As we head closer and closer to Chag Hapesach, we should perhaps be reminded by our own frantic, frenzied mood and actions that the Torah itself refers to the haste with which we left Mitzrayim. Shemos 12:11 states that the korban Pesach be eaten in haste. And Devarim 16:3 teaches us that we eat matzah on Pesach to remind us, and to emphasize, how we left Egypt “in haste.” Indeed, the key explanation of matzah is that the Jews were chased out of Egypt, and that any delay at all was impossible, and thus the dough did not rise before it was baked. And we saw last week that the Sefer Hachimuch equates se’or (leaven — sourdough) and chametz with laziness and indolence (for it is a lack of alacrity which allows dough to rise). Added to this is the drasha that Chazal teach us in reading the pasuk concerning matzos, seeing in that pasuk a mandate to do all mitzvos with zerizus.
The Mesilas Yesharim devotes three chapters to this middah of zerizus. And he states rather emphatically that this trait is “the introduction [the entranceway, the path] to mitzvos and also to their completion [complete and total fulfillment].” Mesilas Yesharim goes on to explain the insidiousness and danger of lackadaisicalness when it comes to mitzvos. He says, “Why, we see all too often that a person may be already knowledgeable and even also fully convinced of the way in which he is to be a success in life and avoid failure, and of his obligations towards Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and nevertheless he neglects and disregards it — not out of lack of recognition of those obligations, but simply out of sheer slackness and sluggishness.” A person will give any excuse, will point to the myriad things that he has to do first, will express concern about the most outlandish possibilities, rather than — well, just getting up and doing what has to be done!
In part one we saw that a person’s natural condition is one of laziness (see Mesilas Yesharim or last week’s column). This can be physical; it can also be intellectual laziness, exacerbated by modern-day “blessings” such as computers and especially Internet (also explained last week). This, for example, is what would prevent a person from doing that most necessary endeavor, that of making a cheshbon hanefesh, a simple reckoning of his or her life, what his goals are, how he is headed toward his goals, the progress, the obstacles, the challenges, the triumphs, the failures… How can a person not do that at specific intervals? Yet so few people do! Because it is hard, and we are intellectually lazy. The Chovos Halevavos has a basic list (as he calls it) of thirty key aspects of life that one should think about. Thirty! Thirty items that one should be able to think about and then answer the question of, “Okay, so how’m I doing?”
This intellectual laziness also all too often allows for deciding that something is mutar (or assur!) when a sheilah should be asked. You have a situation where you do not know the din. And you just take the easy way out.
A third kind of laziness is emotional laziness. This is when we do not “have the strength” to invest our feelings, our emotions, our passions, in events, in situations, in occurrences. Whether it be the illness of our Gedolim, threats to Eretz Yisrael, or other people’s quandaries or crises, there seems to be a general laid-back lack of nosei b’ol that would energize us to get involved in any which way, to be caught up in it, to actually, really, care! But it takes an emotional commitment, and commitment seems to be a bit too taxing for our psyches.
Mesilas Yesharim gives us a piercing analysis of the root causes of atzlus, or lack of zerizus. You see, it is quite embarrassing to examine our behavior and discover that we are quite diligent in doing things that we like to do, yet are all of a sudden lethargic when it comes to doing things that we are indeed not enthusiastic about. He says, “A person who has a fervent desire to serve Hashem will certainly not be indolent in doing His will, but will move with the rapidity of fire, not resting until he has done the mitzvah and completed it… ‘It is known that what is most desirable in service of Hashem is the ratzon and passion and devotion of the heart and the soul, as Dovid Hamelech states (Tehillim 42:2), “‘As a hart yearns for water, so does my soul yearn for You.’ ” And so we are really at the very bedrock of our avodas Hashem; just how much do we want to do it?
Another point: it is here that the Mesilas Yesharim teaches us one of his most fundamental principles: “Furthermore, just as zerizus is a result of such a desire, so too can acting with zerizus give rise to this fervor. The external act of a mitzvah, when done with outer zerizus, brings about an inner enthusiasm; but a person who does mitzvos sluggishly will soon find that any excitement he has will quickly fade away.” The Gemara teaches us that a person should engage in learning Torah and doing mitzvos even if he does not have proper intent and /or concentration, because that kavanah will come in the wake of the action. Even if you do not have enthusiasm for mitzvos, do them anyway, with alacrity, and you will experience the power of actions, and the eagerness and exhilaration will follow. In the Mesilas Yesharim’s famous words: “Outer movements awaken inner ones.” Behavior is more likely to change the spirit than the reverse.
This is as significant and as basic a principle as you are likely to find. And it is noteworthy that the Mesilas Yesharim chooses to teach it to us, in the middah of zerizus.
To be continued…