The Fence that Keeps us from Falling

There are people who say that the rabbis made life very hard for us, that the life of a ben
Torah
would have been a lot easier if we didn’t have to keep the
rabbinical commandments. For example: The Torah prohibits eating milk and meat
together, but it’s the rabbis who require us to have two sets of dishes.
It’s the rabbis that forbid us to drink milk while eating a meat sandwich and
require us to wait six hours after eating meat before eating dairy. It’s the
rabbis who require us to treat the meat of fowl as though it were beef. The
Torah forbids only cooking meat and milk and eating the cooked combination of
milk and meat. Clearly, the rabbis have made the prohibition of meat and milk
more difficult to observe.

Another
example: family purity. According to the Torah, a woman is a nidah for seven
days. If she stops bleeding on the seventh day, she goes to the mikveh. There is
no idea of seven clean days and five days—its much more difficult to keep
family purity as the rabbis require.

Another
example: Pesach. According to the Torah, the only thing a person has to do to
avoid violating the prohibitions of chametz on Pesach is make a declaration that
disassociates him from his chametz. The Torah doesn’t require us to clean, to
remove anything from the house or sell our chametz. According to the Torah
the nullification is sufficient.

That
would certainly make Pesach easier. We would not have to check for chametz or
burn our chametz. We wouldn’t have to clean for Pesach or sell our chametz. So
it seems that the rabbis really did make it harder to be a ben Torah.

But
if the rabbis made it harder to keep the Torah, they did it with good reason.
Imagine a group of people on top of a mountain, and that there is a sheer drop
down the mountain of a thousand feet. It’s dark and foggy and it’s very easy
to lose your bearings and fall off the mountain. Somebody comes and builds a
high fence around the periphery of the mountain. The relatively small area on
top of the mountain is now even smaller—the fence had to be built at least a
few feet from the edge—but, of course, there is no longer any danger of
falling off the mountain. What would you say to someone who complained that the
mountain was now more congested? It would seem ridiculous, wouldn’t it? After
all, everyone was afraid of falling off the mountain, and there were people who
did fall off the mountain. But now it’s safe. Even a person who loses his way
will be kept out of danger by the fence.

The
rabbis realized how serious it is to violate the prohibitions in the Torah.
It’s like falling off a mountain, even if you do so unintentionally. Even a
person who sins unintentionally brings a sacrifice. They wanted to protect us
from falling—from falling over the edge of the Torah. So they made fences to
keep us from violating Torah prohibitions. The person who wants an easy life may
complain that the rabbis made it harder for us—and, of course, they did: They
made it harder for us to violate the prohibitions of the Torah.

That
may not mean much to a person who wants nothing more than an easy life, but if a
person wants an eternal life, he can only feel gratitude to the rabbis, for they
made it harder for us to lose that eternal life.