Apropos of reading Parshas Hachodesh this Shabbos, let us examine a pasuk which frames the upcoming Chag Hapesach and its icon, matzah.
The pasuk says (Shemos 12:17): “And you shall safeguard (or watch over) the matzos, for on this very day I will have taken your legions out of Mitzrayim…” The simple meaning of the pasuk is that there is a special imperative to safeguard (watch over) the matzos we eat on Pesach, or at least on the first night, from becoming chametz — that it is not enough to know that it is not chametz (which can be discerned). Rather, one must actively be on the lookout for, and guard against, it becoming chametz, whether it be moisture at too early a stage in the processing, or delaying baking it at a later stage. This actually gives rise (pun intended) to an entire body of halachah in the making of matzos, called shimur l’shem matzah — guarding the dough, or the wheat, for the express purpose of matzos on Pesach.
Chazal (cited by Rashi on the pasuk) see in the pasuk an allusion to another concept. The word matzos in the pasuk, if vowelized somewhat differently, would read “mitzvos,” giving us the following insight into our performance of the mitzvos: “When a mitzvah comes into your hand, do not allow it to become ‘leavened’ by delaying its performance, but rather do it immediately.” Just as the dough rises if we sit back and do nothing, just as if we are not on top of matters then the matzah gets ruined, so, too, is the case with our mitzvah performances. This concept is explained and elaborated upon by many sefarim, in particular the Mesilas Yesharim (chapters 6, 7, and 8) as being fundamental to the fulfillment of mitzvos, for it speaks volumes of our attitude towards them.
We also see that Chazal, even without the context of Pesach, compare leaven to an attitude towards sin. In Berachos 17A, they depict something in the human psyche as being gist for the yetzer hora as the leavening in the dough.” Teshuvos Radvaz (3:546) also talks of how chametz represents the yetzer hora.
If we look in the Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 117), we will see that the Chinuch speaks of se’or (the sourdough leavening agent), and/or chametz, as being illustrative of the trait of laziness, indolence. Actually, there is, if so, quite some similarity between the simple meaning of the pasuk we began this column with, and the drasha made by Chazal. We may know that these particular matzos are “fine” — yet the Torah insists that that is not good enough, that there has to be a specific, categorical shemirah, acts of watchfulness, to not only ensure that this batch is okay (for we may already know that it is), but to guard against the inevitable “slippery slope.” So too, as we shall see, we may be ready to conquer other yetzer horas, and ultimately get around to performing the mitzvah. Yet we will see how we derive from matzah that the middah of indolence must be avoided. It is insidious. It does not tell you to do anything bad. Rather, it cools off your ardor and passion to do a mitzvah.
How so? And why is that so bad?
The Mesilas Yesharim speaks of different forms of laziness. In general, he states, laziness is something pretty much inherent in the human condition. The body is physical, made of earth and earthly materials. As such, it yearns for passivity, and drags one down. A person’s neshamah, on the other hand, is made of spirituality, compared to “fire” — it yearns to do, to move up, to expand, to do more. The more you are a chomer — body — physical-earth person, the lazier you will be. The more you are a tzurah-soul-spiritual-Heaven person, the more exuberant, passionate, active, energetic, and diligent you will be.
Mesilas Yesharim describes different types of laziness. There is simple physical laziness: you know what the right thing to do is, yet you seemingly cannot gather the energy to just do it! You know you should go to the beis medrash, the shiur, the mitzvah project that is taking place right now! But no, the yetzer hora offers, “I’m tired, I need to relax, I need to nap, it’s too hot outside, it’s too cold outside, I’ll first do this that and the other thing.” Ignore all that — just do it! You will then see — guaranteed — how all those “reasonable requests for delay” were simply empty excuses for inaction, and ultimately, total neglect. You will see the smokescreens blown away, and the mountain indeed a mere molehill.
We also have intellectual laziness. This itself can take many forms. A person makes all sorts of rationalizations why something is “probably” permitted, being too lazy to inquire, to study, or even to just look it up. Further, the act of making a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual accounting, every once in a while — where am I going, and how do I get there, am I getting there, do I want to get there…? These take deep thinking, contemplation, deliberation, and reflection. Yet we are lazy… we choose all too often to just get by, and keep just getting by, not growing or developing further, not gaining more insight into what we are doing. Not thinking how to stop a destructive behavior pattern. Do we think about these things?
(Further, scientific studies show that our brains are actually changing, actually thinking differently than in the past. We are weaker in higher-order cognitive processes, including reflection, memory, focus, imagination, and critical thinking. This is a laziness of the mind! And a lot of this is attributed by those scientific studies to Internet use, which is said to be the cause of scattered and shallow thinking — as opposed to reading a book [or what you are presently holding in your hands], which promotes contemplativeness. It may not be making us dumber [we have more information at our fingertips than ever before in history], but it is certainly making us lazier thinkers, more shallow, more distracted — in other words, intellectually lazy. And of course it inevitably manifests itself in the depth, meaningfulness, intensity and profundity of our actions.
To be continued…
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