The truth of the matter is that the sort of sluggishness that holds us
back we’ve been referring to is very sly and crafty … though it can also
be silly, as when it manages to have us do and say more and more in order
to do less, as we’ll see.
It’s sly since it “doesn’t come (upon you) in one fell swoop” which would
tip you off; instead it comes over you “slowly and without notice … one
bad deed after another, until you find yourself sunk” in the mire, as
Ramchal terms it, too lazy to escape.
It’s also sophisticated since it touches on our Torah aside from our
mitzvah-observance. It encourages us to settle for surface study, when in
fact Torah is endlessly deep and wide, and one could plumb as far down and
dart out as far along as he’d like in his studies.
But this is where it gets silly: when, as Ramchal depicts it, it has us
strain ourselves to come up with all sorts of excuses for inaction. It has
us say things like, “’Let me eat a little’ (first), or ‘let me sleep a
little’” before we’ll set out to do a mitzvah. Or it has us complain
that “‘it's hard for me to leave my house’ … or ‘it's so hot outside’,
or ‘it's too cold’, or ‘it's raining out’”. But in the end, as we all
know, “Torah-study is left aside, Divine service is left undone, and we
come to abandon our Creator”.
The truth is, most of us would try to rationalize our poor choices.
We’d “retort with all kinds of sayings of the Sages, scriptural passages
and logical explanations to prove … that we should have it easy and be
left in our lazy ways.” After all, if a cogent, well-reasoned argument for
something is convincing enough, a quote from the Torah or the Talmud
should do wonders!
But as King Solomon said, "A lazy man is more sagacious in his own eyes
than seven people who can give sensible answers" (Proverbs 26:16). That’s
to say that sometimes the excuses we offer for avoiding something isn’t
generated by wisdom so much as by laziness itself.
And so Ramchal offers us this rather strong warning: “It’s important to
know … that … every leniency” -- every tendency to be less righteous
rather than more so --“should be carefully and thoroughly thought-out
beforehand. For, even though it may seem to be just and right, it’s still
and all very possible that it’s the advice of the yetzer harah”. For, you
may decide that it would be “wise” not to do a particular good thing,
because (for example) you might seem to be showing off by doing it. The
truth would more likely be that you weren’t motivated by humility so much
as by lethargy.
That’s not to deny the fact that we sometimes have to struggle to
transcend inertia and actually do good. So Ramchal thus offers us
this. “In truth,” he says, “human beings are just that-- humans, and not
angels. So it’s impossible for us to have the might of the angels”, who
quickly and effortlessly do good. Nonetheless, we’d do well to “get as
close to this level as we possibly can”.