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Thought for the Day: Importance of Chumros During Aseres Y'mei T'shuva

They say there was a chasid who felt he couldn't have a beard in his line of work.  Every year when he went to see the rebbi at Sukkos was a new opportunity for embarrassment.  He wouldn't shave after Rosh HaShana so at least he would have some kind of beard for Sukkos.  One year, though, he decided, "Who am I kidding?  The rebbi can tell I am not shaving!"  So he decided that year that he would stop being a fraud and at least save himself the embarrassment of being a fraud in front of the rebbi.  When he arrived, however, he was told that the rebbi would not see him.  Plead and beg as much as he could, there was no budging.  Finally, as he was preparing to return home after simchas torah (which had not been much of a simcha for him), the rebbi sent for him.

The rebbi explained:
I want to you understand, my dear chasid, what happened this year.  Of course I know that you have been shaving for years.  You have a yeitzer hara, business is challenging; I can accept that.  None the less, you were a Jew with a beard.  This year, though, you became a Jew without a beard; that I cannot accept.
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 603:1) says that we should take on extra chumros during the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva.  (My wife and I, for example, keep kosher also outside the house; that is, chalav yisrael.) The poskim even discuss how to take on these chumros without becoming bound by them be force of neder.  What are we doing?  Playing games?  HaShem knows very well that we don't keep those stringencies all year.  How much of an impression is one week going to make?

A big impression, actually.  We have parnassa issues, kavod issues, issues issues; we have a yeitzer hara.  HaShem knows that (He even created it, actually).  Once a year, for 10 days, HaShem asks us to show how we'd like to be living.  He even, as the Chayei Adam, explains, starts the ball rolling by offering us extra opportunities for closeness during these days.  Since HaShem operates this world mida k'neged mida, we are actually working within the system!  HaShem is offering extra chesed, we are responding by offering extra dedication.

Perhaps on a drop deeper level, we can even say that our response of adding chumros during this time is an expression of "b'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu"/Know (emulate) HaShem in all of your ways.  That itself is an amazing elevation.  All for just giving up Ritz crackers and Yoplait.  Nice!


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