Perpetuating Inspiration  

Shmuli Hecht, Sunnyvale, California
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe once shared with his chassidim, “One must serve G-d with his own efforts. A person can reach greater heights in his service when he is led by the hand from Above. It is more precious, though, when one puts in the labor to walk on his own.”[1]

Inspiration. It comes packaged with a fresh burst of energy, motivation, vitality, and at times, happiness. It can be the product of a powerful lecture, time spent with friends, a new year, or simply a sunny morning. By nature, we humans need inspiration to be able to thrive. Without it, life’s joys and successes can be replaced by a depressing blandness.

As elusive as inspiration is, various methods are offered by chassidus to jump-start a person from their unmotivated state and to generate this spark. However, after that original surge, the inspiration seems to dissipate as sudden as its impromptu arrival. One can be left completely unmotivated without even a trace of that previous brilliance. The subject of this essay will be to address the specific challenge associated with maintaining that state of inspiration once achieved.

I would like to suggest a practical method we can use to harness and internalize an inspiration, to the point of making a permanant change and having a lasting affect. I will attempt to do this by explaining and applying the concepts expounded upon in Chassidus—״אתערותא דלעילא״ (an inspiration which is sourced from a divine revelation) and ״אתערותא דלתתא״ (an inspiration that is driven by our work, efforts and actions).

Let’s begin by delving into this challenge. Every human has their personal shortcomings, their perceived limitations and self-categorizations. Chassidus strongly encourages and teaches one how to rise above it all, to transcend these boundaries, to really become better and to succeed beyond any preconceived notion. When, at times of inspiration, this message seems to penetrate, one can truly feel that they have turned a new leaf and left their shortcomings behind.

Unfortunately though, this burst of inspiration is always limited and inevitably will fade away. The elements we thought we had left behind seem to catch up to us. Those faults remain. Understandably, the person may be left feeling frustrated and hopeless. In such moments we might ask ourselves, “Is there another way? Can I possibly use this fleeting experience of inspiration to help me effectively grow and reach my aspirations; to accomplish my goals?”

The question, then, this article poses, is if it’s truly possible to internalize this inspiration. To make it one with ourselves to the extent of being able to affect our mindset and emotions in a real and permanent way. (Or perhaps, its fleeting nature is truly inevitable, rendering any effort to harness it pointless and a waste of time.)

As briefly mentioned earlier, Chassidus divides the process of inspiration into two general phases[2]:

To begin, a brief introduction to the dynamics of body and soul is required. Even after the soul descends below into a physical body, the higher levels of the soul remain above and are not fully clothed in the body. The person is not aware of the higher levels of soul, although he/she may be able feel its impact through subconscious thought.[3]

  • ״אתערותא דלעילא״ (Lit. “an arousal from above“)

When the soul above (meaning the aspects of the soul that are not clothed in the body) receives a divine revelation, this subconsciously arouses and motivates the person below. The person will not be aware of why they feel inspired, but they sense this energy.

Having no relation to our actions or capabilities, this divine revelation is unpredictable, and needs no preparation prior to being experienced. It’s like a divine gift, an extra motivational push to help us get closer to our goal. Because of its spiritual nature, this inspiration has the unique ability to lift a person above themselves and their capabilities, and help them reach to where they never could with their own limited abilities.

The downside of the “arousal from above”, is that this ungrounded inspiration is inherently temporary, and will inevitably cease regardless of its internalization. Its effect though, can be real and permanent if utilized properly. This brings us to the second phase.

  • ״‏אתערותא דלתתא״‏ (Lit. “an arousal from below”)
    This is the phase of inspiration that is associated with human effort that follows the initial “arousal from above”.

The idea of an “arousal from below” can be expressed in two possible ways, with the second one being the key to internalizing our inspirational moments.

A: The “arousal from below” which is the actions and efforts that are a direct expression and in response to the above-mentioned divine revelation.

This scenario is when a person’s actions in his “arousal from below” are not truly his/her “own”—but merely a response to the subconscious feeling of inspiration. Here is where the person reacts to this divine calling by putting in an effort and creating tangible differences in their lives. I.e. they channel this inspiration into positive deed and growth.

However, there remains a glaring limitation: since this effort was triggered by, and therefore dependent on, an external source, lacking a true effort and toil (for we are subconsciously pushed and driven towards this basic level of effort), the change remains somewhat external. For this reason, the dissipation of the inspiration leaves the person unaffected, back to his/her starting point. In light of the above mentioned deficiencies, Chassidus views this type of “arousal from below”—although commendable[4]—insufficient for proper divine service. Which brings us to a deeper, and greater level.

B: An “arousal from below” that is independent from the “arousal from above”; Self-motivation.

This scenario is one in which a person himself uses their own real toil and exertion and is not relying on the motivation of “arousal from above” to inspire their actions. This unassisted struggle and self-arousal then allows the person to be a vessel for the divine inspiration, allowing this external force to permeate and change the person—affecting his mindset, emotions, and personality. I.e. the person reaches in their service further than they would ever reach just with their own efforts—for they have internalized the messages that their unbound soul is sending as well! This drive, then, has united with the person and will continue unaffected even after the eclipse of the divine thrust. Because it is truly part of them.

