Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vezot Ha'bracha - Mattot 75 Zeal = Ze'ri'zut and Context

In Parsashat Ha'azinu Devarim 32: 48-50 God commands Moses' to ascend Mount Nevo and see the land of Canaan and then you will die on the mountain'. In our  Parasha Ha'azinu, Devarim 34:1,  Moses ascended Mount Nebo with  one giant leap  displaying tremendous  ' ze'ri'zut' , zeal  and energy  in fulfilling  God's commandment.  Moses acted in a similar way Numbers 31 when he was commanded to 'go to war against the Midianities, take revenge for the Children of Israel and afterward you will be gathered unto your people'. Even though he would be bringing closer his death, he did not delay and sent the army   into battle with Pinchas as  its commander.  Abraham in Bereishit 22:3, expressed the same ze'ri'zut, zeal and passion, when he got up early in the morning in order to carry out God's command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He would be thus hastening Isaac's death.   In these cases, the question is asked, what's  the  rush ? – life  is so precious, there are so many opportunities to do so many mitzvoth. Every moment, minute and certainly hours are extremely precious. One can do so much learning and many more mitzvoth in this short  time. The question is even stronger on Moses'   ascent  of  Mount Nevo. 

Rabbi Katz from the Telse Yeshivah asks - If Moses would have walked up the mountain in a respectable way, he could have done a lot of learning, which meant a lot of mitzvoth in the hours before his death.  Why did Moses give up so much for the sake of a  hi'dur Mitzvah, doing the mitzvah in an extraordinary way with ze'ri'zut, zeal and energy. The answer is that doing mitzvoth with ze'ri'zut, passion and zeal is not considered as something extra, but part of the mitzvah itself. It is the expression of one's intrinsic motivation and deepest feelings. For Moses, carrying out God's explicit commandments was more valuable than his   life,  despite the many opportunities to do mitzvoth. And he did it with great happiness, zeal and ze'ri'zut, even if it brought closer his death.

But it seems that Moses was not so precise when he carried out God's commandments. In the case of the war against Midian, Moses was commanded to take revenge .He  himself does not go to war but sends Pinchas as the commander. In our Parasha Moses does not immediately ascend Mount Nevo. He  first  gives his final blessings to the tribes  and then leaves them to ascend the mountain. God's commandments   have to be seen in terms of their context and other Torah values. Moses sent Pinchas to do battle, because Moses had taken refuge in Midian after feeing Egypt. It would be throwing stones into the well, from which he drank and that would not be showing ' gratitude ' and ha'ka'rat ha'tov. It was an act of ' de'rech eretz ',common decency and ethical behavior  for Moses to first address his people and bless them before he left them.  Implicit in God's command was to send Pinchas and not go to battle  himself and first to address and bless the nation before he ascended Mount Nevo.


Parents and educators tend to focus on just getting kids to do the actions of the mitzvoth and will use any extrinsic motivators such as prizes, grades and competition to motivate kids to do the mitzvoth. This is based on a false belief that kids cannot appreciate the beauty or value of mitzvoth and that ultimately in an automatic way, kids will come to do things for the right reasons and with intrinsic motivation. The truth is that it is much easier to bribe kids to do something than to ' inspire' them to do something.  Intrinsic motivation, ze'rizut, passion and energy are not 'hidur mitzvah ' but the mitzvah itself. The motivation  for the prize not only gets in the way of kids ' connecting' with the mitzvah itself.We also convert  the spiritual =mitzvoth into money or other prizes. Prizes just motivate kids to get more prizes.  When the focus is on the action and not making meaning of the action we miss out on helping kids see the actions and mitzvoth in their context. God does not want blind obedience. He wants us to do mitzvoth with commitment and understanding and love . Moses taught us that ze'ri'zut, zeal and energy  are intrinsic to  the mitzvah and not hidur mitzvah-  something extra. Moses taught how God's commandments must be seen in a context, so values such as gratitude =' ha'ka'rat ha'tov ', ethical behavior and  common decency = 'derech eretz' are given expression when we do our mitzvoth and interact with others. 

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