Qualifying Hiddur Mitzvah

Like many, we are somewhat entombed in the four walls of our home. On my drive this morning to pick up fresh bread,  I reflected on something that I had noted on previous occasions. While Charedim seek to ensure that their separate identity is buttressed my distinctive dress, during the COVID pandemic, ironically, they too were going about their daily chores wearing the ubiquitous mandatory mask, common to all and sundry (yes, I know about the Rebbishe Gold Mask). As far as the virus was concerned, there is no distinctive garb associated with a mask.

Yet, I have also noticed a pattern. For some reason, and I hope I’m unwittingly exaggerating, many Charedim don’t wear these masks properly. I too have a rather long beard at the minute, which makes the challenge of “hermetically” wearing a mask somewhat more difficult. The basic requirement, though, to encase the nose and not just the mouth, seems to be lost.

I contrasted this apparent carelessness to the comparative punctiliousness with which we examine an Esrog for the remotest sign of a blemish, even brandishing a magnifying glass (which is unnecessary according to my Poskim). Why would someone be so praiseworthily careful in fulfilling one Mitzvah, ensuring that it is performed according to every possible opinion and Hiddur, and yet not wear the mask with anything approaching that same level of exactitude?

The same Torah exhorted us: ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם – and it ought to be natural to understand that מאד means מאד and parametrising this surely might mean standing in front of the mirror and ensuring that there is a good fit around the mouth and the nose before venturing out?

I surmise that the difference between the two cases can be broadly understood in the context of the Esrog’s Hiddurim being a matter of opinion based on Rishonim and Acharonim whereas the “requirements surrounding a mask” being connected to the “outside world”, the human world of doctors and other experts. Is the difference justified?

It can only be justified if fails to adequately discern Godliness cum Halacha in matters that are not entirely Kodesh. The “best opinion” of “human experts” is somehow relegated to a lower level in determining Halacha when compared to Halachos, such as those associated with the Esrog, which do not “need” a חכמה חיצונית. And yes, I am aware of Esrog research informing the “purity” of the breed; but that is generally supplanted by a מסורה (viz, the Calabrian variety).

The lack of fidelity to a Halachic corpus that is chained to Human research and the best Science of the time is troublesome. We know that Hashem implanted the רפואה before the מכה and that He did so in our world.

What am I missing?

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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