When discussing the laws of eating food in a pure state, the Gemara Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1:3) presents a fascinating rule regarding temporary spiritual upgrades:
Rav Chiyya taught Rav: Whenever it is possible for you to eat chullin (ordinary food) in a pure state, do so. But if you are unable to [maintain this all the time], ensure that you do so during the seven days (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
During the period of the Rishonim this Gemara was reinterpreted to have a contemporary regarding eating bread baked by non-Jews (which is principally permitted), with the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 603:1) ruling that: Even someone who is not careful regarding bread of non-Jews; during the ten days of repentance they should be careful. A corollary of this rule is that once Yom Kippur has passed, halacha permits and in fact expects us to readopt less rigorous standards.
But why are we required to adopt a higher halachic standard during this period with the full knowledge that this will not be maintained in the future? Surely this smacks of the worst type of inconsistency? Furthermore, is this not a classic case of spiritual deception during the High Holyday period?! In order to resolve these questions we must begin by exploring the rationale of Rav Chiyya and the subsequent application of his rule to bread baked by non-Jews and a survey of rabbinic literature leads us to identify three major approaches in defense of this practice.
A. To encourage teshuva
B. Different days, different ways
C. Measure for measure
These three explanations provide a clear answer to those who insist on living a consistent Jewish life at the expense of their (temporary) spiritual growth. As Mark Twain observed: ‘There are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency – and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency–and a vice’.
The Yetzer Hara may well accuse us of inconsistency. However, to succeed in this battle we need to comprehend that spiritual growth often arises out of inconsistency, and that central to our religious practice during the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah is to pursue a lifestyle that is inconsistent with the rest of the year and be the best person we can be without concern for whether we can maintain this in the future. As a result of this our actions during this period will serve as a catalyst for the rest of the year; they will leave the correct spiritual footprint during this period, and that will ‘encourage’ G-d to judge us beyond the letter of the law.