February 28th-March 1st, 2003
27 Adar I, 5763
I think you’ll agree that no one is likely to
achieve great success at any project or endeavor without enthusiasm for
it. When there is enthusiasm, there is a sense of excitement and pleasure
in the execution of a task, or the pursuit of a desired goal--an eager
willingness to invest the whole of one’s strength in the process. If we
lack that quality of enthusiasm, sure, we might be able to slog through
and "meet the requirements," or even do a "respectable" job. But true
excellence we will not attain. Read interviews with the greatest achievers
in any field (music, sports, business, etc.), and you’ll certainly find
that they share in common an enthusiasm--an abiding passion, in fact--for
the work they do.
Should this not be true for religious pursuits as well? Can a person ever
really hope to actualize his or her (vast) spiritual potential without
enthusiastically striving to do so? Why should we Jews be enthusiastic and
ambitious about our professional and social lives…and not be equally so
about our Jewish life?
Sadly, many Jewish people seem content to settle for far, far less than
this in their religious development and Torah observance. Every once in a
while, they may convince themselves to perform some Jewish "ritual." (Ugh,
how I hate that word--we have "mitzvos," divine instructions for a vibrant
life, commandments and ordinances that connect our minds and souls to the
living Source of our being, and of the Torah, G-d Himself…not limp and
lifeless "rituals!") Although such performance is often merely perfunctory
(e.g., the reading of the Haggadah at many a Passover seder), the power of
the mitzvah can at times stir something deep inside of them with its depth
and beauty. (That something, by the way, is called our "neshama," or
Divine soul!). They may even feel genuine excitement in connecting to
their Jewish identity. But still, the inspiration wears off--as
inspiration inevitably does--and few take the next step to make an ongoing
commitment to explore their Judaism.
Their enthusiasm peters out, and it’s back to the daily grind.
This week’s Torah portion is all about the power and importance of
enthusiasm. It recounts the Jewish people’s enthusiastic dedication of
their time, talents and material resources to construct the Tabernacle (mishkan)--the
miniature "Holy Temple" that accompanied them during their travels in the
desert, and which served as the focus of their communal service unto G-d.
"Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit
motivated him brought the portion of Hashem for the work of the Tent of
Meeting, for all its labor and all its sacred vestments." (35, 21) "Every
man and woman whose heart motivated them to bring for any of the work that
Hashem had commanded to make, through Moses—the Children of Israel brought
a free-willed offering to Hashem." (35, 29)
So much material did the Jewish people bring forth, in fact, that Moses
had to send out an urgent proclamation throughout the camp to restrain
them from dedicating any more. (36, 4-7) This was no perfunctory
performance of a "ritual," no grudging act of obeisance. Rather, it was a
passionate expression of their genuine inner love of G-d, and of their
enthusiastic acceptance of His charge unto them to be a "holy people."
They realized that although life brings with it many responsibilities, and
offers us many beautiful (and permitted) pleasures, there is nothing in
life so important in the ultimate sense--or so worthy of our deepest
enthusiasm--than striving to get close to G-d and to elevate ourselves
ethically and spiritually.
That closeness to G-d in everyday life, not just in occasional
performances of (ugh) religious "ritual," was the goal of the Tabernacle.
As G-d said when He commanded the Jewish people regarding its
construction: "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell
among them…" (25, 8; my emphasis) Not come for a vacation, not drop by
every now and then, not show up once a year for the High Holidays…but
"dwell among them," on an ongoing basis. The inspiration afforded by the
Tabernacle and its service was meant to inspire the Jewish people to lead
lives of holiness all the time, 24-7, to bring godliness and sanctity into
their own private tents and routines.
Think of the Tabernacle as the communal well of religious enthusiasm.
Many of our great Jewish thinkers throughout the ages have stressed the
importance of living (and serving G-d) with enthusiasm (or z’rizus, in
Hebrew). Some have even suggested that the passion and enthusiasm with
which we do a mitzvah is, in a sense, its most important aspect. For it
shows that one desires not merely to "fulfill a religious obligation," or
mechanically carry out a "ritual" (ugh), but to grow spiritually from the
experience…to connect to the living G-d by means of the observance. And
every single mitzvah, every single Jewish observance, is a precious
opportunity to forge (or strengthen) that connection. To carry out G-d’s
Will with an enthusiasm and inspiration that will make a lasting
impression on one’s soul.
Perhaps we will never reach the peak of King David’s fiery enthusiasm to
cling to the Divine, as reflected in Psalm # 63 (and in many others): "My
soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You." But we can at least infuse
our observance with a little more energy, a little more passion, a little
more of our complete selves.
Well, you’ll ask, without the Tabernacle (or the Temple), how can I ignite
that spark of enthusiasm?
Here are a few ideas.
A synagogue, or a house of study, is meant to be a "mikdash m’at," a
miniature Tabernacle or Temple. We can try to focus more on the sanctity
of these places, and make use of them for genuine prayer and
introspection. If we begin to act as if they are places of holiness, we
will surely begin to feel more and more that they truly are.
We mentioned King David before. The Book of Psalms is
perhaps the greatest treasure house of religious inspiration accessible to
us. We can read it, recite it, meditate on it…and not just in synagogue
(where selections from it comprise much of the formal prayer service), but
at home, work, Starbuck’s (note: caffeine, in moderation, also helps with
inspiration) and wherever.
The great thinker, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, in his
classic work of ethical self-improvement, Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the
Just, Chapter 8), gives us a priceless piece of advice on awakening our
z’rizus, or enthusiasm, to grow spiritually. I’m going to quote it in full:
"What may…strengthen this awakening [of the desire to serve G-d] is
[by] looking into all of the good things that the Holy One, Blessed be He,
does with a person at all periods and times, and into the great wonders that
He does with him from the time of his birth until his last day. The
more one looks into and considers these things,
the more will he recognize his great debt to G-d,
who bestows good upon him, and he will be impelled not to
grow lax or to weaken in His service. For since he cannot repay the
Blessed one, he will feel that the least he can do is to exalt His name and
fulfill His mitzvos.
There is no person in any circumstances, poor or rich, healthy or ill,
who cannot see wonders and many benefits in his condition. The rich
and and the healthy are indebted to the Blessed
One for their riches and health respectively. The
poor man is indebted to Him; for even in his poverty, G-d miraculously and
wondrously sustains him and does not permit him to
die of hunger. The sick man is indebted to G-d because He strengthens Him
under the very weight of his illness and his wounds, and does not
permit him to descend in to the pit. And so with
all other conditions. There is no
person, then, who will not find himself indebted to his Creator. And
when one regards the good things that he receives
from G-d, he will surely be
awakened in his z’rizus (enthusiasm). [my emphasis]
Here’s my challenge. The next time you kindle Shabbos
candles, or give some tzedakah (charity), or utter a blessing, or read the
Torah portion (for Torah study is the single most important one of our
Jewish observances!), try to do it with z’rizus--with enthusiasm and joy. If
we first take a moment to truly reflect on all the good things we enjoy as
blessings from G-d--every last one of us--then we should have no problem
whatsoever summoning up that spirit of enthusiasm.
And with such z’rizus beginning to spread its illuminating influence
throughout our lives, we can truly begin to live up to our noble mission of
being "a light unto the nations.
My e-mail address is email@example.com
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