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Combating Inertia

Rebbetzin Suri Gibber

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Much of what I learned in high school physics has long been forgotten. Newton’s First Law of Motion, however, remains firmly etched in my mind: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.”

This law, commonly known as inertia, can be overcome by exerting a force — a push or pull. A force can be applied to put a resting object in motion, and to stop a moving object or change its direction. Without that force, an object at rest will stay at rest, and a moving object will continue moving. (In case you’re wondering why a moving object eventually stops, it’s because of an unseen force of friction that works against the movement and causes it to stop.)

As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the spiritual world.

An awareness of the law of inertia in the physical realm can provide us with important insights into the concept of inertia in the spiritual realm, and guide us in our spiritual development.

 The Ramchal explains in Mesilas Yesharim that since man was created from the adamah, earth, he has an inborn heaviness. To overcome this, a person must act with zrizus — doing things immediately, quickly, and with enthusiasm. When we tell ourselves that we will do a chesed “later,” that we will daven, say Tehillim, or learn something “later” (assuming we are able to do it now), we need to recognize that inner voice for what it is — spiritual inertia, a tendency to remain at rest and resist change. The force that can counter the inertia of a person at rest and propel him to move forward in mitzvos is zrizus.


Going Beyond Habit

What about the inertia of a person who is already on the path of Torah and mitzvos? What can be done to assure that one’s mitzvah observance is not merely the product of habit?

My father, Rav Avrohom Berger ztz”l, who served as a rav in Cleveland for 40 years, told the story of a rebbe who spent many hours davening Shacharis every morning. An ignorant man approached him with a question.

“Doesn’t the Rebbe daven the same thing every day?” he asked.

“Yes,” the Rebbe answered.

“Why, then, does it take so long to daven? Doesn’t the Rebbe know it all by now?” the man asked.

The Rebbe replied, “My dear friend, you are making a mistake. It is precisely because I daven the same words every day that it takes me so long. During each tefillah, I need to think of new kavanos to ensure that my tefillah is personal and meaningful, and not simply said by rote.”

Contrast the above story with an anecdote that Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff told of an individual who said, “The first time a person has to think during davening is when he says Shir shel Yom — he has to remember what day of the week it is.”

The difference between rote davening and meaningful connection is how much thought and reflection we put into our tefillah. The same applies with all the other mitzvos as well.

Rav Dessler (Michtav MeEliyahu, volume 3) explains that it is possible for a person to live much of his life doing mitzvos — davening, keeping Shabbos, giving tzedakah — primarily because that is what he is accustomed to doing, never taking the next step of internalizing the mitzvos and making them his own. While it is essential that we become accustomed to doing mitzvos, that is the merely the beginning of our journey toward shleimus, says Rav Dessler.

It is certainly laudable to be in the habit of saying brachos, or to be in the habit of refraining from forbidden melachos on Shabbos. However, we need to reach beyond habit. When we recite a brachah, we need to pause and think about our gratitude to Hashem for the food we are eating and for all that He has given us. When we refrain from melachah on Shabbos, we need to take the time to think that Hashem is in charge of the world — and He is in charge of me. The habitual mitzvos should be a stepping stone for deeper connection.

The Torah tells us that when Yitzchak and Rivkah davened to Hashem, beseeching Him for a child, Hashem responded to Yitzchak’s tefillah, rather than to Rivkah’s. Rashi comments that the tefillah of a tzaddik who is the son of a tzaddik is preferable to the tefillah of a tzaddik who is the son of a rasha.

The Alter of Kelm was baffled by this, since there are many teachings of Chazal that indicate the opposite. He resolved the conflict by explaining that when a person is brought up in an environment foreign to Torah and then discovers Hashem on his own, he has a tremendous sense of excitement and a strong feeling of personal connection to Hashem. When a person is raised in a Torah environment, however, it is easy to follow his family’s path without thinking deeply about it, and thus without the enthusiasm and the personal connection. Therefore, it can be more difficult to achieve high levels of avodas Hashem as a ben tzaddik.

Although Yitzchak Avinu grew up in the exalted home of Avraham Avinu, he built upon what he learned from his father and worked to deepen his yiras Hashem and avodas Hashem in his own unique way. While Avraham’s primary middah was chesed, Yitzchak did not satisfy himself with merely duplicating that middah; rather, he personalized his avodah and made his primary middah that of gevurah.

Yitzchak, therefore, had the benefit of both a tzaddik ben tzaddik — having grown up in a pure environment, and a tzaddik ben rasha — having discovered Hashem for himself. Therefore, his tefillah was the one accepted by Hashem.


Maintaining our Enthusiasm

The personal discovery of Hashem and the enthusiasm that is connected with that personal discovery are crucial to a person’s avodas Hashem. In fact, the Maharal says that these are the elements that are required specifically for the generation that will greet Mashiach.

The Maharal foretold that in the time before Mashiach, the vast majority of Jews would not keep mitzvos. In his sefer Netzach Yisrael, he offers a reason for this phenomenon. He says that when those who have been estranged from Torah will find their way back, they will keep mitzvos with a freshness that is difficult to find among those who have been keeping mitzvos all their lives. This enthusiasm is necessary for the generation of Mashiach.

When Klal Yisrael went to the Beis HaMikdash for the shalosh regalim, the Kohanim would show them the lechem hapanim, the showbread, before they returned home. What was the message of the bread? The mefarshim explain that the Kohanim were cautioning Klal Yisrael: Hold on to the enthusiasm that you feel while you are in the Beis HaMikdash. Learn the lesson of the lechem hapanim which stays fresh all week, and don’t let your mitzvah observance become stale.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l compared a person who is stagnant in his Torah and mitzvos to a child who receives tzitzis at his upsheren and continues wearing the same tzitzis until he becomes an adult.  Who would hold on to the tzitzis that he received when he was three years old? Why, then, do we sometimes hold on to the same level of understanding of Torah and mitzvos that we had as children?

How much has our insight into the meaning of Shabbos and Yom Tov matured as we have? How much has our understanding of the “stories” of the Chumash deepened as we did? Do we understand Torah and mitzvos from the perspective of a sophisticated, thinking adult? Or might it be that in some areas, we are still wearing the “tzitzis” of our youth?

We should not keep Torah today just because we kept it yesterday. As we develop ourselves and upgrade other areas of our lives, we need to also develop our connection to Hashem and upgrade our understanding of Torah and mitzvos.

It’s time to change the old tzitzis and put on new ones. It’s time to apply a force that will counter the force of inertia. It’s time to make a conscious decision to keep learning, growing, and discovering — and performing mitzvos with an enthusiasm and excitement that befits the generation preparing to greet Mashiach.


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