Allen S. Maller

Do not be overly righteous!

The wise king Solomon warned us “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” Ecclesiastes 7:16 What does this mean and why should we think about it when making resolutions for the New Year of 5783?

overly righteous: The Baal Shem Tov taught “You should not be overly strict in any observance. Excessive strictness is the advice of the Yetzer HaRa. It makes a person fear that he has not done things just right and so brings him into depression- the greatest obstacle to serving God.”

Rabbi Nachman taught ‘It is impossible for a mortal human being to fulfill all his duties perfectly. You should not be overly strict and stringent.”

The Al hait prayer originally had 6 verses and still does in Sephardic and Yemenite rites. It then grew to: 22 in Italian, and 44 in Ashkenazi rites. Al hait was originally recited once in each of the 5 services of Yom Kippur, and then doubled to 10. This is a good example of seeking to be overly righteous and pious.

A longer religious service is not better than a shorter service; just as eating or drinking more is not better than eating or drinking less.

make yourself too wise: by thinking; more is always better. For example: the Avinu Malkaynu prayer started with 7 verses and now has 44 verses. The prayer book of Rabbi Amram Gaon (9th century) had 25 verses. Today the Yemenites have 27 verses, the Sephardic tradition has 29 verses, among the Mizrahim the Syrian tradition has 31 verses, the Ashkenazic has 38 verses, the Polish tradition has 44. and the Greek prayerbooks have the most wisdom with 58 verses.

ruin yourself: The Torah (Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 13:1) says” do not add to and do not subtract from” God’s commandments. This is an excellent principle. Since the generations are always changing, some change is always needed, but we are commanded to maintain the original balance. Thus, “do not add to” unless you also subtract from, and “do not subtract from” unless you also add to, is the answer.

Unfortunately, since the destruction of Jerusalem, most rabbis have continually added prohibitions and restrictions and rarely permitted subtracting. The book of Proverbs (4:27) also advises us, “Do not swerve to the right (always forbidding) or to the left (always permitting)”. Maintain the original balance is excellent advice.

In our own religious, political and personal life we must also avoid excessive criticism of others as well as excessive criticism of ourselves. These habits ruin ourselves and lead to bad and disturbed personal and family relationships.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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