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Chagigah 18b:

“Whoever washes their hands for fruit (even though they’re only obligated by bread) is from the haughty of spirit”

Mishna Berurah 158:22 states that this is because he makes the statement about himself that he is careful with mitzvos even beyond the letter of the law.

I don’t understand, isn’t that a good thing? Although I can’t quote off the top of my head aren’t there plenty of times where that is seen as a good thing.( I.E Women being stricter than letter of law by Niddah)??

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    Firstly there is a difference between being stringent on a lav vs bring stringent on adding extra asseh. Secondly, in the case of washing for fruit, there was never any Mitzvah and he’s adding a new idea from his own, basically making his own Torah
    – Chatzkel
    Jun 21, 2022 at 1:13
  • women being strict by niddah is not going stricter than what the law requires but being strict in the case of a doubt between two very similar cases of which one is necessarily more strict but hard to tell apart. What is the basis for washing for fruit? A stringency still needs to have a basis in halacha.
    – Dude
    Jun 21, 2022 at 2:03
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    There’s a rabbinic enactment to wash before eating bread. Either 1. Because it’s holy to wash before eating, and we only put it by bread. Or 2. So Kohanim who legally have to wash for Terumah would be used to it. Either one would be beneficial to wash by fruit too, and seems to be a stringency that would be to strict to force on the general pop Jun 21, 2022 at 4:14
  • As far as number 1 Is concerned see Aruch Hashulchan why it doesn’t apply. sefaria.org/… Once it’s not included in the takana then it’s like making your own Torah
    – Chatzkel
    Jun 21, 2022 at 14:20
  • ואין הקדושה ניכרת בזה כל כך Is not reason enough to refer to someone who still does it as “from the haughty of spirit” Jun 21, 2022 at 23:09

2 Answers 2

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The concept of "lifnim mishurat hadin" is quite often misunderstood. There are two main ways nowadays that it is misunderstood and I think one is presented here.

Who is a chassid? Someone who goes beyond the letter of the law. Ramchal, on the trait of Chassidut, starts with the following:

The trait of piety truly requires a great explanation. For there are many practices and ways which circulate among many people as piety but which are nothing but the shells of piety, lacking in shape, form and correction.

This stems from a lack of true in-depth study and thought on the part of these practitioners [of the shells of piety]. For they did not toil and strain themselves to attain a clear and correct knowledge of the way of G-d. But instead, they went and adopted whatever practices struck them as being pious according to first thought, without delving deeply into the matters and weighing them on the scales of wisdom.

These people have given Piety a repulsive odor in the eyes of most people, including the intelligent among them, leading them to think Piety consists of foolish things and is counter to intelligence and sound knowledge.

The first way it is misunderstood, not applicable here, is it means keeping "chumras". This is not the case. Each chumra has to be taken on its own analysis, but generally speaking a chumra is there in order to keep the din better, e.g. only eating foods with a high grade hechsher - someone is really concerned about keeping the din of kashrut! So it's still within din. Other examples of this principle might be doing things "mehadrin" like taking an etrog mehudar, which is an explicit commandment (Vayikra 23:40), or using olive oil for chanuka lights, which again is an explicit law to beautify our mitzvot (Shemot 15:2).

The second way it is misunderstood is what is going on here. Some people think that doing things that are not asked, such as washing for fruit, is considered going "beyond the letter of the law". Going beyond the letter of the law in this case is considered foolish, if not outright forbidden in many cases. It's not a Jewish thing to innovate practices in this way. Every Jewish law, or fence, or decree, must be rigorously sourced by our sages using the methods of the Oral Law, with proof.

So what is "going beyond the letter of the law"? If someone wants to learn how to be a chassid, they should learn Avot (Bava Kama 30a). What's the connection?

The law is written for all humans, and therefore it takes into account human shtus (for lack of a better word). An example might be if someone slights you in public, you can take them to beis din and they can impose a penalty on them. This is the law. However, is that really ideal? Is that what Hashem wants? No, Hashem wants us to rise above our natures and become Godly. So going "beyond the letter of the law" means forgiving the person who slighted you (Avot 2:10). Going beyond the letter of the law, in this case, means embodying the purpose behind the law, or said differently, becoming, rather than simply behaving. Becoming the type of person the Torah expects you to be, not simply following the laws.

A deeper insight. What comes lifnei the shura of the din? What comes before the law? The Lawgiver Himself. A chassid is someone who keeps the law, because it's Hashem's law. Because Hashem wants Him to. The Ramchal states (ibid):

The root of piety is what our sages, of blessed memory, stated: "Fortunate is the man whose toil is in the Torah and gives gratification to his Maker" (Berachot 17a)...

But he who truly loves the Creator, blessed be He, will not strive and intend to discharge himself with the known obligations binding on every Jew. Rather, what will happen to him is the same as that of a son who loves his father. Even if his father reveals a slight indication of something he desires, already the son will strive greatly, to the best of his ability, to fulfill this thing or service. Even though the father merely mentioned it once and only halfway, this will be enough for such a son to understand the direction of his father's intent and to do for him even what he did not say explicitly. For he can deduce on his own that this thing will bring pleasure to his father, and he will not wait until his father commands him more explicitly or tells him another time.

With our own eyes we can observe this matter occurring at all times and in all places between all friends and lovers, between man and wife, between father and son.

The general principle: wherever the love between two is true and strong, one will not say to the other: "No more was requested of me. It's enough for me to do what I was told explicitly". Rather through what one requested, the other will infer the requester's intent and will strive to do what he deems will be pleasing to the other.

If one learns Avot with this in mind, one will realise none of it is aimed at people still working on "keeping the law" (see my answer to this question here for an in depth example of this). It's all advice to people who are already keeping the law, but want to raise their service up to the level of Chassid.

I hope this answer helps.

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I think there might be more reservations about a Chumra which makes a public statement, such as publicly washing every time you eat fruit, and a more private Chumra.

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    Explain mehadrin by menorah. Definition is public and over there stringencies seem to be encouraged Oct 6, 2022 at 4:39

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