The Yiddish word Frum is usually translated as – devoted, pious.
Now isn’t this an oxymoron? Can anybody be devoted and pious from birth? After all, devotion requires a conscious decision to be faithful. A pious person can only be one who chooses to be so!
Ok, maybe I am quibbling over the words but in reality we all understand that we talking about a person who was raised from birth to be a devoted and pious Jew. Fine, I’m a man of compromise, let it be so: frum from birth means only, that a person was raised and prepared to be pious and devoted but it doesn’t mean that he is! Although I’m afraid that for some it may be an unsatisfactory compromise
When we say someone is frum, we all picture a person who fulfills the laws of the Shulchan Aruch – the code of Jewish Law, a person who is a religious individual and his religious conviction regulates all of his daily activities. But was it his choice?
I believe and I have for support for this belief in the words of chazal that it was not his entirely conscious decision; it was not his decision to turn his life toward the service of the Creator. Yes, he says Mode Ani; yes he puts on Tefilin every day and yes he keeps Shabbos and without any doubt his service to Hashem has a great value to our Father in Heaven. After all, that person may choose not to do all that was inculcated in to him by his parents and educators. He may choose to live a non religious lifestyle and become rebel - a person who spit in the face of the people who devoted their lives to give him what they considered the best treasure of all – an awareness of G-d and his Torah.
But the person whom I talking about here in this essay chose not to rebel and internally he can not imagine himself living any other life other than that which he is acquainted to from the beginning of his memory. Is this the level of service of the Creator which can be called -devotion and piousness? Maybe I don’t understand the English definitions of these words but I don’t think so.
Yaakov Avinu grew up in a frum home. There can not be a more frumer home than that when you grandfather is Avraham avinu and your father is Yitzchok avinu. He learned Torah with Meforshim as the Midrash puts it. He knew about G-d, perhaps even he knew G-d! But something was missing; something which caused G-d to come vis-à-vis toward Yaacov when he escaped from his home deprived and naked, literary naked (See Midrash). Hashem showed our father Yaacov a great vision in his dream! A ladder resting on earth but reaching the heavens and heavenly Angels were going up and down the ladder. Yaacov had understood previously that there is a separation between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm. What he apparently didn’t understand was that it does not limit the Creator of Heaven and Earth from being here, down, among the people of His choice, the people who chose Him (see comment of Rav Hirsch on Yaakov’s dream). It was a great revelation to our frum from birth father, that: Yaysh Hashem Bamokom Hazeh - Hashem is here, VaAni Lo Yodati – and I didn’t know about it! This was the moment in the life of our father Yaacov where he came closer to G-d than ever before. This was the moment when he met Him. Our FFB father Yaacov needed such a moment in his life, a moment when he said: “Vayira – and I was scared”, he was afraid!
What he was afraid of? He had just met the Almighty G-d!?
He understood, that it is not just knowing about G-d or knowing to a certain extent what the G-d of his fathers wants from him. Yaakov Avinu recognized the great responsibility, the tremendous burden of being a Jew of being a representative of the Creator for all of the creation, in the lower world and in the higher worlds. It is for him and it will be on his children to carry this most difficult task of all – stay on the path of Torah. This is precisely what he was afraid of. Yaakov was afraid that his children upon coming to such a moment, a recognition of their mission in the world might not have enough strength to continue and carry on, through the process of tikkun – restoration bringing back all that was lost in Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden and leading them to the final Geula – Recovery.
If I may, I call this moment in our fathers Yaacov’s life – the moment of Geirus. I assure you that this idea doesn’t come from the fact of who I am, however it allows me, Beezras Hashem, to sense some of the thoughts and ideas which can be hard to understand for someone FFB even if he is a Talmid Chacham; he simply doesn’t have this kind of geirus experience. To learn more about “moment of geirus” and how I understand this term please read my essay “Shavous yom tov of gerim”