A co-worker expressed his disgust with Mehadrin (highly stringent) hechsherim (kosher certification) today.
"I just hate it that there are all these different hechshers," he said. "I can't stand it!"
Hmmm.... I'm always up for a good beef. Especially if it's kosher. (Groan!)
"Why does it bother you if people choose to eat other hechsherim?" I asked.
He told me it's divisive. It creates a holier-than-thou attitude. It belittles those who choose to eat other hechsherim, not recognized as valid by their more stringent counterparts.
It's always so interesting to me that it's the people who are less stringent who are so bothered by the people who are more stringent. Why do they care so much? Why is stringency a thorn in their side? And it only seems to happen in religious matters. If I'm enjoying a hot-fudge sundae and I see a woman stringently and ascetically ordering a fruit salad, do I fume? Does it bother me? Isn't she insulting me, calling my less-nutritious food choice lowly and base? Uh, not really. How about if I'm the type who lets my kids cross the street by themselves. Do I beef about those crazy parents who make their kids cross only with an adult?
Maybe the beef is about conscience. Maybe the beef is actually a defensive front for a tiny, prickling whisper, raising uncomfortable thoughts of...maybe....maybe....maybe I should do this too?
And maybe not. What do you think?
Sometimes things look so easy. Until you try them. Like the time I thought I'd cut my sister's hair. I mean, it's just so easy. You take the scissors, you pick up the hair, and snip, snip. Right? Wrong. I bought her a bunch of pretty clips afterwards to console her till it grew back.
Well, I recently came across this extraordinary teaching of the Chofetz Chaim, a tw-century Jewish sage, adapted from his sefer (work) entitled Shemiras Halashon (Guarding One's Speech) for Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day by ArtScroll:
The Torah is called a "tree of life for those who grasp it" (Proverbs 3:18). The way to grab onto a tree is to take hold of one of its branches; in so doing, one has attached himself to the entire tree of which this branch is a part. So it is, explains Sefer Chareidim (ch. 61), with Torah. The way to attach oneself to the 613 mitzvos (commandments) is by fulfilling one particular mitzvah with exacting precision and total dedication. Dedication and attachment to a single commandment will cause one's soul to become united with G-d and His Torah and will lead to the proper fulfillment of other mitzvos as well. Thus do we find, "Rav Nachman said: 'I will be rewarded [in the World to Come] for having [zealously] fulfilled [the mitzvah] to eat three meals on Shabbos.' Rav Sheishes said: 'I will be rewarded for having [zealously] fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin.'"
So after reading this inspiring passage, I was eager to play a round of "Adopt a Mitzvah". Hmmmm, I thought to myself, What mitzvah will be my magical mitzvah branch that can connect me to all of the other 613? Sounds simple, right? Well, every mitzvah I explored suddenly seemed to reveal itself in all its glory and potential difficulties. At the end of the day, there didn't seem to be a single mitzvah that would be easy and simple enough for me to take on as my special mitzvah. But there's got to be something. And it doesn't mean it has to be perfect from the outset. Progress is a good thing in this religion. So with that comforting thought in mind, I'm still thinking. What would YOUR personal mitzvah be?
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.