Arrogance of the Stringent
In response to what I wrote last week, some readers claimed that many girls who act stringently in the laws of modesty transgress the sin of arrogance. While they seemingly dress modestly, they really are proclaiming to their friends: “Look how much better and more religious we are than you!” Perhaps that teacher who taught that there is no obligation to wear socks or stockings saw the arrogance in their behavior and wanted to teach the class that, in fact, it is not obligatory, and in consequence, there is no room for the ‘modest’ girls to boast about their excessive strictness of halacha.
Don’t Condemn Those Who Excel
Answer: Indeed, one must always be concerned about egotism, nevertheless, there are some teachers who are careful to specifically admonish the youth who try to follow halacha precisely, while speaking positively about all the other students. This is heroism on the weak. Such teachers know that ‘righteous’ youth won’t brazenly answer back, therefore, they allow themselves to degrade them, and not treat them with due respect. But towards the students who gloat over their fancy clothes, wasting their parent’s money on expensive designer brands – those teachers would not dare to open their mouths. At the very most, they’ll speak in general terms about the importance of being modest, alluding to their displeasure of the culture of ‘brand-name product’ consumerism. And if, God forbid, one of the rich kids gets insulted, they’ll explain that they weren’t speaking of him. On the contrary, he behaves modestly – buying brand-name items only when it comes to pants, shirts, computers, i-phones, and shoes; but socks and tzitzit, for example, he buys the regular brands. And he even bought his tefillin inexpensively!
If youth who volunteer for Magen David Adom, visiting the sick, or to help organize class parties were to rise up and chastise their classmates for not volunteering like they do, the teachers wouldn’t dare rebuke them for their arrogance. Quite the opposite, they would view their statements as an expression of admirable idealism. At most, they would gently explain that not everyone can volunteer as they do, and therefore, they should tone-down their criticism. Only towards the ‘righteous’ kids who meticulously guard the laws of modesty, mitzvoth between man and God, and study Torah diligently, do the teachers dare to criticize and check their tzizit – questioning their level of sociability. Our Sages, however, instructed us to praise the righteous, in order to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
In general, it is important to know that youth are inclined to extremism. Someone who criticizes them for fulfilling mitzvoth in an exemplary way affects their ability to ascend to higher levels of Torah and mitzvoth.
In summation, there is no doubt that youth must be educated towards humility and modesty, but without harming, God forbid, the good aspirations to fulfill the mitzvoth in an exemplary way.
The Story of the Showbread
The story is told of a Rabbi who gave a sermon to his congregation about the mitzvah of the showbread offering: how the flour was sifted eleven times, the baking of the twelve loaves, how every Shabbat they would be brought to the Holy Temple, and the great pleasure it brought to Heaven. And how, due to our sins, since the Temple was destroyed, the showbread offering has not been brought, and how much sadness this has caused the world.
A simple Jew, one of the Marrano’s from Portugal who made aliyah to Tzfat, heard the sermon. He returned home excited and eager, and told his wife that since the Holy Temple was destroyed, no one was found to prepare the showbread for God. He suggested that, from then on, they themselves would prepare fine challot, and every Erev Shabbat, he would bring them to the synagogue so that God could take them. And this is exactly what they did. They prepared fine challot, the husband brought them to the synagogue, placed them before the ‘aron HaKodesh’ (the holy ark), and implored God, begging that although they were simple Jews, He would accept their offering with desire, for their only intention was to cause Him pleasure.
Before Shabbat, the ‘gabai’ (manager of the synagogue) arrived to the synagogue, and to his surprise, saw fine challot lying in front of the ‘aron’. He attempted to find out to whom they belonged, and when he couldn’t, he took them, and ate them with delight on Shabbat. When the simple Jew got to the synagogue and saw that the challot had disappeared, he understood that his offering had found pleasure in God’s eyes. Immediately at the conclusion of the prayers, he ran home to inform his wife that their offering was successful, and that God had accepted it. Seeing that their challot were pleasurable to Him, they must now hasten to make Him even finer challot. This went on for several Sabbaths.
On one of those Sabbath eves that same Rabbi sat in the synagogue, studying. Suddenly, he saw the simple Jew enter the synagogue, place his challot before the ‘aron’, and implore God that He receive his offering this Shabbat, also. The Rabbi called the Jew and rebuked him sternly: “What is this strange custom? How could you even think of bringing an offering that is not written in the Torah? Do you think that God needs to eat?!” The simple Jew replied: “But from your sermon, honorable Rabbi, I understood that it is a mitzvah to make bread for God.” The Rabbi rebuffed him, and said: “Don’t you know that it permitted to bring the showbread offering only in the Holy Temple?!” The simple Jew replied: “But God indeed has accepted our offering for a number of Sabbaths. How can the honorable Rabbi say that there is absolutely no mitzvah in my actions?” The Rabbi answered: “Do you really believe that God has a body and needs your challot? Surely the ‘gabai’ took your challot. Here, wait with me until the ‘gabai’ comes, and see for yourself that he takes your challot.” The simple Jew waited and saw the ‘gabai’ take the challot. And with tremendous sorrow, he burst into tears and returned home in despair.
At that same time, the holy Arizal sent word to that Rabbi: I heard behind closed doors that you better hurry and go home to say goodbye to your family, because tomorrow, when you are supposed to give your sermon before your congregation – you are going to die. Because, from the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, God has not found pleasure similar to what that simple Jew had done, innocently bringing Him his two challot. Therefore, it has been decreed that the person who prevented him from doing so will die, without the possibility of cancelling the decree (Mishnat Chasidim, paragraph 220).
What Should the Rabbi Have Done?
Ostensibly, the Rabbi was right. Could he have possibly agreed to the development of a new custom, contrary to halacha, according to which showbread is placed before the ‘aron Ha’Kodesh’, having people believe that God sends a hidden hand to take it, while in truth, the ‘gabai’ took it and ate it at home?! Rather, the Rabbi should have honored the good intentions of the simple Jew, saying to him: You and your wife have merited being tremendously righteous people. How fortunate that you were stirred to cause pleasure before Hashem, our God. However, we must realize that only in the Holy Temple are we allowed to bring the showbread offering, but today, because of our sins, our Holy Temple is destroyed, and we are not permitted to bring it. Indeed, you were motivated to fulfill this great mitzvah, and in the merit of this holy awakening, you definitely caused pleasure before God and helped bring the Redemption closer; but from now on, we do not have permission to continue in this way. Instead, you can give fine challot to poor people, invite guests to your house, engage in Torah study, and make your wife happy.
In this way, the Rabbi would not have hurt his good intentions, but directed them to more appropriate channels. This is the general rule: The ‘tikkun’ (improvement) should be done by incorporating enrichment and advancement, which includes both halachic accuracy and character improvement, and not by harming good intentions or deeds.