A parable to illustrate this idea:

There were once two paupers which were once graciously lent $10,000 each from a generous individual, to be paid back exactly a year later. Realizing how rare of an opportunity it was, the first pauper took full advantage, and during that year he spent the money on the necessities he was lacking. However, although he enjoyed a year of worry-free spending, when all the funds were depleted, he was left just as poor as he was to begin with.

The second pauper, however, was smart, and instead of compulsively spending all the money, he only bought a few bare necessities, and then invested the rest in opening a business. After a few hard-working months, he had made a nice profit.

When the date to repay arrived, the first pauper was left with a large debt, with no income in sight with which to repay. The second one, on the other hand, was able to pay back the loan in full and was left with a steady income. He had taken full advantage of his opportunity, and was able to extract himself from the life of poverty that he once knew, and re-establish himself with life-changing financial security. His investment of effort enabled him to utilize the loan to make a permanent change in his life.

Now, we will shift back to the challenge of maintaining inspiration. The loan in our parable is like the divine arousal and inspiration. While it may be temporary, we had better not dismiss it because it actually does have the ability to change our lives. We must realize that if we invest in it our own actions and efforts, we will harness, channel, and cash in this inspiration, like the pauper whose very life was transformed through a temporary loan.

Applied broadly, this lesson can be applied to common non-divinely generated inspirations, be it from a teacher, a positive environment, or conducive introversion. Rather than accepting that this spark of inspiration will eventually crash like a cresting wave, we can alter its trajectory and retain it as a drive for continuous growth. Long after the wave has rushed up on the shore, we will continue riding high, because the inspiration is not fueled by the “arousal from above” but it is now truly our own.

Practically speaking, how does one go about ensuring that he will be investing an inspirational moment in a manner that will make the motivation part of him? What can we suggest to this individual who is desperate to make a fundamental and lasting change, so he can remain standing on his own two feet rather than face-planting, after the wave of inspiration deposits him on the sandy beach?

The wisdom of Chassidus teaches us that the deciding factor between the one whose motivation will fizzle out like a sparkler and the one whose motivation will burst into a flaming torch, is entirely in their response to their original “arousal from above” moment. The individual should add either in quality or in quantity, to what they had resolved at that moment of inspiration. Then they stand a chance of spiritual prosperity.

For example, a struggling student in an educational environment, who becomes suddenly inspired to improve, instead of simply acting with this newfound motivation, he/she should create a specific and further challenging goal—more than their fleeting motivation had originally demanded. If the spark of excitement was to get a passing mark on a test, the student should double-down and push themselves to get 100%. Similarly, if a person realizes that their [external] environment and surrounding is what is motivating a positive behavior, they must push that good trait further than what they feel naturally comfortable with. If someone becomes aroused by a Farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) to undertake a specific Chassidishe Hanhaga such as setting a time for Chassidic studies, the suggestion of Chassidus would be to exert themselves to study beyond their initial inclination, or to otherwise challenge themselves further. It is with this additional effort that they stand a chance of truly making a difference.

In summary, and to complete the surfing analogy, if a person simply rides the wave [of inspiration], they will miss their chance. The wave will pass, but they will be left behind. However, if they exerts himself as surfers do, by paddling against oncoming waves, working very hard to catch the “big one”, they will have truly achieved their goal. They will be able to proudly ride the wave—the Wave of a Lifetime of Perpetual Inspiration.

• • •

The two devout and pious chassidim, Yankel and Moshe, had not seen each other for quite a while. Moshe, the elder of the two, had always been a sort of mentor for Yankel, the eager and energetic youngster. Yankel had arrived to the grand marketplace in Leipshitz. A man of humble background, he made a living by peddling tailored garments to the higher class, who would occupy the square during this busy season on their important business. Yankel walked around, hoping his wares would catch the eyes of the hustling passers-by. He was shocked when at the back end of the marketplace he found Moshe deep in Chassidic contemplation.

“Reb Moshe,” Yankel called out excitedly, “what brings you here to the market, so far away from your home?”

“As you know,” said Moshe, as he was jarred from his thoughts, “I am but a simple wagon driver. Although I only usually drive local, I received an offer to bring a prosperous friend to the market and my family needed food to put on the table. I am so happy to see a familiar face here!”

“So,” said Yankel, “how have you been?”

“Well,” responded Moshe, still under the thoughtful influence of his previous meditation, “in my line of work, at times I must push the horse and at times the horse pushes me. I just hope I will have the last say.”

Moshe gently placed his arms on his friend’s shoulders, “We each have that small impulsive horse within ourselves. At times we give it a push. As always, it will strike back. We must hope and pray that the last laugh will be ours. Never give up. Never stop moving. Ultimately, you will make it to your destination.”

The chassidim locked eyes, “Yankel, G-d is with you.”

[1] סה”ש תרצ”ו-ת”ש ע’ 205

[2] מיוסד על לקו”ת ויקרא ד”ה אדם כי יקריב בע”ב

[3] לקו”ת במדבר ד”ה וידבר אלוקים ט”ז ע”א

[4] תו”מ חלק כ”ד ע’ 101