The Curse of Lazy
Well, who d’you think you’re foolin’?
You say you’re havin’ fun
But you’re busy going nowhere
Just lying in the sun
This week’s Torah portion is a continuation of the epic speech Moshe gives to the Israelites before they enter into the Land of Israel without him. The parsha starts with Moshe informing his people that he is placing right in front of them – in clear sight – a choice between receiving blessings or receiving curses. Hence the name and first word of the parsha, ראה – See. See, look, pay attention, there is nothing mysterious about this: If we follow God’s ways and His Torah and Mitzvot, blessings will happen. If not, then… not so good.
Yes there is much to discuss on this topic since we don’t always see that it works out this way. We are deeply troubled with the notion of “Why bad things happen to good people”. On the other hand, the blessings and curses that Moshe is talking about and that will happen are not an instantaneous occurrence. There is no bolt of lightning every time one transgresses one of God’s commands nor is there a windfall of cash every time one fulfills a mitzvah. Life doesn’t work that way, not when it comes to Mitzvot performance nor for anything else for that matter.
A person doesn’t get lung cancer from smoking one cigarette. But over time – day in and day out – if he or she started with just one or two when they were sixteen, kept up the pattern, increased the frequency and made it a habit for years, then yes there is the greater chance at getting cancer versus never having smoked at all. Similarly one does not attain amazing physical shape after going out for a mile jog one afternoon. If you want to stay in shape, feel good and have a better chance at a long life, then exercise is something that needs to be done starting as early as possible, improved upon, kept up and has to be a lifelong pursuit.
The blessings from exercise do not happen overnight. Nor do the blessings of a good business, mentschy kids or anything else meaningful in life. These blessings are a result of cumulative acts over many days, weeks, months, years and even decades. And the resulting blessings are not just for the one individual who has the discipline to attain them, but they ripple outwards to others: family members, communities, cities, and even a whole nation. This is the system of Blessings and Curses that Moshe is describing. It is much larger and lengthier than a one-off good deed.
In the introduction to his commentary of this week’s parsha, Rabbeynu Bachya – Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa (1255-1340) Spanish commentator – offers his view of the main thing that gets in the way and prevents us from attaining these many blessings that God has in store for us. Laziness. Yup, being lazy. Lack of movement, sluggish, stuck, inertia – this is what prevents people from obtaining more blessings and good in their lives. He breaks it down into four different categories:
- Lazy regarding your house. Yeah, it’s interesting he starts with this one. You know the thing that needs to be fixed in your house but never gets done? And then it gets worse and costs you way more money? It starts as just a small leak in the roof, you don’t take care of it and now a big rain comes and ruins more stuff. It is an important lesson that applies throughout life. Nip the problem in the bud while it is little before it becomes a big problem. You can avoid plenty of curses if you don’t let the bad stuff that starts off small get out of hand and end up big. Don’t be lazy and attack it early.
- Lazy regarding your body. Here he talks about not doing what you have to do to earn a living resulting in a person not having sufficient food. This is hardly an issue in our day and age in Western nations and, if anything, our curse is with the exact opposite – that there is too much food. Too much junk food, too much choice, overstuffed portions – you know the scene. So we would have to tweak this category for our time to the aforementioned exercise. Move away from our stultifying screens, get off our butts to do some exercise. “Lazy regarding our bodies” today usually means not taking care of our physical health and welfare.
- A lazy spirit. A lazy spirit… what would that be? It refers to our character traits. Namely, not doing enough to fix our bad habits. We are all born with natural talents and abilities, and we are all born with certain weaknesses. Some good traits come to us without any effort, while other negative ones are a lifelong battle. We are born with both. We should never stop working and improving on the good ones that God has blessed us with, nor can we stop fighting and dealing with the negative stuff we were also born with.
- Lazy regarding Torah, Mitzvot and Good Deeds. These are the things that define the Jewish people – our identity and our role in the world as an אור לגויים – A Light Unto Nations. We can’t be complacent when it comes to constantly striving to understand God’s wisdom in his Torah and coming closer to Him. We must always strive to help others through His Mitzvot, as well as bettering ourselves and our world with Good Deeds.
Rabbeynu Bachya ends off by reminding us that the crucial character trait to combat Laziness is what we call in Hebrew, Zerizut. Zerizut means being quick, alacrity, eagerness and enthusiasm for Life. Being alive and not just going along for the ride. Being active and not just passively getting swept up by the meaningless fashions of the times that are here today and gone tomorrow. Zerizut means carpe diem, grabbing life by the horns, living awesomely and not settling for mediocrity.
And when all is said and done, the bottom line is that this is completely in our hands and for us to choose. As Moshe starts off by saying in this week’s parsha – “See, I am placing before you today Blessings and Curses.” It is being placed in front of us for us to choose. Today – it applies just as much today as it did thousands of years ago. See – it is right in front of us and we will certainly behold and witness the outcome with our own eyes.
So put some Zerizut in your life, and watch the blessings flow your way.
There must be more to this life
It’s time we did something right
Child of Vision won’t you listen?
Find yourself a new ambition