The real cost of mehadrin standards
In the Charedi world today, Mehadrin is the buzzword. Everything is mehadrin whether it is food, tefillin or buses.
At first glance this is a good thing. Why shouldn't people want to do the best that they can for Hashem? Why shouldn't we have the highest standards for food, tefillin etc.?
The answer is that there is no free lunch and mehadrin standards cost money, a lot of money.
A few days ago I posted (Entitled to tzedaka?) about R' Shlomo needing/accepting tzedaka to buy his son's tefillin. R' Shlomo didn't have money to buy tefillin and yet with the tzedaka money he bought the best mehadrin tefillin. The difference between the best mehadrin tefillin and non-mehadrin tefillin can be over 2000 shekel. Does it really make sense for someone who doesn't have the money to buy tefillin to use tzedaka money to buy mehadrin tefillin? Clearly R' Shlomo is poor. Wouldn't that 2000 shekel be better served using for more essential needs like food?
The same goes for food. Mehadrin chicken and meat is significantly more expensive. Does it make sense for people to go hungry or not eat chicken at all because they are buying mehadrin chickens?
I recently was solicited to donate money to build a mehadrin mikva. In Israel, mikvaos are built by the government. However, again, what the government builds is not mehadrin enough and therefore they are trying to raise millions of dollars to build a mehadrin mikva. Is this really the best use of millions of dollars of tzedaka money when people have no food, shelter etc.?
The fact is that I would guess that many people who eat only mehadrin, buy mehadrin tefillin etc. do so because of social norms and not because of any real religious reason. The average person has no idea what is the difference between a mehadrin chicken and a non-mehadrin chicken and is only buying mehadrin because that is what is socially acceptable. They are doing it by rote not any deep seated religious feeling. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the modern era is that it is very easy to find chumros. You can do a Bar Ilan search and find all kinds of chumros on every issue and the various hashgachos are competing on how many chumros they can follow.
The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch have a concept of יוהרא (see for example בבא קמא נט ב) that a person should not do things that make him look like he is super frum. For example the shulchan Aruch says that the average person shouldn't put on R' Tam tefillin because of יוהרא. Unfortunately this idea is gone today. No one cares about יוהרא, rather everyone wants to out frum the other person.
Imagine you take your 5 year child on a test drive of 2 cars, a Toyota Corolla and a Lexus. The child will not appreciate the leather seats, the superb handling, the quiet ride, etc. of the Lexus. From his perspective the 2 cars are basically the same. In many ways the same applies to most people regarding mehadrin, they don't appreciate the difference because they have no idea what the difference is and why A is better then B.
In a number of places the Mishna Berura writes בעל נפש יחמיר על כעצמו. Today everyone is מחמיר on these. However, that is not what the Mishna Berura wrote. He wrote that these chumras are for certain people, a בעל נפש, the fact that the average person considers himself a בעל נפש is the height of arrogance.
The bottom line is that mehadrin standards for everything cost a fortune of money that the Charedi world doesn't have today. Sometimes it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו. If eating only mehadrin chickens means that you can't afford chicken for Shabbos and therefore your oneg shabbos suffers, that is a steep price to pay. If buying mehadrin tefillin means you need to go into debt and can't buy food we need to ask whether it is worth it.
There needs to be a return to some kind of balance. Someone who follows the עיקר הדין should not be looked down upon like a second class citizen. On one hand, no one wants to eat non-kosher food, on the other hand we don't need to be חושש for every דעת יחיד.