By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
Many things that we do and experience require a combination of emotion and action. The absence of feeling can affect the sincerity of the action and minimize its effectiveness. For example, wishing a close friend “Mazel Tov” without a display of excitement has minimal meaning. Mechanically helping a friend in need without empathy and interest will result in incomplete support. Praying just by mouthing the words seems like a meaningless exercise.
But feelings don’t come automatically. We cannot just turn the happiness switch on, or suddenly feel love towards another person. So what do we do when we don’t feel happiness and empathy, or we feel totally uninspired and disinterested?
In this week's Torah portion Tetza've (Shmos [Exodus] 27:20-30:10), we learn that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had to wear elaborate clothing when serving in the Temple. These garments had to be sewn according to a very specific design, and wearing them during service was of critical importance.
The significance of these garments, explains one of the early commentaries, is based on the principle that the heart follows the actions. This means that while indeed feelings can motivate more effective action, the opposite is also true. If someone is uninspired or disinterested, but forces himself to do what is right with maximum effort, the power of the action is so strong that it will nurture and develop feelings and strong emotion.
The Kohen Gadol had an awesome responsibility. He served in the Temple, representing the entire Jewish nation, to achieve Divine atonement and blessing. This task required a strong focus and an intense sense of devotion—one which he might not naturally have felt necessarily. However, donning beautiful garments, an action that made him “look the part,” motivated, inspired and ensured that his heart and mind were in total focus and ready to do all the services the Temple needed to be done.
So if you show up to your friend’s wedding in a bad mood, just get right into the dance circle. If you hear of someone in need but feel apathetic, force yourself to run over and ask how you can help. If you don't feel like praying, grab a siddur (prayer book) and say the words carefully. Actions with effort create strong feelings. Do a good act. The heart will follow.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org – by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie)