Where Inspiration Meets Reality
-- Samach-Vav Part Seven --
Winter is upon us in the
upper northern hemisphere, and we are all shivering. Winter is cold and dark,
and so are many aspects of our lives.
Both globally and personally
there are many beautiful and wonderful things, but there is also much pain
– winter can sure be cold at times.
As Israel faces an uncertain
future – so what else is new? – and the world knows not where it goes, as
each of us struggles with our own personal challenges and questions the destiny
of our lives, as we enter the cold winter and live with the Torah times how
the Jewish people begin their cold and dark bondage exile – the Rebbe Rashab,
one hundred years ago, warms up the winter months and illuminates the dark
exile with a discussion on life devoid of revealed light and the extraordinary
opportunity it presents to change the course of history.
I am referring to the
classic Hemshech Samach-Vav, the magnum opus of the Rebbe Rashab, delivered
one hundred years ago this week (for more background click here).
After discussing the power
of human initiative, that despite the fact that inspiration ignites the “flame”
of the soul, the primary work lies in the effort that follows the inspiration
the Rebbe Rashab goes one step further: Even the very inspiration is bound
to the work below.
The dilemma is this: Our
finite existence by definition means that we are limited entities, bound by
seemingly impenetrable boundaries and confined by impassable parameters. The
fact that we need inspiration to motivate us implies that on our own we would
not be inspired; we therefore require a force outside and beyond
us to get us going. This would suggest that left to our own resources we cannot
lift ourselves to greater places without an outside boost, which of course
means that once the inspiration is gone, we no longer will have enough fuel
to keep us motivated.
This conclusion poses
a fundamental problem as to the purpose of our existence: Since on our own
we cannot rise beyond our limited parameters, what exactly are we accomplishing
through our choices in life? If the inspiration comes from above, then it
is the “above” that is writing the script of our lives, not our individual
choice. Indeed, the inspiration is thus rendered an artificial high, being
that we return right where we began after the inspiration dissipates.
initial premise (as discussed in the previous
segments of this series) is that the purpose of existence is to transform
the material universe into a Divine home; to draw into the finite parameters
of the world the transcendent Divine energy (beyond existence), and beyond
that – a new unprecedented energy that expresses “the innermost aspect and
essence of the Infinite Light,” the essence of the Divine “supra-conscious.”
This purpose dictates
that the infinite energy is generated not through Divine inspiration but through
our personal efforts with our limited faculties. Which brings us back to the
quandary: how do we reconcile inspiration from above with the efforts below?
True, the argument can
be made that we have some room to maneuver with our own efforts. We have the
power to overcome temptation, to choose virtue over vice, to fight for justice,
to add in goodness and kindness. But how high can we actually reach on our
own without the force of inspiration?
Samach-Vav is not satisfied
with the human maneuvers to make the best with our limited tools within the
confines of intrinsic boundaries. It insists – and expects – that we can reach
the skies and beyond, and make it part and parcel of our personal experience.
But how can finite creatures
possibly contain infinite energy without bursting at the seams – it seems
like a mathematical impossibility?
In the mystical terms
of Kabbalah/Chassidus: The finite energy is called “ohr pnimi” or “ohr ha’memaleh”
– internal energy which permeates, influences and can be absorbed by the containers
(“keilim”). The infinite energy is called “ohr makif” or “ohr ha’sovev” –
the transcendent energy, which does not permeate, elevate or influence in
any conscious way the containers.
Explains Samach-Vav that
the finite parameters of our existence are not quite limiting as they first
appear. Being that these parameters – what the Kabbalists call “containers”
(“keilim”) – were put in place by a Divine force, a force that ultimately
originates in the same source which manifests in infinite energy, they therefore
have an internal flexibility, which can be “stretched” through human initiative
to the point that they can experience, contain and even integrate the infinite
light (this is called the state when the “ohr makif” is revealed in the “pnimi’).
A mitzvah accomplishes
the bridge between the infinite and the finite (see Samach-Vav
Part Three, The
Power of a Mitzvah). By refining our lives – through our virtuous mitzvot
– we sublimate the containers and allow them to receive the infinite light.
With that in mind the
Rebbe Rashab, 100 years ago this week, offers a new way to look at inspiration:
The inspiration itself ultimately results from the human effort and initiative.
Yes, there is a level
of inspiration that inspires and lifts us for the moment; an epiphany that
awakens us sporadically at auspicious times. But that inspiration remains
distant and detached from personal experience, and it quickly dissipates.
