Friday, August 24, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Shabbos Aug. 25th)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.



The means to acquire enthusiasm are the very ones, step by step, used to acquire caution. Their concerns are very similar. The only difference between them is that enthusiasm relates to positive mitzvot, and caution to negative ones. When the great value of the mitzvot, as well as your great responsibility to them becomes clear to you, your heart will certainly be aroused to Divine service, and you will not slacken in it.

What will strengthen this motivation will be your taking note of the very many good things that the Holy One (blessed be He) does for you moment by moment, and the great wonders He performs for you from your birth until your last day. The more aware you will be of these matters and the more you will reflect upon them, the more easily will you recognize your great debt to G-d who has been so good to you. And this will be the means by which you will avoid being lazy and weak in your Divine service. For while in truth you cannot repay Him for His goodness, you can at least acknowledge Him and do His mitzvot. There can be no person, whatever his circumstances-- be he poor or rich, healthy or ill-- who will never have experienced some wonders or great good in his life. The rich and the healthy are already indebted to G-d for their wealth and good health. But even the poor person is indebted to Him. For, despite his poverty, sustenance has been provided for him by G-d in a miraculous, wondrous way, and he has not died of starvation. The ill person is indebted to G-d because he is actually strengthened by the burden of his illness and his wounds, and He has not allowed him to sink into the pit. And this is the case with all other such things. There is no person who cannot recognize his debt to the Creator. He will certainly be aroused and enthused in his service to G-d by contemplating the good that he has received from Him, as I have already indicated; but he will be enthused even more so if he reflects upon the matter of how all of the good he enjoys, and all that he needs and finds to be essential is in the hands of G-d, and no other. Then he will certainly not be lazy in his service to G-d, and will lack nothing that is essential for it.

You will notice that I have divided this section into the same three subdivisions I divided the trait of caution into, because their concerns are the same and one may be understood from the other. The advice for those who fully understand will be of the nature of cognizance of their duty, and the value and worth of righteous deeds; for those of lesser understanding, the advice will involve cognizance of the World to Come and their place of honor therein-- that they should not be shamed on the day of reward by seeing the level of good they might have attained but did not; and for most people the advice will focus upon this world and its needs, in the manner I have explained in Chapter Four.


The things that cause the loss of enthusiasm are the same ones that enhance laziness. The greatest of them are the yearning for relaxation, the dislike of inconvenience, and the utter love of pleasure. The sort of person who lives this way is surely very burdened by the idea of Divine service. Someone who wants to enjoy his meals in comfort, to sleep through the night without interruption, or who would not walk if he could not do so slowly, and so forth, would find it difficult to wake up early to go to synagogue, or to interrupt his evening meal for Mincha services or for a particular mitzvah if the timing is not just so. He certainly would not hurry to perform mitzvot in general, or to study Torah. Someone who regularly acts this way is not his own master and is not free enough to undo his actions whenever he might want to. His will is already bound by habits which have become second nature to him. Know that you were not placed in this world for relaxation, but for effort and toil. You should consider yourself to be a worker doing your work for your wages (as is mentioned in the Talmud, where our sages said of themselves, "We are day laborers" [Eruvin 65a]) or you should consider yourself to be a soldier in rank who eats hurriedly, sleeps fitfully, and is prepared for movement at any time. It is said regarding this, "Man was born for labor" (Job 5:7). When you accustom yourself to this path you will find that the workload is lightened for you, because you will not lack for readiness and preparation. Our sages noted such a path when they said, "This is the path of Torah: you must eat bread with salt, drink small amounts of water, and sleep on the ground" (Pirke Avot 6:4). This is the ultimate separation from relaxation and pleasures.

Other things that cause the loss of enthusiasm are fear and anxiety about transient things and their consequences. At one point you might be nervous about cold or heat, another time you might worry about accidents, then another time about illness, and yet another time about the wind, and so forth. This is what Solomon was referring to when he said, "The lazy person says, 'There's a lion on the road' or 'There's a lion in the street (as an excuse)'" (Proverbs 26:13). Our sages ridiculed this trait because of its clear connection to sinning, using the following verse as proof: "The sinners are frightened in Zion; trembling has taken hold of the hypocrites" (Isaiah 33:14). A great man said to one of his students who was frightened, "You're (obviously) a sinner!" (Brachot 60a). As it is pointed out, you should "trust in G-d and do good; live in the land and be nourished by your faith" (Psalms 37:36). The point is you should consider yourself as "passing through" the world, but settled-in in your Divine service. You should willingly and contentedly face whatever greets you in this world, and take hold of whatever circumstances come your way. You should avoid relaxation and be drawn to work and effort, set your heart to trust in G-d, and not worry about consequences or happenstances.

You might argue that the sages warned that you must watch out for your well- being very carefully and not place yourself in danger-- even if you are already a righteous person or someone who does a lot of righteous deeds. They said, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven but cold drafts" (Ketubot 30a). And the verse says, "Be very careful to watch yourselves" (Deuteronomy 4:15). You should not consign yourself to trust in G-d's protection in everything, "even if it concerns a mitzvah", the rabbis added. You must know that there is fear, and there is fear. There is warranted fear and there is senseless fear; there is trust and there is naivete. G-d created man to be sensible and straight-forwardly logical so that he could accustom himself to go the right way and guard himself from the things that might cause him harm (which were created to punish the evil). One who does not want to go along the ways of wisdom and is willing to expose himself to danger is not practicing trust in G-d-- he is naive, and he is sinning and going against the will of G-d Who wants him to protect himself. In fact, beside the dangers inherent in the thing he has done by not protecting himself, he could be culpable for his own fate by having actively committed a sin. And that will cause him to suffer punishment. This sort of self-protection is a form of concern that is warranted, sensible and wise, and is referred to in the Torah where it says, "A clever man sees evil and he hides, but the fool passes right by it and is punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

Senseless concern is when you compound one form of self-protection onto another, one fear or worry onto another to such a degree that you do away with Torah-study and Divine service altogether.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman