Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Inspiration, Application and Preservation

Rav Chaim Ya'akov Goldwicht zt"l, founding Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, often gave the following parable. A maggid once came to town, delivering an inspiring talk. One of the listeners, enraptured by his elevating words, decided to transform his life, elevate his mediocre prayers, devote more time to Torah study, and disburse more funds to charitable causes. Alas, all of these exalted commitments were "spilled out with the havdala wine"! The scenario repeated itself many times. How can we hold on to religious inspiration?

The parasha of nazir provides one answer to this question. In a famous explanation of the juxtaposition of the parasha of nazir to that of the sota, Rashi explains that one who sees a sota b'kilkula should abstain via the nazirite vow from wine. Clearly the sight of the dire consequences of sin naturally leads to inspiration not to fall prey to the yetzer hara of desire. But, the Torah tells us, that inspiration is insufficient. The inspiration must immediately lead to action. Only through this will the inspiration not be lost.

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Shir HaShirim (2:7) "Im ta'iru v'im t'or'ru es ha'ahava ad shetechpatz - if you will awaken and if you will arouse the love until it is desired". The root of the word shetechpatz is CH-F-Ts which means desire or will but also means an object, as in the word cheifetz. Hence, the word shetechpatz can be translated as: until you make it into an object. Based on this reading, Ramban (Emuna uBitachon 19) writes that the verse is instructing us that when love is awakened, when religious inspiration occurs, one must translate that awakening into some physical act of movement toward Hashem in order to solidify the gain. He should immediately perform some mitzvah act to give the feeling expression which in turn helps prevent its dissipation. [1]

In the prophecy of Yechezkel we just read on Shavuos morning, the angels in the "Chariot vision" are described (1:14) as rushing "ratzo vashov - running forth and returning". I once saw a Chassidic teaching explaining that the malachim rush toward the Divine Presence and then "return" applying the new level attained to their Divine connection. Human beings too must emulate the angels in this way whereby every "ratzo", every inspirational moment, must be followed by a "shov", an application to "ordinary" life.[2]

Perhaps this indicates a connection between the parasha of the nazir and the subsequent parasha of the offerings of the n'si'im.[3] The Torah relates that the n'si'im brought wagons and korbanos to the Mishkan area awaiting Divine approval to offer them. After Moshe received this approval, they brought their offerings to Hashem (Chapter 7 ff.). Even without being commanded specifically to do so, the n'si'Im, inspired by the great event of the revelation of the Shechina on the Mishkan, wished to encapsulate these lofty feelings into action. Without even knowing if it would be accepted, they instinctively wished to offer their gift to Hashem. However, it had to await Divine approval to assure that this individual expression was an appropriate form of Divine service.[4] This motif shares in common one theme of the nazir who, as mentioned above, utilizes the vow to translate inspiration into action.

Another crucial element in preserving religious inspiration entails reminding oneself of the event causing the inspiration. Rav Goldwicht zt"l, when he would visit his students in the United States would comment: "'Ani k'mo degel - I am like a flag." Just as a flag reminds someone of the exalted, lofty ideals of the nation, so too does the very presence of the head of a yeshiva remind someone of the inspiration reached in and through the yeshiva. By reminding himself of that experience, the person is able to connect to that which caused the inspiration in the first place and recommit to the changes it motivated him to make. An allusion to this idea is found in the K'tav v'HaKabala quoting Rav Moshe Alshich on a verse, not surprisingly, in the parasha of nazir as well. "V'achar yishteh hanazir yayin - and afterward [after the bringing of the various korbanos and the shaving of the head at the end of the nazirite vow], the nazir may drink wine" (6:20). Why is he called a nazir now after he already completed his vow? Rather, the elevated state achieved is to remain with him forever. But how is this to be accomplished? Perhaps we can suggest, as above, by reminding himself of the feelings of exaltedness reached during the period of the vow. A parallel to this nowadays would be to visit Eretz Yisrael often to be inspired by its holiness especially for those who were privileged to study there. Or revisiting the yeshiva that influenced one's life greatly. Or by visiting and listening to shiurim given by the teachers who inspired the students in the earlier stages of their lives.

Rav Goldwicht zt"l himself stressed the need for constantly remaining receptive to new ideas and even lifestyle changes in order to facilitate spiritual movement upward. He would often state that even though the expression goes: "in one ear out the other", but he would like to add "aval mashehu nish'ar! - something, however small, remains!" When enough of these residual bits aggregate together, lasting change can occur.[5]

Utilizing these methods of translation into action, "recharging the batteries" by reconnecting to the source of our change, and always being receptive to new ideas even if we are not ready yet to adopt them, hopefully, b'ezras Hashem, should assist us in making meaningful strides in our avodas Hashem.


[1] See also Kedushas Leivi (Ma'amarei Shavuos) and Agra d'Pirka (226).

[2] Many other interpretations of "ratzo vashov" have been given and, it being part of the Merkava prophecy, is obviously a very deep concept. Here, we presented a practical interpretation.

[3] Also see The Nazir, N'si'im, and Nuances for a different approach to the connection.

[4] See As G-d Commanded Moshe for expansion on this extremely crucial last point.

[5] This, he explained is the reason the eved ivri who refuses to go free has his ear pierced rather than any other organ. By insisting to remain a slave, he is forfeiting his "ko'ach hash'miya", his ability to be receptive to change, represented by the ear.

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