Thursday, August 23, 2007

Messsilas Yesharim (Thurs. Aug. 23rd)

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.

CHAPTER FIVE (Continued):

Should you find yourself in the company of someone who ridicules you, do not take his remarks to heart. Do just the opposite-- ridicule and embarrass him. Just consider this: if you had an opportunity to acquire great wealth would you hold yourself back because of somebody's ridiculing? You should avoid destroying your soul because of a ridiculer all the more so. Our sages said, "Be as ferocious as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift-footed as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven" (Pirke Avot 5:20). And David said, "I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and not shame" (Psalms 119:46). He meant that even though for the most part the concerns and conversations of kings involved grandeur and hedonism, David (who was also a king), did not at all worry about being embarrassed, and would discuss morals and Torah in their company instead of taking part in their usual stories of the grandeur and hedonism of people like themselves. After he had realized the truth, his heart was not seduced by such emptiness. As he explained it, he would "speak of Your testimonies before kings and not shame" (Ibid.). In a similar manner, Isaiah said "Therefore I have made my face like flint and knew I would never shame" (Isaiah 50:7).


Enthusiasm follows caution. But while caution has to do with not doing, enthusiasm has to do with doing. As it is written, "Depart from evil and do good" (Psalms 34:15). The meaning of enthusiasm is self-evident: it is the eagerness to do and complete mitzvot. Our sages put it this way, "The enthusiastic do mitzvot eagerly" (Pesachim 4a). It takes as much conscientiousness and determination to take hold of the mitzvot, so that you can gain rather than lose merit, as it does to save yourself from the snares of the yetzer hara, so that it does not control you and become entangled in your affairs. For just as the yetzer hara tries by any means to have you fall into the nets of sin, it also tries to have you lose the chance to do mitzvot. If you slack off and become lazy instead of encouraging yourself to pursue them and take hold of them, you will surely be left empty handed.

Man is by nature very "weighed down" by an earthiness and coarse materiality. That is why he does not want to exert or burden himself. But if you want to merit to Divine service you have to fight this nature and be self-motivated and enthusiastic. For if you abandon yourself to this "heaviness" you will not succeed in your quest. Our sages counseled us to be as "ferocious as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift-footed as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of our Father in heaven" (Pirke Avot 5:20). And they included Torah-study and the performance of righteous deeds as the things that need prodding (Brachot 32b). The Torah itself clearly warns us to "be strong and very courageous in keeping and observing the whole Torah that Moses, My servant, has commanded you" (Joshua 1:7). So, one who wants to turn-around his nature needs a lot of prodding.

Solomon warned us repeatedly about the detrimental nature of laziness, and the great loss that comes from it. He said, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little crossing of your arms to nap, and all of a sudden poverty and want come along like an armed soldier" (Proverbs 6:10–11). He meant that even though the lazy person does not set out to do harm, he does it inadvertently by being inactive. He also said, "One who slackens in his duties is the brother of the destroyer" (Proverbs 18:9), meaning that even though that person is not himself the destroyer doing the harm, you should not think that he is innocent: he is the destroyer's brother, one of his kind. Solomon evoked a common-enough scene to illustrate and explain the detrimental nature of laziness. He said, "I went by the field of a lazy man and the vineyard of a foolish man, and behold they were grown over with thorns, and their surfaces were covered over with thistles.... I noticed it, considered it, looked closely and learned this lesson from it: a little sleep, a little slumber,... and all of a sudden poverty and want ..." (Proverbs 24:30–34). Aside from the literal meaning of the story which is true enough and is what happens to lazy people, our sages arrived at an interesting interpretation of it: "'... and behold they were grown over with thorns' means that someone wanted to know the meaning of some concept in Torah and could not arrive at it; 'and their surfaces were covered over with thistles', means that because he did not trouble himself to arrive at the correct meaning, he adjudged something forbidden to be permitted or vice versa, and came to break down the fences (safeguards) established by our sages. What would be this man's punishment? As Solomon told us, 'Whoever breaks down fences will be bitten by a snake' (Ecclesiastes 10:8)" (Yalkut, Proverbs 961).

The bad that comes from laziness does not come about in one fell swoop, but slowly and without notice. It comes in a sequence of one bad deed after another, until you find yourself sunk in evil. First it is only a case of not making the necessary effort, which results in not learning Torah as required for full understanding. This inadequacy in study would be followed by study lacking in understanding. As if that were not bad enough, misunderstanding of that section of Torah would continue, and things would become "clear" to the person that would in fact be against halacha. He would wind-up turning around the truth and destroying it, and going against the dictates of our sages and "breaking down the fences". His end would be destruction, which is the judgment against all who break down the fences. Solomon said, "I noticed it, (and) considered it" (Ecclesiastes 10:8)-- I thought it over and saw the great evil in it that was like a poison that spreads very, very slowly and is only noticed at death. And this is what I meant when I said, '... a little sleep... and all of a sudden poverty and want come along like an armed soldier' (Ibid)".

We see over and over again how, though people know of their obligations and what their duty is to their Creator, and it has become self-evident to them that they must rescue their souls, that they will nonetheless disregard this all. Again, this would not be as a result of any lack of realization of their obligations, or for any reason other than the "heaviness" of laziness that overpowers. So they say, "Let me eat a little", or "let me sleep a little", or "it's a hardship for me to go out of my house", or "I've already taken off my coat, so how can I put it on again?" (Song of Songs 5:3), or "it's very, very hot outside", or "it's too cold", or "it's raining"-- or any other excuse or rationalization the lazy person may be full of. And for one reason or another, Torah is left aside, Divine service is left undone, and you come to abandon your Creator. This is what Solomon was referring to when he said, "Because of lazy people the beams will collapse, and for idleness of the hands the house will leak" (Ecclesiastes 10:18). But were you to ask the lazy person about his ways, he would retort with all sorts of sayings of the sages, scriptural passages and logical explanations to prove (to his misguided mind) that he should have it easy and be left in his lazy ways. He cannot see that these rationalizations and ideas are not an outcome of his thinking the problem out, but that they spring forth out of his laziness. As it controls him, it inclines his thinking toward the direction of these rationalizations, so that he does not listen to the words of the sages or the people who truly understand. This is what Solomon bewailed when he said, "A lazy man is more sagacious in his own eyes than seven people who can give sensible answers" (Proverbs 26:16). It does not sit well with a lazy person to think that words of reproof could conceivably be directed to him; he thinks that everyone is mistaken or foolish, and that he alone is wise.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman