Not so long ago, we received an indignant letter from a
reader. We had written that doing something was prohibited
but he had asked Rav X if he could do it, and Rav X said that
We knew, having spoken with someone who had spoken to Rav X
previously, that Rav X does think that it is permissible to
do that thing. However we also knew that Rav X thinks that it
is nonetheless far from a good idea to do so.
So we simply replied to the reader: You should have asked Rav
X shlita if you should do that.
This incident is characteristic of a broad range of behavior.
There are some people who are constantly concerned only with
the limits of halochoh. They are always asking to know what
they can do.
They are sincerely committed to Judaism and to the
Shulchan Oruch. They do not want to breach its limits.
However they already know what they want to do and they just
want to know if the Torah will permit them to do what they
want to do.
One of the marks of a true ben Torah is that he seeks
Torah guidance not only on what he may do, but also on what
he should do. He is concerned not only with the lower limits
of the permissible but also with the higher limits of the
When a ben Torah asks a Torah question, he or she does
not come with preconceived desires. They do not seek a
particular answer, but want to know what the Torah (and
Hashem) truly wants.
Sometimes, those whose enthusiasm is stronger than their
education will not take "yes" for an answer. They want to
hear that something is prohibited even when it really is not.
This is not correct, but is usually not damaging. Such people
may suffer because they did not learn enough, but they will
generally do no harm. These are the people who seek
chumras, but theirs is also not really the way of the
Unfortunately this is not always true of those who are
constantly testing the limits of the permissible, who just
want to know what they can do. The reader who wrote us also
complained to others that we were less than truthful since we
had not noted that there is a difference of opinion.
Our policy, as we have stated on numerous occasions, is that
we follow the rulings and directions of our Vaada Ruchanit.
If they say unequivocally that something is prohibited, then
we write unequivocally that it is prohibited. This is our
policy and it is one we take pride in. We follow our rabbonim
in all cases.
Yet in that case and in other similar cases, if the reader
had been aware that the difference of opinion among the
rabbonim was not whether it was prohibited or permitted, but
rather just whether it was prohibited or not recommended, he
would certainly not have been so quick to condemn us for lack
of balance. A ben Torah would not do it in either
There should be no misunderstanding. A person who stays
within the limits of the Shulchan Oruch is a fine,
kosher Jew. We do not condemn him. We praise him for his
commitment in a world that is tremendously hostile to any
But we want more than that. Bechasdei Hashem there is
an entire community that tries, hopefully with some success,
to find out what they genuinely should do, and to base
themselves on the Chazal (Brochos 17a): "Happy is he
whose toil is in Torah and who brings satisfaction to his
Creator." As the Mesillas Yeshorim writes (18): "He
will not try and intend to get by with the well-known
obligations that fall upon all Yisroel generally. . . . He
will not say, `I was not told to do more. For me it is enough
to do what I was explicitly told to do.' . . . [But he] will
add upon the mitzvos that are given explicitly in order to
bring nachas ruach to Him yisborach."