ENTHUSIASM AND CONFIDENCE
“I hurried – did not delay – to keep your commandments.”
~ King David, Psalm 119:60
The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm.
~ Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911 – 2000)
A characteristic of the trait of enthusiasm is energy – in Ezekiel’s vision the angels “darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning” (1:14) so quick were they to do the will of God. This is echoed in Psalm 103:20, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” Other characteristics are: positive action, a sense of urgency, zealousness, motivation, a passion fuelled by inspiration. It can be described as an inspired zeal to take positive action for the purposes of doing the will of our Father in Heaven.
In studying the lives of those who have been an inspiration in my life, mostly authors and artists, I have come across a consistent factor woven like a sparkling thread in the accounts of their lives. The common denominator is how their confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm to pursue their goals, was fuelled by encouragement. Whether it was from parents, teachers, peers, or a significant mentor, all express the influence that words of encouragement played in building their confidence and pressing them to persevere and make progress in their particular field and purpose. For example, prolific Jewish author and teacher, Chana Weisberg, expresses in the Acknowledgements of her great book on women, Tending the Garden:
“To the readers of my columns…to my students, and the participants at my lectures – for all your feedback, encouragement, questions, and challenges, which undoubtedly helped me to clarify these ideas and insights. To my beloved father…for your constant encouragement through all of life’s ups and downs.”
This does not mean one must depend on this encouragement from others. Indeed, many artists faced much rejection from their audiences. We can think of the renowned Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, who struggled with acceptance by the public all his life. Yet his brother stood with him and never failed to give encouragement and support. Even one voice of sincere and well-intentioned encouragement helps fan the flame of enthusiasm and can boost one’s confidence to keep persevering.
ENTHUSIASTIC POSITIVE ACTION
The Hebrew word for enthusiasm, zerizut, usually is translated in the Scriptures as “alacrity.” The prime example of this is our forefather Abraham. We read how even when he faced his most difficult test of faith, when God told him to take his beloved son, Isaac, to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” and to offer him there as a sacrifice, Abraham, as always, hurried to obey – no questions asked. He responded with alacrity to make preparations, and then, “…Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (Genesis 22:2-3). Abraham knew God had spoken and his faith in His character enabled him to bypass his natural thoughts and fears and to act with alacrity to obey. After Abraham passed the test, God reaffirms His promise to him: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (22:18).
This account highlights the fact that one’s enthusiasm does not need to be fuelled by happy, pleasant feelings. At times “enthusiastic action” must be taken even if it’s a challenge and not comfortable to do so. It may entail moving out from one’s “comfort zone”!
We may consider a further occasion in the story of Abraham. He has sent his servant Eliezer to his family’s home in Haran to find a wife for Isaac. When he stops with his camels at a well on the outskirts of town, Eliezer prays fervently that God will help him in this important task and to show favor and chessed to Abraham after the death of his wife Sarah. No sooner had he stopped praying than Rebecca appeared with her water jar on her shoulder. But, he had prayed for a sign that she was of the character of Abraham. Sure enough, as he hurries to meet her with a request for water, she is quick to serve. She serves him water and hurries to water the camels too – she quickly lowers the jar, and quickly empties it and runs back to the well. She later offers accommodation and reveals that she is one of Abraham’s family. All Eliezer can do is to “…bow down and worship the Lord” (24:26).
THE DAY IS SHORT…
A well known verse from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) accredited to Rabbi Tarphon, says: “The day is short, the work formidable, the workers lazy, and the Boss impatient” (2:15). Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, explains that there is a fire deep within us that powers our desire to take action. When the fire [enthusiasm] rages strong, we are productive, confident, bold, even zealous in living. But there are times when the flame can be dampened by confusion, exhaustion, or laziness. When we take time to reflect and and repent and clarify our goals and priorities and dedicate them to good, this will stoke the fire of enthusiasm in our hearts.
