Frumkeit, Changes, and Rav Dessler

A recent article titled “Frum or Ehrlich” was written by Dr. Yitzchok Levine. I printed it before Rosh Hashana and over Yom Tov I probably read it four different times. I urge you to take a look at it and give it some thought. I hope to blog about it more in the future. It’s pdf-alicious (yes, this is a term that I use outside of the blogosphere). Here’s a sample:

The Difference Between Frum and Ehrlich
Years ago the highest compliment that one could give to a Jew was not that he or she is frum, but that he or she is ehrlich. The term frum is perhaps best translated as “religious.” More often than not it focuses on the external aspects of observance. It describes a person whose outward appearance and public actions apparently demonstrate a commitment to religious observance. The categorization of someone as being ehrlich, literally “honest,” implies that this person is not only committed to the externalities of
religious observance, but also is concerned about how his or her religious observance impacts upon others. Frumkeit is often primarily concerned only with the mitzvos bein odom laShem (between man and G-d), whereas ehrlichkeit, while certainly concerned with bein odom laShem, also focuses on bein odom l’odom (those mitzvos that govern inter-personal relationships.)

As I’ve read and re-read this article I’ve been thinking about my own behavior at times. During Aseres Yemei Teshuvah I’m pretty hardcore about changing a lot of things. In the end, I usually end up changing very little. What small things that I attempt to change usually end up happening after Yom Kippur. During the days before Yom Kippur and certainly afterwards we all try to be a little better. Some of us stay on target, others, like myself, fall short.

I attempt to: watch less TV, start attending a new shiur, stop staying up late for blogging-related-activites, be more productive at home, show my kids that what they have to say is of the upmost importance to me, listen to my wife more, let my kids be ‘kids’ and not prototypes for some sort of midos-management-utopian-ideal-Invasion of the Body Snatchers-chinuch manifesto that I have cooking in my head like a chulent gone bad. As I look back over the past week, I really didn’t get too far.
But with any change in myself I run the risk of appearing to some as ‘to frum’ at the possible expense of not being ‘ehrlich’. There will always be those that will point out behavioral inconstanties in our actions and say, “You think you’re frummer than everyone else” or “You didn’t act this way during Elul, why change now”. More often than not, it’s not people who say this to us, but what we tell ourselves or what our Yetzer Hara tells us.

Sefer Hachinuch says something amazing, that man is molded by his actions (found in Mitzvah #16). This means that if we chose to behave in a certain manner, even externally before internally, then we are molded into that manner or direction. This touches on the topic of metoch shelo lishmah bo lishmah (from doing something not for its own sake one comes to do the thing for its own sake)- Pesachim 50b.

Rabbi Aryeh Carmell zt’l was nifter a few days before Rosh Hashana. This hit me very hard. I never had an opportunity to meet him, but he opened my eyes, heart, mind, and neshama to the world and thought of Rav Dessler. The way he conveyed Rav Dessler’s writing was a major influence in my development and made me realize that following halacha is only one aspect of being a Torah Observant Jew. The English version of Michtav Me’Eliyahu actually discusses the topic I’m blogging about. I’ll quote directly from what Rabbi Carmell writes in Volume I page 97:
How does shelo lishmah lead to lishmah? This is by no mean obvious, nor is it always the case. Not every shelo lishmah leads to lishmah. One knows people who start learning for ulterior motives and remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Our illustrious forebear, the great and saintly Rabbi Simcha Zissel Sieff of blessed memory, used to say that the transformation can take place only if one intends right from the beginning that it shall lead to lishmah. If our main aim and ambition is to achieve a pure and unselfish mode of service to Hashem and we make use of the shelo lishmah to ease our struggle against the yetzer hara, then we stand a good chance of eventually arriving at the stage of lishmah. [But if we start off without a glimmer of lishmah, only desiring the shelo lishmah for its own sake, how can our shelo lishmah actions ever lead us to lishmah? In the spiritual life one arrive only at the destination one intended in the first place.]
It seems that what we and others might view as hypocracy or outwardly inconsistant behavior might not be so bad if we have actual goals towards avodah Hashem. Maybe changing isn’t so hard, with Hashem’s help.
POSTSCRIPT: I’ve realized after blogging for over six months that it’s unnervingly easy to share certain things about myself via my blog. Things that I would, pre-Blogger, only share with close friends. As I enter Yom Kippur I can only daven that I will be able to actualize the words of Tehillim (19:15) May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer, as easily as I open up my web browser to the Blogger Dashboard.

4 thoughts on “Frumkeit, Changes, and Rav Dessler

  1. Anonymous

    While I agree with your overall sentiment, I thought the article was pretty pathetic. The author describes how a frum woman in a Flatbush parking lot was waiting for a parking spot. Because of the way the lot is constructed he could only exit by backing out unless the woman gave up her perch and drove out of the lot. The author has words with the woman who explains that she can’t leave because she is waiting for a spot. The author concludes that the woman is not ehrlich because she didn’t yield to him. Well, sorry Charlie, this story tells us more about your smug self-righteousness and small-mindedness than anything else. If you were the truly the righteous soul you claim to be you might have considered her predictament and slowly backed out, even if it was somewhat inconvenient, or perhaps even sacrifice a few minutes of your precious time waiting to help another human being, rather than trying to pressure her. (And if you can’t manage to slowly back out of a parking lot, you probably shouldn’t be driving a car in NYC.) The idea that the author has the arrogance to think that his mode of acting and thinking is consistent the derech of Rav Yisroel Slanter, and that even though he acted like a boor he is now prepared to lecture everyone else on midos is truly frightening.
    Yes, I absolutely agree that there is too much emphasis on frumkeit and not enough on menschlichkeit and ehrlichkeit … unfortunately this author is a poster child for the very behavior that he decries.

  2. Neil Harris

    While it is not my place to defend the author of the article, I believe that his intention was to bring forward the idea that you, as well, stated,
    “there is too much emphasis on frumkeit and not enough on menschlichkeit and ehrlichkeit”.

    It’s sad that an aricle like this had to be even written, but how we act towards each other these days is a serious issue.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *