem. However, it was not done in a proper way, which is a slow but constant growth.
This of course, leads to a big question. So many of the halachos that we follow are rabbinic in nature. They are barriers put up by the Sanhedrin or their students to keep us away from doing sins on a Torah level. So, what's the difference? Why is one form of stringency considered good and proper and another form is considered destructive?
I think the main difference is that Chava equated her personal stringencies and made them as if Hashem Himself commanded her. She added on to the Torah. Rabbinic halachos are just that, rabbinic. We know what Hashem commanded and we know what we added on to protect ourselves from disobeying the Torah.
This is why it is very important not only to learn halacha properly (and in depth, if possible), but to have a competent rav who himself has a competent rav. Thereby one will know what is a legitimate stringency (whether on a personal level or on a halachic level) and what is being "overly righteous."
Having knowledge of what is legitimate and what is not will ultimately have an affect if you will descend, thinking yourself in ascension, or truly growing as Hashem wants you to.