Some Stringencies Are a Bad Idea
This article is based upon a Derasha of HaRav Yosef Avrohom Halevi Heller, Rov and Rosh Kolel 'Kolel Menachem', Crown Heights, NY, Lubavitch, 13 Nisan 5769
י"ג ניסן ה' אלפים תשס"ט Tuesday April 7, 2009 original
Many people are more stringent during Pesach than throughout the year which is good unless we confuse priorities. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, our scrupulous intensity in keeping a Hiddur, a stringency, leads us to be less than properly careful with Halacha of the Shulchan Aruch. The Gerrer rebbe, the Beis Yisroel, reflecting upon such concerns notes that many have the commendable custom to avoid eating nuts during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, as the word אגוז (nut) has the same gematria as חטא (sin). With a slight touch of black humour, the Beis Yisroel says that being so busy to avoid eating nuts distracts some of us from being conscious that we are not as careful as we should to avoid the actual sins themselves - the word חטא also has the same gematria as …חטא
Machlokes, arguments, are forbidden like Chometz and at this time of the year there seems to be a disproportionate emergence of arguments. Just as we exercise tremendous care to eliminate all tiny fragments of Chometz (which is well beyond the letter of the law), so we must exercise every effort and then some more to neutralise all behaviors that prompt anger, conflict, and rivalry. These, like Chometz, are forbidden, even in the slightest form. It is also alluded to in the holy writings that Chometz is a refelction upon the Yerzer Hara, the evil inclination, as it is called the Seor ShaBeIsa, the component that sours the dough.
One should not keep Hiddurim, stringencies, at the family's expense. This is likely to destroy the atmosphere at home and ruin the pleasure of Yom Tov.
For example, according to Halacha, we may use regular toothpaste, perfume etc. during Pesach even it contains Chometz because it is inedible, even a dog wouldn't consume it. Some however are stringent because it is possible to extract the Chometz from the mixture. When maintaining this stringency will cause tension, it is far better to avoid the Chumrah - and dedicate our stepping back as a true offering to HKBH.
BTW products that contain no Chometz can be used even without an official Hechsher
The men must bear in mind that they are not empowered or entitled to dictate what their wives' prefer to eat. If she chooses to eat various foods that are Kosher for Pesach, which he prefers not to eat, he must accept that with a willingness and equanimity. Many great, Chassidishe women ate such foods on Pesach.
Furthermore, it may be appropriate as a Chassidishe practice, for the husband to give up his own Chumros. For instance, to visit her family or friends who are less Machmir than what he prefers.
A Chumra must be founded upon a true and meaningful source, it is inappropriate to adopt Chumros just because others are doing it. The source of a stringency must be verified, and be reliable. This is seen in the Shulchan Aruch who writes, "Many have the custom to scrape the walls and chairs that have come in contact with Chometz; they have a reliable foundation for this practice." Clearly a reliable source is necessary to justify following a stringency.
It is only with Divine Assistance that we can be confident that we are rid of all our Chometz. Ofren enough something has been overlooked, or Chometz has been brought in after our thorough cleaning. To merit such assistance, we must embrace the advice of our Chachamim, follow their guidelines and instructions and not confuse our personal reckonings and self-made initiatives with Halacha.
There is a subtle strategy of the Yetzer Hara that encourages us under the guise of making Gd happy and being a better Yid, to seek stringencies that are based on one's own feelings. But in truth this is just plain old arrogance, GaAva. Essentially one is declaring, that it is he alone who protects himself from Chometz. Unfortunately, one thereby forgoes help from above.
R' Pinchas of Koritz had a student who was extremely scrupulous about Chometz. During Pesach, he ate only at home, not even attending his Rebbe's Yom Tov meal. R' Pinchas, upon being told of this said, "There is Chometz in his barrel of drinking water." The Chosid was told, checked the barrel and discovered it. He was distraught and begged R' Pinchas to explain how such a calamity had befallen him. The Rebbe explained, "We are not angels and seek and get assistance from above. You, however, relied on your own efforts, not depending on Hashem."
There are two types of Chumros: those that are sourced in Halacha and based upon logic, and those that are purely based on tradition, for which there is no logic. The former may be followed by whoever wishes to; the latter require close analysis and verification that they are authentic.
There is a custom to not eat garlic during Pesach. R' Sholom of Belz (the Sar Sholom) argues that this is actually a Torah directive; "Al Titosh Toras Imecha," do not forsake the Torah of your ancestors. For those with this tradition, it is "Toras Imecha"; for others, this custom is irrelevant, for it has no logical foundation.
This is true about all traditionally based customs that have no present day justification. However, one who joins a community should embrace their Chumros. The 'Toras Imecha' of the community now becomes his. Those who adopt additional Chumros should be particular to not describe them as customs of the group.
In attending to our obligations and maintaining the balance outlined above, we will merit divine assistance to avoid even the minutest amount of Chometz. This is the surest way to enjoy the Arizal's guarantee that those who are scrupulous about even tiny fragments of Chometz are assured to be protected from sin throughout the year.