Let's go back to what the Vilna Gaon says regarding Megillat Ruth 1:18 & take a deeper look into one of those lessons. Here's the text of Megillat Ruth (source):
וַתֵּרֶא, כִּי-מִתְאַמֶּצֶת הִיא לָלֶכֶת אִתָּהּ; וַתֶּחְדַּל, לְדַבֵּר אֵלֶיהָ
"And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her."
Malbim defines its root (amatz or amitz) as a "strengthening of the heart" (chizuk halev), which leads to enduring & unfailing strength; Malbim views it as inner strength.
Ruth needed to gather the extra "oomph" she displayed in her famous statements of devotion in verses 16 & 17 ("for wherever you go, I will go too...").
The Vilna Gaon views mitametzet as also physical, meaning Ruth needed to gather physical strength to continue the journey. He states the following:
לכן התחיל היצר לעכב ונעשו איברי הגוף כבדים. ואף כאן אינה יכולה לילך אחריה אף שהיא היתה בחורה ממנה בלתי אמיץ בגוף ויגיעה רבה
Therefore, the yetzer [evil inclination] started to hinder and the limbs of the body were made heavy. And also here, she [Ruth] is unable to go after her [Naomi]—even though she [Ruth] was younger than her—without strength in the body and great weariness.
Remember, the name Adam comes from the word adamah (earth) and Hashem formed the first human being from earth.
So when people feel lazy, heavy, and unmotivated, there isn't anything unnaturally wrong with them. Such a person simply reflects the natural state of a human being.
However, Judaism both commands & expects us to at least struggle to rise above our natural state.
Happily, Naomi possessed the wisdom to discern Ruth's inner conviction expressed by her words combined with Ruth's sudden physical depletion.
This combination meant that the yetzer tov propelled Ruth, and that Ruth's statements came from the right place—a place of utter sincerity.
When a Book Seems like a Boulder
Meaning, have you ever had the experience of looking at your siddur sitting a couple of feet away from you on a table, and you feeling like, "Oh, man...I just don't have the koach to get up and get it"?
Or maybe your Sefer Tehillim lies right smack in front of your face, but you perceive the mere act of opening the book as too much trouble?
This happens with books of learning too.
Whether you wish to learn the parsha, mussar, or Gemara...all of the sudden, you sometimes get struck by this overpowering feeling of "dragging myself up to get the book is too much trouble" or "Oy, to drag myself all the way across the living room to open the glass door of the book case, and then actually pull the sefer off the shelf...I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it."
And then you feel embarrassed because laziness on such an irrational level must indicate something very wrong with you.
You know it makes no sense.
After all, you happily skip across the same room to grab a piece of pizza, right?
You energetically traverse not only the living room, but the kitchen, and easily open the cabinet or fridge to treat yourself to a beloved beverage.
The same guy who leaps out of sound sleep to hop on a motorcycle struggles to drag himself out to a minyan.
The later Harry Potter novels are massive—yet do you ever hear of someone who can't be bothered to read them because it's too much trouble to physically lift book #4?
Some people mock or despise those who feel heavy—even when the object of the mockery only occasionally feel too lazy to do a very simple mitzvah.
It just sounds so irrational.
But now, because of Rav Bender and the Vilna Gaon, we know that such heaviness & laziness does not indicate something very wrong with us—but rather, something very RIGHT!
It indicates a sincere yearning to do the right thing. It also means that if we actually do it, it's definitely the best thing and also very powerful.
After all, Ruth's conversion ended up sucking out all the holy sparks from Moav.
Her conversion to Judaism depleted the entire lifeforce of Moav.
Even today, archeologists barely find anything left of Moav—just a stele here and a sarcophagus there.
Literally. Just one stele and one sarcophagus.
Interestingly, this one stele presents a description by King Mesha of the Yisrael-Moav war of Kings/Melachim II:3:27, providing external validation of the Torah's narrative—not that we need it, but it's funny how the one piece of writing remaining from Moav validates the Torah narrative (although King Mesha tweaked it to make Moav look better—as if!).
We don't even know what the Moavites looked like, their lives and wars, nothing. (Nothing outside of the Torah, anyway.)
That was the power of Ruth.
Yet paradoxically, that moment of Ruth's greatest power showed her as weaker and wearier than an old & depleted widow.
In fact, Ruth's body dragged so much, the Vilna Gaon describes Ruth as being "unable to walk after Naomi."
She literally could not move another step.
Using This Knowledge to Choose Friends & Mentors
It rids us of the excess shame we feel at the admittedly irrational perception of a simple & easy action as nearly insurmountable.
We now know our personal sloth is normal and the result of the yetzer hara.
It is not insurmountable—that perception is an illusion produced by the yetzer hara due to our intrinsic greatness.
Also, it helps us choose friends & mentors.
Those who seem flummoxed by your sloth may be very good in other ways, but simply unfamiliar with this particular aspect of the yetzer hara—and may not be able to help you with this particular issue.
Those who scorn or mock you for feeling this way likely never worked on themselves with any significant honesty or analysis and may even hover at a lower spiritual level than you, despite their external presentation.
Certainly, those unfamiliar with this concept will be unable to see the positive aspect of it—meaning, that your heaviness indicates a powerful potential within.
Or, as with Ruth, maybe you are in the middle of actualizing something very good and the sloth hits you at the critical moment.
As Naomi did for Ruth, a friend or mentor aware of the Vilna Gaon's interpretation & Rav Bender's observation could more effectively help you out of the slump.
(some fundamentals of releasing & elevating hidden & trapped sparks)
- Why was Ruth's Conversion to Judaism So Monumental? What Does Conversion Actually Accomplish? And Why is It So Vitally Necessary for a Conversion to be Absolutely Kosher & Sincere?