A danger however is hinted at in our quote for the month. “The fact that one is not lazy does not mean that he has acquired enthusiasm.” A person can be very energetic but all his activity can be stirred by negative motivations and he can rush ahead in the wrong direction. Alan Morinis describes the “modern curse of frantic rushing” as a kind of “headless enthusiasm.” Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “The thoughts of the [mindlessly] zealous are superfluous and those who are [unduly] hasty reap only loss.” Frantic busyness and rash actions are just as detrimental to true productive enthusiasm as slothful laziness is. As Morinis sums up, “Proper, positive, balanced enthusiasm is action done with a full throttle once review, consideration, and decision have set you on the right course.”
ENTHUSIASM IN BALANCE
Laziness <———————- Enthusiasm ———————-> Frantic busyness
Disinterest Healthy Energy Recklessness
Sluggishness Passion Unhealthy zeal
Inertia Godly Motivation Heedlessness
All we do is enhanced when done with awareness, liveliness, and enthusiasm. This applies in all facets of life and particularly in one’s spiritual walk. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe points out that a mitzvah – a good deed done in obedience to God’s commandments – “if delayed or done unenthusiastically is not a mitzvah that might go wrong, but one that has already gone wrong.” Of course we don’t please our Father’s heart by lazily drifting through life with no passion for living, but neither do we please Him by obeying His will and purposes unwillingly or half-heartedly, or by doing something just by rote with an attitude of boredom.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his classic work The Path of the Just agrees that the direct opposite of enthusiasm is laziness. Laziness deflates enthusiasm and keeps us stuck in circumstances like a bud with all its potential remaining frozen on a limb. Laziness makes us “heavy.” He attributes an inclination to laziness to the fact that if we were pure, spiritual beings, we’d naturally be light and active, but because we live in bodies, we are tied to the physical world and the force of gravity pulls us down. He points out, however, that it is up to us to succumb to heaviness or not, “If you abandon yourself to this ‘heaviness’ you will not succeed in your quest.”
Rationalization is a powerful deterrent to positive, enthusiastic action. The Alter Rabbi of Novaradok wrote a list of ambitions a person could have, followed by if only!
I’d give so much to charity, if only I were wealthy.
I’d study and learn so much, if only I were smarter.
I’d be so helpful to my friends, if only I were stronger.
We can devise brilliant excuses for not accomplishing some task and doing some good! We can always find endless rationales that will prevent us from from making a final decision to take action. Then the opportunity passes by and, due to one’s hesitation and procrastination, the benefits are lost.
Rabbi Moshe Luzzatto also makes a point that our lives and godly enthusiasm can become “dulled by the world.” A flood of material goods, comforts and pleasures is available to one today that could only have been dreamed about in years past. Luzzatto describes the danger: “The relentless, almost addictive, pursuit of nifty things, comfort, and relaxation is a mainstay of our civilisation [and cannot provide] a satisfying spiritual life.” Alan Morinis adds: “The pursuit of comforts and pleasures depletes spiritual energy simply because we have only so much energy in our lives.”
A final danger listed by Rabbi Luzzatto is Anxiety. Worry and fretting also deplete spiritual energy. He says that, in fact, anxiety is often what underlies other things we do that sap our enthusiasm. There are, of course, certain issues we need to be concerned about, like the conditions in the world, and things we have responsibility for and have control over. Often, however, we can suffer from a generalized state of anxiety that can fill us with apprehension over things that we cannot control. It can be the weather, one’s general health, possible accidents, always asking “what if?” To one with a “worried mind” there is no shortage of real or imagined things to fret over! This way of seeing the world keeps us from the truth and freedom of faith and trust in the higher power of our Creator.
The answer to a state of anxiety or fear is gratitude! Recognizing God’s loving role in our lives helps us counter any anxiety and enables us to shelter under His Wings of protection and find true Shalom. With faith, and the help of God and the power of the Ruach HaKodesh to strengthen and encourage us in every righteous choice we make, we can be encouraged and filled with holy enthusiasm and go forward in full confidence!
To conclude: Once again we are encouraged by Rabbi Luzzatto that the one soul trait that will deliver up more energy and fewer hindrances to our enthusiasm and moving in the direction of holiness is “…waking up to the the very many good things that the Holy One, Blessed be He does for you moment by moment” – in other words, to be constantly practicing gratitude.
“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and HIs lovingkindness endures forever! “
~ Keren Hannah