Thursday, February 25, 2010


They stared at him in horrified fascination.

It was a hot, summer Shabbos afternoon. The streets were unusually quiet.

We were invited out for the morning meal, and were on our way home, when we saw him.

He was standing, huddled in the shadows of the building, wearing a shtreimel and bekeshe. Smoking.

My children stood there, eyes bulging, mouths hanging open. Here, before them, was such blatant chillul Shabbos, by someone who looked, and they couldn't make sense of it.

"But...but...he looks frum," my daughter said, clearly upset. "Why does he dress like that if that's not what he really is?"

Here was a teaching moment.

"I'm sure he IS frum," I said. "We can't judge him. He may be completely frum in every other way, but this is his yetzer hara. This is the one thing he struggles with."

They weren't buying it.

"WE look frum, don't we?" I continued. "But do we always do everything we should? We know that speaking lashon hara is pretty bad...but we do it anyway sometimes. Right? Even though we KNOW it's wrong. Even when we are reminded AS we're saying it. But we're still frum, aren't we?"

We are. They understood. I did my job.

But I'm not sure I quite believed it myself.

I'm frum.

Life for me is so simple. My religion tells me what to do and what not to do, and gives me all the answers.

I wish.

Externally, I look frum. I dress the part. I make brachos and bentch. I keep Shabbos and kosher. I send my kids to all the right schools.

On the outside, I'm frum.

But I'm wearing a mask.

Not the kind we put on during Purim...the kind that hides our physical characteristics. I'm talking about the kind of mask that conceals the essence of who I am.

Because inside, I am struggling. Life feels like a battleground. I am in a constant battle against my own selfishness and desires.

And I don't always win the battle.

Sometimes I surrender. I feel too weak to fight. I do things I know I shouldn't, and don't do things I should. Again and again.

So...who am I?

Am I that frum woman you see when you look at me...the one who covers her hair and wears long sleeves? The one who blends in so easily with all the other frum women in Shul? Or am I a different person under the mask? Someone who sometimes gives in to her yetzer hara when no one is looking?

Am I frum?

Yes. I'm frum. That person who sometimes slips and gives in...that's not me. Sure, it's me playing the part. But it's not who I am. And I don't want to ever allow it to become who I am.

I struggle. I'm fighting the battle. The battlefield brings forth capabilities and potentials I didn't even know existed within myself.

It is this struggle which makes me strong.

Yes, I lose many battles. But for every one I lose, there are so many more that I win.

I will spend the rest of my life fighting these battles. And I will never win the war.

But I will keep fighting.

So...yes, I am frum.

Just like the man with the cigarette...

Even under the mask.

Happy Purim!


  1. Good Post

    Frum is when you subscribe to a certain belief system.

    It's more about what you think about what you do...then the action itself...

  2. Beautiful. much more complex, really......

    A freilichen!!

  3. Mystery:

    Your best post so far! You summarized the struggle we all face in our own way. And you afforded us with clarity and wisdom. Kol Hakovod!

    And Happy Purim!!!

  4. David...

    I think frum is a lot more than just what you think about what you do. I think action plays a very important part in whether or not one is frum.
    In fact, I think even if you are just playing the part...doing what a frum person does...but not believing it or feeling can still be frum.

    Corner Point...



    Sometimes I worry that I'm the only one facing struggles like this...that there is something wrong with me. Good to know I'm not alone.
    Thank you.

  5. Fascinated by your post. "Externally, I look frum". Frum is a concept so diluted and simplified. It's an appearance. It's a package. It's not authentic anymore. I believe generations prior were more discerning, and were able to see a bit more as to the depth of the soul, and didn't judge by packaging alone.

    Here's something provocative, from a frum guy, not an apokores. Purim just passed, wonderful story about Esther and Haman. I know all the pshatim in the miracle... yada yada yada... but lets talk about the story itself. Was Xerxes (Achashverosh) some bumbling fool? Looking into history, he was nothing of the sort. He was the real deal. Powerful and successful. Was Esther REALLY some naive frummy, who was yanked from her apartment, wearing her seams and long flairy skirt, saying tehillim when the king's men took her, and he still had no clue she was Jewish? Or more realistically, she was a good Jewish girl, who didn't look all that frum, didn't act all that frum, got caught up in the "American Idol" of the era, got selected from a bevy of beauties, and yes, was at heart a good Jewish girl, and when the people of her faith were in trouble, she stepped up to the plate? Play it out in your mind, without the knee jerk "apikores" reaction, is my take on the story off base?

  6. Menachem...

    Very interesting way of looking at it.
    I find it so hard to see these stories as real...happening to real you and me. And I love hearing a description that makes me 'get' it.
    But...I'm not sure about how you're describing it. Supposedly, Esther WAS frum. She didn't want to marry Achashveirosh, and Mordechai helped her hide. Right? And when she was offered all that makeup and jewelry, she declined. So how do you explain that?

  7. Reading the megilla, it says nothing like that. Not going to argue with any rishonim, but it does say that the ness of purim was TOTALLY bederech hateva, meaning it all flowed perfectly natural. In that case, I find it hard to believe that Esther was a frummy. In fact, it says that Esther was picked not only for her beauty, but also for her "chein" (personality). And personality is a two way street. Achashveros would only go for a real sexy flirtatious woman, is what I'm saying...

  8. Menachem - you described my image of Esther exactly! But that's not what we're taught, starting from when we're little children. Little girls picture Rochel Imenu as the frummest rebbetzin they've ever met, not realizing that Rochel was NOT that rebbetzin. She was her own person. And the images of Avraham Avinu with seforim lining his tent - it's funny, but it's also incredibly pathetic.