A couple of weeks ago in my Gemorah shiur we got into an aside about Chumras. The Rabbe mentioned that he had once been approached by a gentleman who was asking for Tzedeka to help him buy a set of Tefillin for his grandson. As the discussion unfolded it turned out that this grandfather was seeking assistance in buying a $1500 set of Tefillin! The Rebbe, originally inclined to assist, declined to contribute. He said that it’s one thing to help with a mitzvah, but this gentleman should not be asking others to support his chumra.
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine shared a D’var Torah with me at a Shalom Zachor. It was around Parshat Vayakel. He started by posing the question, “What was the difference between the Keilim (vessels) that were in the Beit Hamikdash vs those in the Mishkan”? The answer is that in the Mishkan there was only one of each vessel and they were smaller than the ones in the Beit Hamikdash. This was so in spite of the fact that the B’nei Yisrael offered Moshe enough to have larger and multiple vessels in the Mishkan. In fact the B’nai Yisrael were offering so much of their possessions that Moshe had to tell them to stop. Why did he stop them? Surely, he knew that their destiny was to build a Temple large enough to accommodate whatever they wanted give. The answer given was that since the Mishkan was portable and carried by men, Moshe did not want the B’nai Yisrael to think that they could satisfy their desire to do extra (be Machmir) on their brothers’ backs.
The message seems clear. As much as we may desire to go above and beyond in our service to Hashem we must always balance this desire against its affect on those around us. Even when dealing in areas of normative halacha there is room to be lenient when it comes to issues of Shalom Bayis and Darche Shalom. How much more so must we be careful when dealing with that which is not required of us. Whether BT or FFB (and sometimes this can even be harder for FFBs) we can be faced with people, situations and environments that are not always, shall we say, receptive of our latest “development”.
Though so much in our observance seems black and white, this is one area where we can really modulate our observance to fit the environment. A kashrut Chumra, for example, which might work well in our kitchen, may prove to be onerous in our parents’ kitchen. One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep while on vacation in Orlando. Something that makes sense in our community might be ridiculously out of place in our grandparents’ condo.
I guess another way to look at this is to weigh our desire to do a chumra against the chumra of being extra sensitive to those around us; whether they are spouses, children, parents, friends, or colleagues.
About a year ago I posted a piece about my teenage daughter’s decision to adopt a couple of chumras of her own when she was 14. One of them was to stop going to the movies. At the time, I wrote back to her that I was proud of her growth and a hope that she would, “… also know that Frumkeit is not just on the outside, but also the type of person you are and how you represent Yiddishkeit to other Jews and even non-Jews.”
A few years later, after we had moved to Israel, my daughter went back to the states for a visit. There, she spent a few days with my father. There’s not all that much for a not-so-mobile 70 something man and teenage girl to do down on the Jersey shore. My father suggested they go to a movie and my daughter, understanding the nuances of the situation, agreed. She did not “fall off the wagon” nor was she giving into some deep seated urge to see a flick. She maturely assessed that her chumra need not be carried on my father’s back.
My daughter’s ability to put her chumra in perspective showed me that, not only had she become “frum” on the outside, but that she had integrated her Frumkeit in a way that made her both a better Jew and a better person. That, I believe, is the essence of what our Rebbe was saying to us and what Moshe Rabeinu was saying to B’nei Yisroel.