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Where Do You Stop

The other day I posted over at EdibleTorah about a Passover law found in Talmud – which essentially said that you can’t hope to control EVERYTHING. The specifics were that, if a weasel carried a piece of bread into your home, it wasn’t a violation of Passover kashrut. Likewise, if your dog dragged some chametz into a room where you had already cleaned, it wasn’t your responsibility.

Dogs will be dogs, weasels will be weasels.

The key point (for this conversation) was the final phrase: “There is [then] no end to the matter”

I am told that this phase, used to limit potential excesses in observant behavior, appears often in Talmud.

I find that deeply comforting.

BUT… this phrase is never used in the context of every-day (versus special Passover) kashrut. Never.

Now maybe it’s just where I am right now – struggling with whether I need a pareve (in addition to milk and meat) set of silverware. “Enough!” my mind shouts out. “Will we also need milk, meat and pareve toothpicks? Napkins? Seat cushions? Is there no end to the matter??”

I haven’t found out yet whether the lack of this phrase is

  • indicative that there is, in fact, no end to the matter. People need to go to whatever extent they can to feel that they are “in bounds” with regard to kashrut
  • a mere oversight and not significant of anything. In this case, the Talmudic intent is still that one should exercise reasonable restraint in pursuing this mitzvah.

I sincerely hope it’s the latter. Not just because I am currently feel tired and bedraggled and frazzled by the onslaught of hekshur and hagalah, of separating and then recombining my kitchen items, of kashering for everyday only to kasher for Pesach. No, that is a piece but not just because of that.

I hope reason has a place in this process because, especially at this time of year, I am painfully aware that my own Yetzer HaRa (often translated as “inclination to do evil” but more accurately as “inclination to unrestrained passions”) goads me to nit-pick every observance, to question the validity of the way I have performed it. Between my Yetzer and I, there is no “good enough” or even “good enough for this year”. My Yetzer HaRa gleefully  acknowledges “no end to the matter”, and I don’t want to be left standing without the protection of Rabbinic reason to keep myself in check.


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One response »

  1. OOO, cross-posting – double the comment opportunities.

    (Not implying anything about the author, in any of the following, by the way.)

    I go back and forth with trying to figure out if Torah Judaism is GOOD for people with OCD, or BAD for people with OCD.

    Or perhaps they are flip sides of the same shekel.

    People with OCD will excel at observance and attention to detail, and will be pathologically averse to overlooking any aspect of halachah (Jewish law).

    On the other hand, people with OCD will be pathologically averse to overlooking any aspect of halachah, such that it becomes life-arresting (as with any obsession) as opposed to life affirming.

    For those of us with a tendancy to strong habits (not OCD, mind you, just… well, we like habits), the struggle is very real to know when enough is enough. And the fact is, enough is truly never enough – there is always another level that, when the time is right, you can take things to.

    But avoid the temptation to do it all at once. That is, in almost every case, a recipe for disaster. Once the big steps are out of the way (kashering the kitchen, ponying up for the new dishes, financing your first purchase of shmura matzah), then you can fine tune.

    Remember also that, while you must try very assiduously to avoid mistakes, remember that very early on in our nationhood G-d gave us the processes for forgiveness and repentance. If you use a meat spoon for your hot cream of wheat with milk in it, get over it. Do the appropriate teshuvah and move on. Oh, and kasher the spoon – leave it sit for at least 24 hours and then dunk it boiling water. Done.

    Which prompts a salient point: Yes, there is an end to the matter – if you make a mistake, fix it and move on.

    (Toothpicks are disposable. Take a new one each time, and you won’t need to worry about milchig, fleishig, and pareve.)


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