The greatest inspiration of all is possible only after our exertions,
and then it becomes integrated into our experience.
Two forces are at work
every moment of our lives: One voice that calls us to take care of our own
needs. A second voice that insists we live up to a higher calling. One force
is called the “animal soul” – driven by survival and self-sustenance, even
at the expense of others. The second force is the “divine soul” or “divine
spark” that yearns toward transcendence.
Virtually in every one
of our experiences we are faced with making the choice: Will we be selfish
or selfless, will we be controlled by our “body” and material cravings or
by our “soul” and spiritual yearnings? Will the body be a vehicle for the
soul, or the soul a vehicle for the body?
When we exert ourselves
to tame our “animal souls” and narcissistic inclinations and commit our lives
to our Divine higher calling, we set the stage and earn the right to receive
a dimension of energy that is far greater than our own parameters.
The sages put it thus:
“Open for me [a door as big as] the eye of a needle and I will open up for
you [a door like] the [wide] Hall in the Temple.” All the gates in the Temple
had doors except the on in the Hall (Ulam). All we are asked is to open our
door just a crack, and in return we receive the infinite light – a place that
has no doors at all.
So while it’s true that
this powerful energy is beyond us per se, it can only manifest after we do
our work as best we can and allow G-d to put, so to speak, a “foot in our
The implications of this
are far reaching and teach us much about human exertion and every small effort
we make. Never underestimate human effort. It’s not about quantity. If you
are challenged and you exert yourself – even if it’s like the needle’s eye,
you have stretched your containers to a point in which they can contain the
highest dimensions of the infinite and beyond.
So as we embark into the
cold winter, and the Jewish people begin their arduous exile in Egypt (as
we read in the Torah upcoming portions), a time of no inspiration, it is quite
appropriate that Samach-Vav addresses the power of human effort even in times
True, that we first need
inspiration to ignite the flame of the soul, which is the theme of the book
of Genesis, as its name implies: A blueprint that lays out the genesis and
the framework for all the events to come. You can say that Genesis is the
formative stage of life, when we are educated, trained and equipped with the
tools we will need to face the real world. As the book of Genesis ends we
have in sum the power to face cold exile (see Book
But once we are armed
with this arsenal, we then must enter the next stage in the book of Exodus:
We enter a harsh world that initially enslaves us by the inherent constraints
(Mitzrayim) of material existence, and we have to struggle to find our way
and to maintain our equilibrium.
And here comes the hard
work. Once the inspiration is gone, we must generate energy, and when we do
– even when we open but the “needle’s eye,” we do not merely survive or manage,
but we thrive – we achieve greatness, and we are able to draw down the deepest
levels of inspiration from above.
This relevance of these
weeks discourses in Samach-Vav to the time of the year (winter, exile) is
quite consistent with the ongoing series of Samach-Vav discourses, each apropos
to the time of the year when they were said a centennial ago:
The series (hemshech)
begins on Rosh Hashana with a discussion on the purpose of existence, fitting
to the New Year and beginning of creation (see
Part One). Following the spiritual “high” of the High Holidays and the
so-called “descent” into the regular routine of daily life, the series continues
by teaching how to transcend the monotone of our mundane existence (see Part
Three). As we enter the Chanukah season of lights, the discourse appropriately
weaves into a discussion on the power of light – the flame of the soul and
the light/energy from above – which inspires the efforts from below.
Now, as we enter the depths
of winter and the exile of Egypt, the series returns to the challenge of generating
transcendence from below, once the inspiration dissipates.
And in several weeks (specifically
the week of Parshat Bo), when the Jewish people leave Egypt, Samach-Vav begins
to delve into a profound discussion of the nature of light – the personality
of the kav (the ray of light that follows the great tzimtzum) – Stay tuned.
But for now, let each
of us feel warmed and empowered by the fact that your efforts – even if they
are no more than “opening the eye of a needle” – can change your life and
the life of the universe forever.
We can warm the winter
by escaping to some warm oasis, but then the winter is not transformed. We
have the power to make the winter itself become a source of warmth, which
is only possible when we refine our own containers.
If you want to warm the winter of your life, “open the eye of a needle,”
make one small change, but one of quality – that requires
effort and exertion – and you set in motion a force
that ripples through your life and all the cosmos.
* * *
on Samach Vav...