In fact, the Pele Yoetz was well-aware of this tendency to dismiss Sagely directives as "too hard" or "not for our times." So in his chapter called "Hatred," he discusses the commandment to love one's fellow to himself and states:
But since our Creator commanded us so, we learn from this that it is something that a person has the ability to fulfill, for "the Torah was not given to angels and the Holy One Blessed Be He does not make excessive demands with His creations."
Yet how can we dismiss the words of a tzaddik on the level of Rav Eliezer Papo, who died for the sins of his people to save his city from the effects of a devastating plague?
Rav Papo was very close to Hashem and knew he exactly what he was talking about and who he was speaking to.
The "Times Have Changed" Excuse
Certainly, times have changed, technologically speaking, and women's opportunities have changed. So if the Sage is speaking purely from the standpoint of primitive methods (i.e. needing to arise early to toil at lighting a coal stove rather than flipping an electric switch or assuming that the vast majority of women are completely illiterate, if they were in his time), then you can dismiss the literal intention of his words without dismissing the wisdom.
But it's not something to be done automatically, either. We still need to scrutinize what he says so we don't accidentally throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Another big difference between then and now is the concept of a "minyan factory" or "shteiblach."
In some communities today, you can find minyanim all day long. Do you need to daven neitz at 4:08 AM? Do you need the latest Shacharit or the earliest Mincha? Do you need to daven Maariv at 3:15 AM? You've got a minyan!
As far as I know, even big cities of yore with thriving Jewish communities didn't have minyanim 'round the clock. All the more so, smaller communities that davened together at set times.
So a Sage from a century ago understood that if you didn't get up or out at a certain time, you missed your chance of davening in a minyan at all, which may not be true today if you're living in Jerusalem or Lakewood.
Yet we can still take to heart their basic encouragement to develop passion and alacrity for davening on time.
The "Influenced by the Surrounding Culture" Dismissal
Case in point: Rav Papo lived in the Balkans under the Muslim rule of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Yet his admonitions toward every husband to treat his wife with great love and sensitivity and his blanket opposition to any kind of verbal or physical abuse toward the wife (even if the wife herself was wicked or abusive) certainly flew in the face of Balkan and Muslim values. Even today, neither religious Muslim attitudes nor the modernized Bosnian and Bulgarian attitudes toward women are up to the stipulations of Rav Papo.
As he advises husbands:
If she goes against his opinion and angers him, he must guard his emotional state so that he does not become angry with her. And there is no need to say to not denigrate her, to curse her, or to strike her, Heaven forbid, because that is the custom of boors, and empty-headed people, and the reckless, and it's his own self he harms.
Only with soft speech and a sweet tone should he reprove her. And in any case, he should endure this yoke and be from the insulted who do not insult in return, and he should accept the Heavenly judgement with joy because from God is a wife for a man.
...that he who has a bad wife does not see the face of Gehinnom. It would be fitting to request a bad wife if one could endure this tribulation because of the severity of the judgement of Gehinnom, and if he's able to endure this tribulation, he will not inherit two Gehinnoms [i.e., the Gehinnom in This World of living with a bad wife and the Gehinnom of the Next World for all the times he sinned by responding in kind -- MR].
Instead, he should accept with love and receive a good reward for his toil.
And how good it would be if women were to learn the skill of writing, for then they could easily learn everything!
Clearly, there is no "cultural influence" happening here.
Just for knowing, Rav Papo also insists on very high standards for wives, but not as high as the standards he sets for husbands. Plus, he comes off as more sympathetic toward women with difficult or abusive husbands and offers them more practical advice than he does for men, including having a beit din stop the abusive husband with "a strong arm" and advises others to help the woman to get divorced if she wants, calling any divorce assistance "a great mitzvah" in such a situation.
As far as I could tell, the only advice he offers suffering men is to be really kind, sweet, loving, pleasant, and patient no matter how awful the wife is -- no strong-arming the wife or offering the husband divorce as an option.
(Perhaps men can insist on a "men's studies" curriculum in college where they can rant against this blatant double standard in Judaism, a clear result of this patriarchal religion dominated by dead white men.)
A Handwritten Copy in Bulgarian, Please
Needless to say, we don't need to pester our local rabbis to write out the entire Haggadah in Bulgarian. We have Artscroll English translations instead.
However, the spirit of the Pele Yoetz's instruction still stands: If you don't know Hebrew, you need to make sure you have a Haggadah in the language of your choice.
The Dreaded Women's Issues
Women in particular may have a difficult time with certain assumptions expressed in Chazal. One of the biggest changes between the olden days and now is women's education. Women today are fully literate and in the USA, women even comprise a larger percentage of college graduates than men.
Yet scholastic achievement doesn't affect a woman's daat compared to a man's daat. (Daat and IQ/education are not synonymous; a woman can be a top-level genius in, say, mathematical physics and still have daat kalah.) And women still have not (and will not) achieved equal representation in left-brained fields until Mashiach comes.
Furthermore, whether a woman uses her extra binah in a positive constructive way or in a negative destructive way depends on her character and knowledge of halacha and mussar, and not her academic knowledge or IQ.
Female readers struggle with certain statements of Torah Sages, and rather than trying to understand them in context, they often either dismiss them as a result of the times when women were illiterate (and sometimes, this is an appropriate dismissal, but not always) or they sink into self-denigration (even women with feminist tendencies can do this, ironically) and castigate themselves and their gender as truly not being intelligent enough or good enough or rational enough or whatever.
Yet rather than being superficially dismissive or superficially presumptive, it's best to try to just delve into understanding what a Sage really meant when you come across something that rubs you wrong.
I mean, if the same Sage mentions women as being chalushat haseichel (of weak intellect) and remarks on the downfalls of daat kalah as per Chava and the Nachash, yet goes on to praise women copiously throughout the rest of his early 17th-century work (yes, I'm talking about the Kli Yakar), and in fact praises women's loyalty to God, their emuna, their modesty and marital fidelity, their generosity, and their love of Eretz Yisrael as far surpassing that of men, and even declares that righteous women (nashim tzidkaniyot) -- specifically righteous women even in the face of righteous men -- are as essential to the world as the Sun itself...well, it's disingenuous to dismiss him or condemn him with the usual feminist blather and ranting.
Why We Need to Let the Pele Yoetz (and Any Old-Time Mussar) Penetrate Our Modern Life & How to Do It (the great saintliness of Rav Eliezer Papo and why we need to take his words to heart even in our days)
Halacha: The Best Boost for Daat Kalah
Kli Yakar on Parshat Chayei Sara (righteous women as the Sun; scroll down to the end)
Kli Yakar on Parshat Pinchas (women's love for Eretz Yisrael and other positive attributes)
Kli Yakar on Parshat V'Zoht Habracha (real and welcome equality after Mashiach comes)
You can find more by the Kli Yakar by clicking on: WOMEN
(Then keep going back to the earlier posts.)