Selected Sermon/Article
2001-12-01 Vayishlach by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Serve God with Enthusiasm!

Sermon Parshas Vayishlach 12/01/01 "Serve God with Enthusiasm!"

Chaim desperately needed a job. 'Okay,", said a potential employer, themanager of a large clothing store. "Here's the deal. I have this ugly, ugly suit. If you can sell it, you have a job."

Chaim was ecstatic. "That's all I wanted, was a chance," he said. Anhour later he came back to the manager very excitedly, "I did it, I did it!"Chaim shouted. "I sold that suit."

The manager was quite pleased. "Chaim, you must be one determined and enthusiastic salesman," he said. "But tell me, where did you get all of those cuts and bruises? Was the customer angry?" Chaim said, "Oh no sir, but his seeing eye-dog nearly tore me to pieces."

There's no comparison between doing something with enthusiasm and joy, and doing it without enthusiasm and joy. Show me an enthusiastic salesman,and I'll show you someone who can sell ice to an Eskimo. Show me an enthusiastic grandparent, and I'll show you grandchildren who love it when their grandparent visits. Show me someone enthusiastic about Judaism, and I'll show you someone who is a dynamo in their shul, helpful to others, and is striving to have the closest relationship possible with the Almighty.

This attribute of enthusiasm can be seen from a source in this weeks Torah portion.

Yaakov Avinu was on his way to an epic encounter with his wicked brother, and the Torah informs us that he sent a message to Esav. In seeking to mollify his brother who had taken an oath to kill him for having taken the blessings, Yaakov refers to himself as Esav's 'servant,' calls Esav his 'master,' and bends over backward not to pour gasoline on the fire.

It's more than curious, then, that Yaakov also told Esav "eem Lavan garti"-- 'I have lingered with Lavan." Rashi points out that a hidden messagecontained in this statement (based upon the numerical value of the word'garti' ) was' ; 'I lived with Lavan, and kept the 613 mitzvos, and didn'tlearn from his evil ways."

If, in fact, Yaakov is seeking to soften Esav's anger, why would he announce to his estranged brother that while he spent 20 years with Lavan, he kept all of the mitzvahs? Not only does this not seem to be a message that will appease Esav, but might even agitate Esav even more. What did Yaakov have in mind by telling Esav, "I lived with Lavan, kept the mitzvos, and didn't learn from his evil ways?"

The great Chassidic master, R' Levi of Berditichev, was known for his enthusiastic devotion to God. It was told that one time when R' Levi had accepted a new position, the congregants were puzzled by something unusual that R' Levi did while saying the morning 'brochos' to introduce the service. It was noticed that R' Levi, while saying the morning brochos, was skipping the brocha of 'shelo asani goy' -- 'who has not made me a non-Jew.' When asked to explain this glaring omission from the regular order of prayers, R' Levi answered in the following way:

I, like many others, find it difficult to wake up in the dark early morning hours, when my room is cold and I'm warm underneath my blanket. However, when the time comes for services, I look at my tzitzis that are hung over my chair, and I realize that I have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis all day. As my mind begins to clear, I then become aware that I can go to shul and put on my tefillin! I can daven to HaShem, say the beloved 'Shema' and answer 'amen' to other people's brochos. During the day I can learn HaShems Torah, and do so many other mitzvos that make my life meaningful and enjoyable.

Then, while I'm still laying in bed, I realize that if I wasn't Jewish I wouldn't have the opportunity to do most of the things during the day that I so love. I become so excited that I jump out of bed, shout out the blessing of 'shelo asani goy,' with tremendous enthusiasm -- and since I've already said the blessing in the morning at home, I don't say it when I come to shul!

To return to our original question; why did Yakov tell Esav that he 'lived with Lavan, kept the 613 mitzvos, and didn't learn from his evil ways'? Yaakov was saying that despite the fact that he kept the 613 mitzvos during his 20 year tenure with Lavan, he didn't perform his mitzvos with the same enthusiasm that Lavan committed his sins. In other words, Yaakov humbly testifies about himself that he 'didn't learn from Lavan's evil ways' -- he didn't learn to serve HaShem with the same joy and enthusiasm that the wicked run to make mischief!

Enthusiasm generates power. There's no comparison between doing something with enthusiasm and joy, and doing it routinely. Boruch HaShem, all of us are here this morning at davening. But can you imagine if we simply didn't 'come to shul,' but we came to shul with 'enthusiasm'? We all would have been here at 9 am, rather then 9:30, 10, or 10:30. We'd be singing at the top of our voices! We'd be working to concentrate on the words of the prayers, and constantly bring ourselves back to the focus that 'I'm here today to talk to HaShem.' We wouldn't be just sitting in the front half of the shul -- we'd be fighting for the front seats!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to generate enthusiasm in our 'Avodas HaShem' -- our service of God. Yaakov recognized that he was lacking in his enthusiasm in keeping the mitzvahs. If we, too, don't feel that we're as enthusiastic about mitzvahs, the formula is: act as if we feel enthusiasm, and eventually, we'll increase our inner feelings of enthusiasm.

I'd like to close with a story about a city man who was riding along atabout 55 MPH when he looked out the window. He couldn't believe his eyes, for he saw a 3-legged chicken running right alongside the car! He accelerated to 60 MPH, but the chicken kept right up with him. At 70 MPH, the chicken took off and left the man in a cloud of dust.

Stunned, the man pulled over and stopped in a farmer's yard and said to the farmer, "Did you see that 3 legged chicken?"

"Did I see that?", the farmer asked. "I breed 'em. There are 3 of us in the family; my wife, my son and myself. We all like drumsticks. So, we decided to breed a 3 legged chicken, that way we all get a drumstick."

"Well, do they taste good?" , the city man asked?

The farmer shook his head and replied, "I don't know. We've never been able to catch one."

Lets commit ourselves to keeping the mitzvahs....and observing them, with enthusiasm!

Good Shabbos