July 22, 2024
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The Philosophy of Chipazon

The attribute of zerizut, or alacrity, although not an indispensable quality for fulfillment of Torah or rabbinic injunctions, is one that the Torah enjoins every Jew to aspire to in his or her mitzvah performance. Indeed, mitzvot earn their optimum fulfillment when performed in this ideal fashion. Inasmuch as zerizut is a characteristic germane to all mitzvot, this distinctive quality has a unique relevance to the mitzvah of matzah. A celebrated statement of our Sages based on the pasuk “Ushemartem et Hamatzot” (Shemot 12:17) states: “Mikan she’ein machmitzin et hamitzvot,”or “mitzvah haba’ah l’yad’cha al tachmitzena” (Mechilta 9). In the same manner that we dare not allow the dough to rise when preparing the matzot, we are equally charged with readiness and conscientiousness when performing mitzvot. We are not to approach them sluggishly but rather with eagerness and a sense of punctuality.

The link established by our Sages between zerizut of mitzvot in general and the mitzvah of matzah in particular in the eyes of the famed Maharal is on the one hand remarkable and on the other hand somewhat alarming. In the view of Maharal, alacrity does not enjoy the temperate nature of an “ideal” means of performing a mitzvah. It can no longer be said that one who performs a mitzvah sluggishly or approaches a mitzvah lethargically is merely lacking

an external or ancillary component of the mitzvah. Rather, the association of lethargy when arriving at shul for tefillah, or a lack of punctuality when arriving at a shiur, with the leavening of dough speaks of an intrinsic component of the mitzvah that has been lost. There appears to have been a noticeable blemish or recognizable harm done, a “hezek nikar” of sorts, in the mitzvah itself.

Maharal explains that the severity of a lack of zerizut can be understood conceptually. “Ki al yedei shihuy hazman hu mareh shehamitzvah hu davar shenofel tachat hazeman.” One who delays in performance of a mitzvah demonstrates that, in his mind, a mitzvah is something that is governed by time. Granted, many mitzvot can only be performed at select times. This is due to the fact that we are human and our lives are governed by time. But zerizut radically transforms the mitzvot into a sublime act, one that almost earns a title of divine and thus transcends the confines of time. The rush to do a mitzvah at a pace that is extraordinary, an eagerness that exceeds societal norms for charitable, moral or ethical or ritual acts, elevates this human behavior to superhuman behavior. It is no longer governed by time.

Maharal maintains that this is a natural consequence of the Exodus experience. Although some members of our people in Egypt may have approached Yetziat Mitzrayim with cautious apprehension, the Divine imperative and the action of most was “bechipazon” (Shemot 12:11, Devarim 16:3), in a hurried manner. Chipazon not only describes a pace but a philosophy. As our nation was in its process of birth, God injected it with netzach Yisrael, a metaphysical immunization. Our chromosomes included the gene of eternity. Zerizut is thus a manifestation of this innate characteristic of eternity. We are a nation not bound by time. The annual preparation of matzot when we were immunized with eternity, where the penalty is quite severe if one does not exhibit alacrity in this regard, is instructive for the entire year. Indeed, all mitzvot deserve to be performed in such an impassioned and eager fashion.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner in his Pachad Yitzchak finds a remarkable support for Maharal’s exposition. In the Shir Shel Yom of Monday we conclude the chapter (Tehillim 48) with the phrase, “Hu yenahagenu almut.” He (God) shall guide us almut. The word almut has puzzled the commentators. There are those who interpret this word as “youth” from the root ELeM, which means a youngster. However, our Sages have interpreted this word to mean “with zerizut.” This is certainly understandable in light of the fact that youth are capable of walking swiftly. Rav Hutner, however, notes that the simple reading of the word is actually as the two words, “al mut,” which literally means “above death.” Indeed, mitzvah performance with a sense of alacrity is the hallmark of the people who have transcended time and thus are “above death.” We are undeniably eternal, and our eagerness and swiftness to perform mitzvot—our sense of zerizut or chipazon, our willingness to ennoble ourselves by scorning laziness and apathy and embracing and implementing alacrity and enthusiasm—will be the ultimate validation of the eternity of our people.

Our chinuch challenges as parents and educators are many and continue to multiply. We often find our children and students unmotivated, apathetic, resentful and even rebellious. Many talented mechanchim and mechanchot are working diligently to combat many of the impediments to healthy and happy Jewish living. However, the message of chipazon speaks to a different kind of child. It addresses the child who possesses a desire to serve God, to study His Torah and live by His values. It speaks to a motivated student and a Jew who exhibits a commitment to a life of observance. Yet, regrettably, so many who fall into this category are struggling with actualizing their spiritual aspirations because of a variety of factors, including but not limited to sleep deprivation, poor time management, and an overwhelming abundance of distraction. Strategies to address these impediments, ideally at a younger age before they become too habitual and ingrained, will help our children and students fulfill their given potential. Difficult decisions about device use, peer pressure, and more are all part of the equation in internalizing healthy, successful and lasting religious experiences. It is the Jew who has a desire to serve God daily but does not possess the forethought to plan adequately to fulfill his religious desires who must internalize the call of chipazon in his daily activities.


Rabbi Ezra Weiner is rosh beis medrash at MTA.

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