Rabbi Shai Finkelstein
Former Rosh Kollel, Memphis 2000-2005
One of the main issues in education is the issue of motivation or the lack of it. The question of how to motivate ourselves,our children and our students is a crucial for continuity and success.
In Parashat Nitzavim (30:11-15) Moshe offers a path to stimulate our motivation and posses Torah knowledge in the following way: ”It is not in Heaven for you to say ‘who can ascend to the Heaven for us and take it for us so that we can listen to it and perform it?’. Nor it is across the sea for you to say ‘who can cross to the other side of the sea?’…rather the matter is very near to you in your mouth and your heart to perform it”.
Moshe is conveying a very simple and clear message: the Torah is not out of our reach or distant from us. Rather, each one of us has the potential and can be part of learning Torah and performing it. If we don’t reach our potential, it is due to our lack of trying or wanting it. The Midrash expands this idea and connects it to the words of King Solomon regarding a lazy person. “They told the lazy person,’your teacher is in town, go and learn Torah form him’ the lazy person responded ‘I am afraid of the lion that is in the street’. They told him ‘your Rabbi is in his house and there is no lion in the street’ the lazy person said’ I am afraid that when i arrive to my Rabbi’s house the door will be close and no one will open it ” At first glance this description is very humorous, however, when we delve deeper we can find a reflection of ourselves to some extent. In modern language we define it as a lack of motivation or apathy, in the Midrash language it is called laziness.
The idea of lack of motivation, laziness or apathy is one of the most crucial issues in our lives. It’s associated with lack of care, feelings and passion. The question that must be asked is how to deal with the sense of lack of care and motivation? what can we do to inspire ourselves and others to be engaged and feel part of Torah learning, tradition and community? If we look closely on Moshe’s words which so eloquently delineates the accessibility we have to Torah learning he says: ”It is not in Heaven..it is not across the sea”. These two examples represent the mindset of human beings. We try to justify our lack of motivation by portraying the mission or goals as unachievable or unattainable. In contrast to this mindset Moshe claims: ”It is near to you – in your mouth and your heart to perform it”. The Torah is already within us and there is no need to go too far to be able to be part of Torah learning, community and the Jewish nation. In order to increase motivation and to inspire the ourselves and the next generation we must aim for achievable goals to accomplish. When we start with small attainable goals, we are allowing ourselves to have a sense of accomplishment upon their completion, as well as a sense of pride and ownership. These feelings are the cornerstone for us to accomplish larger and greater goals.
This shabbat is the last shabbat of the year. When we review this past year, we will discover at least one thing that we feel as a missed opportunity, because we lacked the motivation or the passion to achieve it. It is now the time to seize the moment and to perform a true and sincere self-evaluation which will lead to a goal-oriented path for the new year. We should try to define one or two goals to aim for next year and inspire ourselves to achieve them. Moshe’s words should ring in our ears load and clear; we have the potential of greatness, “it is not across the sea” its in our mouth and heart. Hashem believes in us, Moshe has faith in our abilities and we need to have faith in ourselves to dream big to aspire high and to accomplish our goals in life with passion and inspiration.