We have seen that laziness — in all of its forms — is a foundation of sin (Part One). That is why the Mesilas Yesharim lists it as the very first rung in the ladder climbing to total spirituality (zehirus, the very first middah in the sefer, being, as the Mesilas Yesharim himself explains, essentially the same middah as zerizus). For that reason, the Torah teaches it to us couched within the language of allusions to the yetzar hara — avoidance of chametz, and wraps it within a lesson about matzah, the food of Pesach, our foundational Yom Tov. In Part Two we examined the different forms of laziness and took note of how laziness, or its positive counterpart, zerizus, is all too often a reflection of the degree to which we really have a ratzon for what it is we are supposed to be doing. We then learned in Part Three that the Mesilas Yesharim suggests a most interesting solution to this affliction: to develop enthusiasm for our avodas HaShem through our examining and becoming more cognizant of the constant goodness which HaShem showers upon us in so many ways, every single moment of every single day of our lives — our very existence, our lives as human beings, as Jews, all the workings of the body, all the laws of chemistry and physics which enable us to live and to function, all the pleasures that we are able to experience, the history of our lives which enabled us to reach the point that we have reached and become the person that we have become. Mesilas Yesharim’s point is that gratitude is the greatest motivator for taking action, rather than “sitting it out” or being lackadaisical in our lives as avdei HaShem.
Thus, the fundamental conceptual middah of establishing a feeling of gratitude towards Hakadosh Baruch Hu leads to the fundamental practical middah of zerizus.
In fact, an attitude of gratitude towards HaShem is the bedrock of our entire relationship with Him, according to the sefer Chovos Halevavos. Indeed, this general outlook of acknowledgement of HaShem’s beneficence, resulting in the fervor of gratitude and appreciation, and then the ramification of indebtedness, wanting in some small way to show acknowledgement and thanks, resolves one of the more frustrating dilemmas of the frum reality today: the increasing numbers of people who, while frum, do not feel any meaningful connection to HaShem or to His Torah. This of course is not mere laziness. This is much worse; “running on empty,” so to speak, perhaps being outwardly religious but having no emotional connection to what they are doing, no enthusiasm, no moving involvement. Much has been written on the subject, seeking a method of getting observant people to develop religious enthusiasm! Shall the yeshivos do it, should the home do it, should the seminaries do it; and through what means? Stressing the necessity and the details of ritual surely hasn’t done it; maybe it is time to reteach basic emunah and to stress the fulfillment one finds in a lifestyle of Torah. The problem is that perhaps we should not be measuring success by feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment. And personal fulfillment sometimes stands in contradistinction to obligation, the core value of obedience to G-d.
It seems logical to me that a most basic approach would be to immerse ourselves, our children, in the world of the Chovos Halevavos, where a person studies — yes, studies — nature, all about HaShem’s world, all about all the benevolence and benefits HaShem gifts us with. Chovos Halevavos categorizes the areas of study into seven “pillars of wisdom” through which one comes to “see” HaShem in this world. (Chovos Halevavos states that this is a sure-fire way to develop one’s emunah; instead of the deep philosophical thoughts, deductions, and reasonings of his first sha’ar, he says that seeing and understanding HaShem’s wisdom and kindness in creation is actually much closer to people’s consciousness as a means of affirming HaShem’s existence.) One is the study of what we would call the laws of chemistry and physics and their intricate wisdom and complexity; this includes astronomy as well. Two is the study of mankind, humanity’s many capabilities and workings; three is the study of biology; fourth is the animal kingdom; fifth is plants and all growing organisms; sixth is the wisdom manifested in the professions of the world, which man utilizes to look after his interests; this includes the arts as well. And seventh is of course the study of the Holy Torah wherein HaShem teaches us the laws and rules of how He wants us, and to a degree all of mankind, to live. Contemplating these areas of HaShem’s wisdom in creation solidifies our emunah and creates a feeling of gratitude for all that we are and have, teaching us not to take anything for granted, that we are not automatically entitled to anything. And when we feel this benevolence, we feel connected to this all-encompassing ever-present Source, and hasten to acknowledge and thank Him by performing His will (which, almost ironically, He also created with the intention of our benefit, that we bond with Him for all of eternity in olam habah to whatever degree we have bonded with Him in this world.) And we will do it eagerly, enthusiastically, happily, promptly and energetically (as per the Mesilas Yesharim’s “cure” for indolence) and feel “connected” as we naturally repay this debt of gratitude. (I ask the reader: Haven’t you ever experienced a situation in which someone did you an enormous favor, even something as “small “ [in the grand scheme of things] as finding you a job, or a shidduch, and you have found yourself frustrated in your inability to properly express thanks… and you feel an overwhelming sense of actual relief if the person suggests a way for you to do so, and then, fascinatingly, you feel thankful at the opportunity you have to express your thanks. Well, multiply that by some infinite number, and you will have some idea of how you should be feeling towards HaShem, thankful that he gave us the Torah and told us how to express our thanks. With the additional irony of the whole system existing only to once again benefit us.)
Next time you say birchos hashachar, stop and think, feel and emote — and see if you can possibly feel disconnected from HasShem or be lazy in avodas HaShem the rest of that day!