Oct 6, 2011

Spiritual Spontaneity

I listened to an intriguing shiur by Rabbi Doniel Katz (a teacher at Neve) on the subject of zerizus - alacrity.  He said he had thought the chapter on zerizus in Mesillas Yesharim is for lazy people and he is the kind of person who is active.  However, zrizus is not so much about physical laziness (though Ramchal says it's one of the things that impede zrizus) as it is about not wanting to cause discomfort to oneself. Here are some points that he made:

We are drawn to pleasure and flee from pain, with pain including such things as getting out of a warm bed.  Pain is any subtle discomfort. Zrizus is about eliminating the obstacles in your way from A to B in avodas Hashem. The kveidus, heaviness, is coming from the nefesh ha'behamis, the animal soul within us, i.e. everything that gets in the way of my manifesting my spiritual potential.

Laziness is when we gravitate to the slightest pleasure and are repulsed by any discomfort.

Zrizus is to be morally/spiritually spontaneous, to be so identified with your soul that you take immediate action when it comes to mitzva opportunities.

Create a gap between the initial stimulus and the response.  For example, wait before you eat, before you check your email, before you speak.  Delay the gratification.

In an interesting paradoz, to foster zrizus, you need to delay physical responses. 

A Chassidic vort says everything spiritual should be done b'retzifus (continually) and everything physical should be disrupted. When you sit down to learn, commit to concentrate and not interrupt. When you sit down to eat, occasionally put down your fork and think about a dvar Torah.

We are not living in a time in which tolerating discomfort is seen as a value anymore.  Hence, the greater challenge.


  1. It reminds me of the law of not doing laundry on chol ha' moed. Centuries ago, women stood in a stream and bent over and washed the clothes or they hauled water from a well and boiled it over a fire and stirred the clothes in boiling water with tallow and lye soap. Then the laundry had to be hung and ironed. Now we put it in a machine and forget about it but it is still viewed as "work". Ha! I have never in my life kashered a chicken or removed the feathers. I buy milk from a refrigerated grocery and have never milked a cow or goat. I have never carried a jug of water, oil or honey on my head, or ground berries into wheat. When it gets cold at night, I turn up the thermostat and then get a bill; I don't forage for kindling to keep a fire going.
    It is true that we avoid discomfort. I obsessed for weeks about the pain of a flu shot, only to find that it was almost painless so now we can avoid the discomfort of the flu without substituting another pain for it. How many generations died of the flu and now a tiny prick and we are immune for the winter!
    We don't even have to wait and save money if we want something. Buy now and pay later or sometimes never, just stay in debt! What is discomfort? My clothes from last year are so out of style, what will people think? I wonder how long it took clothes to go out of style 200 years ago in the shtetlach of Poland.

  2. Even in much more recent times, 1950's and earlier, Americans had a strong work ethic. Kids were taught to take responsibility, to do chores, paper route, sometimes they had to help support the family. How comfortable they felt about it was a non-issue. They did what had to be done.

    Today's discomfort is all about feelings, and considering the rate at which society is resorting to prescription drugs for anxiety and depression, it seems as though previous (though recent) generations did much better than us.