Whatever it is you want to do in the world, whether it’s a big project or a decision to exercise every day, what fuels it? A simple Mishnaic statement in the Jewish tradition outlines four key energies that empower every action. Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima said: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and courageous as a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven (Avot 5:23)
The first thing you need is boldness. Call it initiative if you will. But initiative doesn’t quite capture the energy that’s required to get started and to risk sticking your neck out. It’s much easier to stay with the inertia. It takes a certain kind of nerve to take that first step, to announce to yourself and to the world: I’m really going to do this.
Soon after you get started you meet up with all kinds of obstacles along the way. “This isn’t what I had in mind when I started my project!” It weighs you down. It puts a real damper on things. Instead of going along and accomplishing your goal you get stuck. You don’t know how to move forward. You lose your motivation. You feel deflated. You stop doing. Even if you do manage to muster up enough perseverance to stay in a doing mode, your movements will feel as if you’re pulling a hundred ton weight on your shoulder.
That’s why you need the second energy, the power of lightness. How is it possible to move with lightness, enthusiasm and zeal when you’re carrying such a heavy load? In the analogy, the eagle is a heavy bird but with big wings. You have to remember that you too have wings to fly. Use them! What are your wings? One wing is joy in the value of what you’re doing. The other wing is knowing that you have everything you need to serve God. (I say “to serve God” because ultimately the purpose of everything is serving the creator of the universe by using the gifts He’s given you and by partnering with Him in creating a better world.) Even if it doesn’t seem that way right now, what you need is there potentially if you only ask for it, if you reach out for resources without and within – if you really need it, that is. When you’re feeling fulfilled and satisfied and good about what you’re doing it brings lightness to life. Even if there are obstacles, you’ll say “So what?” Even the obstacles are precious. You learn from them. They strengthen you.
After that you need to be “swift as a deer.” The concept of zerizut (often translated as alacrity), explained in the book Alei Shur, does not mean doing things hastily or in a flustered hurry. It is a state of mind, an efficient, focused orientation around the task at hand.
That should be the end of the story, no? What more could you possibly need after you’ve already accessed your boldness, your joy and your focus? For what reason do you need courage?
You need courage because now that you’re soaring way above the clouds, your fear of heights kicks in. What am I doing? What did I get myself into? How could I have possibly thought I could do such a thing? Who am I?
Having become so familiar with hiding behind your fears, you prefer staying in hiding to bravely, steadily following through with your promise to yourself. You step out and then retreat again.
Logotherapy is focused right there, in calling the person out. There is no shortage of suggestions and steps for how to accomplish things, how to work efficiently, and so forth. That’s not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is finding these energies.