11 Aug Don’t Delay
Imagine, if one was to gather the ultimate anthology, he would go to Rav Shvadron, Zt”l, and ask him to sift through all of his teachings and choose the most powerful one. Then, he would go to Rabbi Yissacher Frand, Shlit”a, and ask him to look through his drashos and relate the one statement he has made during his career that he feels made the biggest impact upon his audiences. Then, he would go to Rav Yisroel Reisman, Shlit”a, and ask for his most riveting teaching. He would then listen to all of the tapes of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Zt”l, and hand pick the single, most-timely message. Finally, he would do this with all the greatest teachers of the last one hundred years.
Wouldn’t we drool over the chance to learn from such a compilation? How we would drink from its wisdom and try to emulate its ethics and morals.
In truth, we have such a sefer and it is infinitely more precious, Pirkei Avos. It contains the greatest sayings of the greatest Sages of the Tannaic period. For example, Shimon HaTzaddik was so-called because he was the most righteous person of his generation and, in Pirkei Avos, there is but one Mishna recording his teachings. We can imagine that Shimon HaTzaddik, the preeminent tzaddik of his generation and the Kohen Gadol, spent a lifetime educating the masses and directing them to a life of Torah and morality. Yet, there is only one Mishna of his lessons. Thus, Pirkei Avos contains the crème de la crème of the most outstanding sages of that most extraordinary era of Torah knowledge.
With this in mind, we should have great excitement, exhilaration, and thirst, when we open up the rarified teachings of Pirkei Avos.
Let’s choose one lesson from this lofty collection. In the Second Perek of the Mishna, Hillel says, “Al tomer lichshe’efneh eshneh, shema lo tiponeh – Don’t say when you will have leisure you will study, for perhaps you will never find the time.” This Mishna reveals to us one of the most potent weapons of the Yeitzer Hara, the evil inclination. His ability to thwart people from a life of Torah and mitzvahs through the device of procrastination. He suggests to a working father/husband, ‘Listen, you can’t learn now. You’re busy supporting a family. You need to make ends meet. And then of course, you need to relax a little. Otherwise you’ll end up in the hospital. There’ll be plenty of time to learn when you retire. Don’t worry, in your golden years you’ll sit in a Beis HaMedrash in Netanya or in Miami Beach and study loads of Torah.’ And sadly, when our husband/father retires, his eyes are failing, his memory is waning, his concentration is not what it used to be, and his sitzfleisch (ability to sit in one place) is not there. How sad that he lost all the precious years when he was in full strength to utilize all of his senses for our main mission on earth and the eternal essence of life which is the study of Torah.
Sometimes, the Yeitzer Hara pushes us off until the summer – and then in the summer he tells us that we need to rest in order to re-charge our batteries before the coming winter. Other times he says to wait until Shabbos, but then, after the heavy meals and after the long hard workweek, the body just caves in – and he wins again. He uses this trick also when it comes to such campaigns as being marbeh sedra, that all-important Jewish charge to review the Torah portion of the week. He tells us, ‘Listen, it’s the middle of the year already. You don’t like to do things in halves. So, start next time by parsha Bereishis. Next year you’ll do it, you’ll see.’ How many times have we been fooled by that trick? Let’s respond to the Yeitzer Hara, ‘You know what, I’ll start now. After all, these are the parshios of Bamidbar and Devarim that I didn’t learn so well in yeshiva.’ Or tell him urgently the convincing argument, ‘I’ll start now and I’ll have finished the whole Torah by this time next year.’ What about Daf HaYomi where so many people are fooled by him to think that they have to wait until the world starts Masechtas Berachos. That’s ridiculous. Anytime you start Daf HaYomi, you finish Shas in seven and one-half years. What a wise move to start now and get Masechtas Eruvin with the rest of the Daf Yomi olam.
But, this sagacious advice is not just reserved for the study of Torah. It is true for all the mitzvahs as well. Chazal teach us the fundamental lesson, “Ein attah ela lashon teshuva – The word attah (spelled with an ayin, meaning now) only refers to repentance.” This vital saying teaches us that, if you want to change and turn over a new leaf, you have to seize the moment when the thought of teshuvah crosses your mind and act upon it immediately. If not, the Yeitzer Hara will successfully stall and delay until the routine of life distracts you from your resolve.
Let’s take a common example. You open up your Siddur and you say the daily psalm, and you realize that you don’t know what you’re saying. You simply don’t know the meaning of the words. With chagrin, you say to yourself, ‘I better learn the translation of this.’ Don’t succumb to pushing it off to an undetermined later date. Look at the English translation there and then and seize the moment! When you bow down at Modim in the middle of Shemone Esrei and jog yourself from your day-dreaming and you ruefully think to yourself, ‘One of these days I’d better start having kavanah,’ don’t let yourself postpone such a fine attitude. Rather say, I’ll start right now with the rest of Shemone Esrei and Ashrei, U’va L’Tzion! This is the only way to improve, to act upon it as soon as the thought comes to your mind – before the Yeitzer Hara can reestablish the status quo.
This rule holds true for all the other mitzvahs as well. Bocherim, when it comes to Kivud Av v’Eim, don’t say, ‘One of these days I’d better start calling my parents or writing them letters.’ Start now!
Husbands and wives. Don’t muse to yourself, ‘You know, I gotta get around to putting more effort into my marriage.’ Do it now! Go out and buy a gift for your spouse. Give a compliment or a helping hand. Don’t let the Yeitzer Hara push it off. The same thing is true for our responsibility to the children. Don’t let the Yeitzer Hara deceive you into thinking that when the economy gets better you’ll have more time or when they get older it will be easier. These are all just tricks of the Sly One.
May it be the will of Hashem that we succeed in acting with alacrity to improve our Torah and mitzvahs and, in that merit, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.