Bo – Character Traits Effecting Proper Manners

There is an apropos saying for a Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion of Bo: “What came first the chicken or the egg?”

When the Jewish people had their first Pesach seder right before they left Egypt, Hashem told them exactly how to eat at the seder, “And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord” (Shemos 12:11).

The lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that it’s not right for travelers to prolong their meal and sit comfortably at it. Rather they should eat like travelers so that they can finish their journey with speed and alacrity (zrizus). This is learned from the way Hashem commanded that the Passover sacrifice shall be eaten; meaning, with their loins girded, shoes on their feet, staff in their hand, and that they should eat with haste so that they will appear like travelers. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

One would think that at this moment in time when the Jewish people were ready to place their complete trust and faith in Hashem for taking them out of Egypt, they would have their last meal, which was dedicated to their freedom and redemption in a manner which would show tranquility, liberty, and calm. They anyway weren’t leaving for a few hours until the morning. Besides that, at any meal, how is it proper manners to eat “half out of your seat,” with your traveling shoes on your feet and backpack on your back, eating in a rush? Isn’t it better at any meal, at any time, to sit in your chair with both hands and feet in front of you, eating over the table calmly and attentively? Also, what does zrizus, speed and alacrity, have to do with eating a meal? If you eat too fast you might choke!

It would seem that there are two standards of proper manners when it comes to eating a meal. One is at home or at a location where the meal is conducted with an aura of calm and collection. It would be inappropriate to eat in haste, half out of your seat. There are manners which dictate how to properly eat at a table.

However, when you are in transit, the proper manners are to eat quickly and to keep on going in order to reach your destination as swiftly as possible. Now, zrizus isn’t just speed, it is also alacrity, doing something in an efficient manner but not dawdling. It would seem that eating in the normal calm manner as one would do at his house, or any other normal meal would be a sign of laziness and serenity which one should not have when traveling since there is a destination to reach. Therefore, proper etiquette of how to eat a meal is different.

So, on the contrary by following the way Hashem told them to eat which was teaching them a lesson and preparing them for their journey which they would start in a few hours, that in fact showed the ultimate belief and trust in Hashem.

Vaera – Zrizus: Beyond Mind Over Matter

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The Torah tells us in this week’s Torah portion of Vaera: “Moshe and Aharon did as Hashem commanded them, so they did. Moshe was 80 years old and Aharon was 83 years old when they spoke to Pharaoh” (Shemos 6, 7:7). The Torah isn’t just a historical book teaching us facts about the Jewish leaders’ timelines and ages. There must be a reason why the Torah gave the ages of Moshe and Aharon at this junction. In fact, the Ibn Ezra observes that the pasuk mentions their ages, and we don’t find anywhere else in Scripture where it mentions that prophets gave prophesy at such an old age.

The Sforno learns from this pasuk that, with all their elderliness, Moshe and Aharon still woke up early and acted with speed and alacrity (b’zrizus) to do the will of their Creator. For normally one who has reached the age of 80 had, even in those days, already surpassed “old age” and reached “the age of strength,” as Moshe testified in his prayer when he said: “The days of our years are 70 years, or even by reason of strength, 80 years” (Tehillim 90:10). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Sforno is telling us that the lesson we learn from this pasuk is that even at an old age one can act b’zrizus; with enthusiasm, alacrity and zeal, and in a manner which is quick and with much ease, in order to serve Hashem and fulfill His will.

This is something totally expected of Moshe and Aharon, such great tzadikim, righteous to the highest caliber, in touch with Hashem directly. Why would we think anything less of them, that the Torah has to point out their ages as if to applaud them for acting in a manner which was above and beyond what they were expected to do?

We see from here that even for such holy and righteous people like Moshe and Aharon, they also felt the effects of age, and it must not have been easy for them to act with such energy, like they had in their youth, to go with such speed to fulfill Hashem’s will. Yet they overcame the natural lethargies of age, and acted b’zrizus to do Hashem’s bidding, which deserved special mentioning.
But we have to put into context what exactly this means. Although it says at the end of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life: “Moshe was 120 years old when he died; his eyes had not dimmed, and his vigor had not vanished” (Devarim 34:7), and Moshe also carried down the Tablets and erected the Mishkan single handedly, we must say that Moshe was only rejuvenated by Hashem with “the fountain of youth” when he was up on Har Sinai upon receiving the Torah. Until then he was aging normally as anyone else would. In fact, the chapter in Tehillim that the Sforno quoted was written by Moshe Rabbeinu: “A prayer by Moshe, the man of Hashem…” (Tehillim 90:1) and the Ibn Ezra mentions there that Moshe might have written this Psalm when he was 80, before he had prophesy, when his “hands were becoming heavy.” So he really was naturally slowing down at that point; yet when he was charged by Hashem to free the Jewish people he acted in a manner not befitting his age, with such enthusiasm and speed that it was worth lauding him and Aharon in the Torah, which is not known to write anything extra, not even a letter.

This is something which should not be taken so lightly, the Mishna in Pirkay Avos, which the Sforno in fact alludes to, says: “At seventy fullness of years; at eighty the age of ‘strength’” (Avos 5:21). Rashi there says that at 70 you are considered completely old, when most of your hair whitens, and it is a big thing to live to the age of 80, and if one lives longer than 80 it is with “the power” of Hashem which keeps him alive, not because of his own strength, for from now on one doesn’t have as much strength to eat and drink.

We see from all this that aging is a natural tendency within all of us and that it is normal for us to slow down based on the laws of nature. But, even barring a miracle, one has the ability to move above and beyond nature, if he puts his or her mind to it and is excited to act with speed and alacrity, b’zrizus, especially when performing Hashem’s will.

The Orchos Tzadikim in the chapter on Zrizus opens by saying: “Zeal for the Torah and the commandments is a great quality, and so is zeal that aims to make a better world. And it is a quality of the righteous in the service of the Creator, may He be Blessed. Our Sages, of blessed memory, said : “The zealous are early to perform their religious duties” (Pesahim 4a).” Everyone, no matter what age or circumstance has the potential to be righteous and is able to tap in and use this incredible attribute for good.