I don’t know if this happens in anyone else’s home, but often when I ask one of my near-perfect children to do something, he or she will reply, “I don’t want to.” A wise friend noted that when his children say that to him, instead of snapping back angrily, or giving a harangue about chutzpah, he simply shrugs and says, “That’s fine; you don’t have to want to do it. Do it anyway!”
The truth is that it’s not just a good parenting technique; it’s also an important idea to remember regarding the responsibilities of life.
The following story was related by Rabbi Binny Freedman – Isralight – Bo 5779:
“Wake up an Israeli tank commander in the middle of the night and flash a picture of a BMP-1 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) at a distance of five kilometers, when it appears to be little more than a speck in the distance, and he will instantly recognize it as a Soviet-made troop carrier that fires armor-piercing Sagger anti-tank missiles. He will also be able to rattle off to you its effective range and threat capacity (the amount of time it takes to aim and fire, as well as which Israeli tanks will effectively pierce). He will also know instantly that this carrier is most likely to be seen in the Syrian theater of war.
“The Israeli Army takes the topic of enemy weaponry very seriously and has a variety of often-sadistic methods for ensuring that its commanders become extremely proficient in this particular expertise. I remember vividly the oft-repeated ritual of testing on this topic that took place every Friday morning during Tank Officer’s Course, particularly as we were about to leave the base for our eagerly awaited weekend pass.
“They would line us up for inspection in our dress uniforms, with our gear packed and the bus waiting to take us back to civilization, sometimes even letting the bus engines rev up so we could practically smell freedom, and then herd us into a side room for the dreaded exam.
“Anyone not scoring a near-perfect score would be forced to stay behind to re-take the exam on Sunday morning. It is hard to describe the horrible depression that would descend on any cadet who failed this rigorous exam, as he was forced to watch everyone else board the bus for freedom while he stayed behind for a weekend of guard duty and kitchen detail. But it was hard to argue with the necessity for the perfection that was demanded; if you are in combat and the speck of a helicopter rises above a distant hilltop, you only have seconds to decide whether it is an Israeli Cobra or a Syrian Gazelle (tank-killer), and mistakes or even hesitation in such a situation is what gets men killed.
“A case in point was the terrible story of the tanks and men of Tank Officer’s Course who served together as an armored battalion in the Lebanon war: Seeing an approaching column of enemy tanks advancing through the dust clouds of the tank treads, the leading company commander opened fire and a pitched tank battle ensued.
“Amidst the screams of the dying, one of the officers realized that both units were actually Israeli, and, unable to contact the unit opposite while ordering his own tanks to cease fire, he watched helplessly as his comrades continued to fire on his own men. Finally, one of the men disconnected his radio helmet, threw down his gun, and ran, under fire, to the opposite leading tank.
“Jumping up on top of the tank he grabbed the radio helmet off the head of the startled tank commander and screamed into the other unit’s frequency:
“Chadal! Atem horgim otanu!” “Cease fire! You’re killing us!”
Years later, I met one of the men from this infamous tank battle, who still carried the scars of that terrible afternoon.”
In spring 2018, Rav Ahron Lopiansky addressed the talmidim of our yeshivah, Heichal HaTorah. At that time, he was asked what should someone do if he’s not in the mood of davening?
Rav Lopiansky replied that sometimes a young man may have no feeling for davening, and he will “sleep his way” through it for many years. Finally, at some point, inspiration sets in and he wants to become more serious about avodas Hashem. If he never davened, it will be very challenging for him to start getting into the habit of doing so. If a person goes through the motions, however, even without feeling it, when the inspiration eventually sets in, it will be far easier for him to become a serious ben Torah.
A soldier needs to know his equipment and everything about his enemies without hesitation, so he can fight properly. In a similar vein, we have to go through the motions and do what’s right, even if we don’t feel inspired doing so. When the time comes, the inspiration will be there.
Kavanah (concentration) is like the fire on a torch. Without kavanah, one is holding an empty torch that doesn’t give much light. But as soon as he ignites the fire, the light will radiate light and warmth in all directions. But if one doesn’t have the torch, even when he has the match to light the fire, he won’t have any fuel to keep the fire going, and he will first have to find the fuel.
The Kotzker Rebbe noted that in Sh’ma we state: “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart.” Why do we say that the words of Torah should be upon our hearts, and not in our hearts? The Rebbe explained that sometimes a person just “doesn’t feel it.” He tries to daven and learn, but he doesn’t feel any inspiration or elevation from it. He should keep doing it anyway, and rest assured the inspiration will come. Pile it up upon the heart; eventually it will break through and become “in your heart.”
As in everything in life, the greatest production comes from one who acts with passion and emotion. But when one sets out in his way, he cannot wait for passion; he has to jump in and start. Truthfully, even when he discovers an emotional connection with what he is doing, he will invariably have off-days when he just doesn’t feel it. At those times, he has to push himself to go through the motions and continue doing what he knows is his responsibility. More often than not, the passion returns fairly quickly.