Sunday, June 24, 2012

FFB - Frum from birth

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”

Matys Weiser

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baal Teshuva

Once I spoke with alte Yid - an old Jew, who remembered the world that once was and he told me”
“You know? In my time of youth, over there in the alte Heim – old country, there was no such thing like a Baal Tshuva, there were only more and more of Baaley Aveira – the apostates.”
This old Yid was marveling when seeing and heard about thousand upon thousands of Jewish returnees, people who were born to the families that are Jews by nationality and according to Jewish law, but not Jewish by their deeds and performance.
Many times these children of Yakov, were raised by parents who didn’t know much about Judaism, often no more than their gentile friends and neighbors.
They were Jews but they were not Jewish.
We are privileged to live in the period of time when those lost generations are coming back to the fold. What makes them do so?
It is not an entirely new phenomenon. It happened in the time of Yashiyahu and again under king Cheskiyahu. The mass teshuva that happened in the times of those righteous kings was partially administrated but the description of these events in the scriptures leave no doubts, the children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov returned to their G-d with their hearts and deeds.
It happened again within the time of the Golus Bavel – Babylonian exile. It happened after the uprising of Matisyahu the Chashmonai when he and his sons defeated the Greek army when they were fighting to defend the ways of their holy predecessors.
History witnessed similar events many times in Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Yisroel and throughout the long exile.  The entire Jewish history is like a 3,500  year long spiritual sinusoid. Up and down, up and down, up and down …
Those periods of warm relation with the Creator and spiritually elevated life regulated by law revealed to the elders, began many times when Jewish prophets and sages had nothing but words of criticism for their beloved brothers. The true leaders of Klal Yisroel had warned and spoke harshly to their people because they loved them.
We are witnessing and sometimes we have shared in this incredible movement of people who leave their current lifestyle and now focus on the values and practices that are perhaps hard and difficult to live by. It is even much harder for a new comer than for those who were raised according to these standards of life as some call them FFB’s (Frum From Birth) where many act in a semiautomatic manner.  That’s one of the reasons, I guess, why the Talmud teaches that at the place of Baal Tshuva not even a perfectly righteous person may stand. For a baal teshuva nothing comes automatically, nothing is a matter of external training. His life lived according to Torah standards is the  result of self control from the beginning to the end. Nothing automatic about it!
But let us go back to the question asked above: Why do they do that? What is the motivating factor behind their “return”?  Is it only the commonality with the rest of their nation, those who are more devoted to the ancient path? Is it the antiquity of this religion itself, what attracts them?
We see people of other nations who are assimilating to the surrounding culture language or religion in at most two or three generations. Of course there are many Jews who do the same but did you here or see such a thing like an Irish, Greek or Italian, who after few generations of being acculturated in a new country or environment, all of a sudden begins to learn strange alphabets, language and customs of his great grand fathers? Did you ever witness a sacrifice comparable to that which those Jewish returnees are undertaking? It has no precedence it simply doesn’t happen.
With the grace of G-d I was privileged to observe with my own eyes this difficult process, especially in a country where a Jew was considered as a kind of subhuman than a member of a nation chosen by G-d.

I saw this almost natural… no, actually natural drive, of some of my most beloved friends who were driven closer and closer to something which at the beginning of their trial was completely strange and unknown to them.

Some of you may say that a gentile, for example someone like me can be also attracted to this spiritually elevated reality. Yes it is partially true, but we gerim – the converts are still missing this secret element which make them to come back to their heritage. We are attracted to Torah in a somewhat different way.

Matys Weiser