Modern Challenges: Looking for the Best

Challenges of the Modern World: Looking for the Best

by Mordecai Plaut

The young man was indignant. "I have nothing against a neighborhood eruv," he told the askan who came to ask him why he had uprooted the poles that had been set up near his house. "But that was certainly not an eruv pole. Eruv poles are simple wood sticks. This was a five-inch galvanized steel pole! That is not how you make an eruv."

For years -- for generations -- he would have been right. The poles for Shabbos eruvin, even around neighborhoods and cities, were nothing more than sticks, which eventually weathered and bowed and swayed in the wind. This was something new, something better. The five-inch pole also allowed the askonim to install internal weights to ensure that the line itself would stay taut throughout the year, summer and winter. New techniques and special instruments had been developed to meet standards that far surpassed those that had been met in the past.

Was there anything wrong with the old standards? Nothing at all. They were established by gedolei Yisroel, whom anyone and everyone relies on. Without criticizing those old standards in any way, the conditions of today, including increased wealth and advanced technology, allow askonim to go far beyond what had been eminently satisfactory in the past.

We live in an age of progress, an age in which standards are constantly changing. The bar is pushed continually upwards.

Some people insist that their clothing be first class. It should not be ostentatious. They would not wear the label outside and it is not important to them if other people know that their clothing is top quality or not. But they insist that it must all be of the finest material, and the most expert workmanship, even though certainly a lesser material looks good enough. "Good enough" is not good enough for them. They want their clothing to be the best.

Others have a similar feeling about their homes, or their cars.

Many people today want their avodas Hashem to be only the best. The want to avoid compromise whenever possible on any matter that touches on avodas Hashem. When it comes to mitzvos, they do not want to stop with "good enough." They want only the best and the purest. They want to do everything lechatchila and they are not satisfied with what is ok bedi'eved.

This is not a requirement, and there is no reason to consider someone who does not seek these high standards to be wanting. But for themselves, they want the best.

This extends through bein odom lechavero as well as bein odom laMokom. One avreich recently explained that he did not want to pursue a claim against someone who had damaged his property. "It is so easy to cross the line into gezel in this area, that I would rather stay away from the whole thing," he said.

Evidence of this approach is found in many areas of modern life: in kashrus standards, in attention to problems like shatnez, in Shabbos observance, in shmittah observance, in the details of many mitzvos like tzitzis and tefillin and wearing sheitels that are free of any taint.

This does not mean that there is no work left to do, or that in some areas (even some important areas) there may not be aspects that are not even up to minimal standards. The aspiration is important, but the bottom line is the practice and we have to see to that.

Sometimes enthusiasm may mask ignorance as some things are pursued for their appearance even though there is no substantive improvement in the fulfillment of rotzon Hashem. As Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 18) says, it is necessary to toil and work hard to know the derech Hashem with clarity and honesty, and then to weigh alternatives "with the scales of wisdom."

But it seems clear that there is an unprecedented desire among broad sections of yirei Hashem not to "say I have enough with doing what I was explicitly commanded. Rather . . . [they] strive to do what will bring nachas to Hashem."

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