translated by R’ Ezra Goldschmiedt
Beit Midrash Zichron Dov
(Published in Toranto Torah vol 3 num 8
Copied with permission of both translator and publishing kollel.)
On the narrow path that leads to truth in the service of G-d, there is a stumbling block called “frumkeit“. There is no suitable Hebrew [or English – EG] translation for this term.
Frumkeit is a natural, instinctive urge to connect to the Creator. This instinct is also found in animals. King David said, ” The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from G-d.” (Psalms 104:21) “He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.” (Psalms 147:9)
There is no need to understand these verses as [mere] figures of speech — animals have an instinctive sense that there exists One who is concerned about their sustenance. This instinct [also] operates in man — on a higher level, of course. This natural frumkeit [instinct] assists us in our service of G-d, and without this natural assistance our service would would be extremely heavy upon us. However, frumkeit, like any other instinctive urge that operates within man, is naturally egotistical and self-centered. Accordingly, frumkeit drives a person to do only that which is good for himself — [in contrast, positive] actions between man and his fellow man, as well as wholehearted actions between man and G-d are not fueled by frumkeit. One who bases his service on it alone remains egocentric. Even if he were to impose many stringencies upon himself, he would not become a man of kindness, and he would not reach [the level of] altruistic service. This is what necessitates that we base our service specifically on intellect…
Intellect must guide our service. The moment we abandon intellect and act from frumkeit alone, our service becomes twisted. This exists even in the levels of Torah scholars. Let us try to explain:
An important part of the service is occupied by the commandments between man and his fellow man. Most of the work of perfecting character traits involves these commandments. A large portion of the ethical works are dedicated to them. Now, frumkeit, as we have said, does not drive a person towards these commandments, unless some personal interest becomes gratified in their fulfillment. Our master, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, said, “‘And you shall love your fellow like yourself‘ (Leviticus, 19:18) — that you should love your fellow as you love yourself. You don’t love yourself for the sake of any commandment, but rather [out of] a simple love, and that is how you need to love your fellow man.” This approach is completely foreign to frumkeit.
To learn mussar is, at its core, to learn with intellect. One who comes to learn it from [a motivation of] frumkeit alone will not understand at all that which he learns. The small amount he does understand — he will immediately draw it into his self-centered interests. He will glorify himself over the additional frumkeit he has added for himself. The work on character traits, efforts in commandments between man and his fellow man and the learning of mussar must be based specifically on intellect.
(This essay in its entirety is also discussed by R’ Micha Berger at Aspaqlaria.])