The New Frumkeit

Rabbi Reuven Mann

 This week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, details the Torah’s many statutes pertaining to interpersonal relations. Judaism is very concerned with establishing a smoothly running and just society wherein people can pursue their creative endeavors in peace and harmony. Consequently, a major area of concern is that of damages.

A person is responsible for any harm that is caused by his animals or any of his possessions. He must also guard against inflicting damage on others via his own person. Thus, we see that Judaism demands that a person must put a lot of energy into focusing on the needs of others. And he cannot gratify his own desires at the expense of others.

This is true not only regarding physical damage, as the Torah does not ignore the problem of verbal abuse. One is prohibited from afflicting a fellow Jew with words. If he does so, he must do Teshuva (repentance), but only after he has apologized and solicited the forgiveness of the victim.

It emerges that Judaism is a religion that is not confined to matters of personal ritual. How a person treats his fellow, Jew and gentile, is a matter of great significance. Firstly, we must respect the existence of others and scrupulously avoid doing harm to them bodily or emotionally. Additionally, we must not cause damage to their property in any fashion. It doesn’t matter whether the individual is very poor and every item he has is precious, or if he is extremely wealthy and has an abundance of each and every thing.

Refraining from damage is not the sum total of what Judaism demands of us. We must act proactively to address the needs of others. Therefore, we must come to the assistance of someone who is stuck on the road with a flat tire or some other vehicular breakdown. Not only that, but we must stop and take possession of their lost objects and then see to their return to their rightful owners.

Occasionally, this can lead to a great Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of Hashem’s Name). A young Rabbi (full disclosure, he was my grandson’s Rebbe in Yeshiva elementary school in Phoenix) purchased a used desk from an elderly, non-Jewish, woman. In order to get it into a tight space, it had to be partially disassembled. In the process, a Manila envelope which had been stored in one of the desk’s compartments fell out.

The Rabbi opened the envelope, and behold it contained a huge stash of money. The elderly woman had totally forgotten that some years ago she had stored a total of ninety-eight thousand dollars in a compartment of that desk. Without batting an eyelash, the Rabbi contacted the owner and promptly returned the cash. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed by the righteousness of the young Rabbi. The news of his great deed got out and was widely reported. He even appeared on national TV. A great Kiddush Hashem resulted from this beautiful action.

In presenting the Mitzvot of Hashavat Aveida (return of lost objects) and helping someone remove and restore the load of a fallen animal, the Torah refers to the one you must help as “your enemy”. In general, when the Torah refers to a fellow Jew, he is designated as your “friend” or “brother.”

This is because all Jews are part of one family and should regard each other as brothers and sisters and friends. Here, however, the fellow Jew is described as “your enemy.” This means that from an emotional standpoint, you do not want to help him. In fact, you may have valid reason to believe that he is not entitled to your assistance.

However, the Torah is commanding you to put aside your feelings and act in accordance with the exalted ideals of Judaism. The righteous individual is the one who bases his actions and behaviors on the highest ideals, irrespective of how he feels.

Most religious people are attracted to the ritualistic requirements of Judaism such as prayer, shaking the Lulav, wearing Tefillin and the like. The word for thorough adherence to these types of responsibilities is frumkeit, which connotes a certain type of zeal in carrying out the body of religious requirements. The “frum” person also tends to be very unyielding  in adhering to all the rules and regulations and is drawn to be extremely strict even when the law does not demand it.

But true religiosity cannot be limited to the realm of ritual alone. Parshat Mishpatim teaches us that we must be extremely zealous in the area of “between man and man” as well. Mitzvot such as picking up lost objects or disconnecting an animal from its load may not appeal to the “frum” emotion in man. He may not believe it is as important as arriving in shul on time and davening with great fervor. But this attitude would be contrary to the actual values and ideals of Torah.

Our religious outlook, our sense of “frumkeit”, must be expanded to incorporate the philosophy of Judaism in matters of justice, scrupulous honesty in all our dealings and a sense of consideration for all Jews, regardless of their level of religious observance.

Shabbat Shalom.