Feeling Inspired is a Means, Not an Ends

By Yakov Spil

I heard a story last week that touched me and helped clarify an aspect of our avodas Hashem.

The maaseh occured in the days when Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zl was the Mashgiach of Ponovezh. There was a talmid chochom who was close to death and a few talmidim went to be with this adom choshuv in his last hours. This talmid chochom knew that he did not have much time left and he knew when to say shema, vidui, pesukim etc. etc. The talmidim were all davening with him and they were very touched as they witnessed this man’s lofty madrega in his last hours in this world.

He passes away and they cover him and stay with him until the Mashgiach zl comes.

Rav Chatzkel came and said to them, “Genug mit dem bitul! Geit zurik zu di Yeshiva!” “Enough with the waste of time. Go back to the Yeshiva.”

The talmidim answer him, “But, Rebbe, how can this be a waste of time. We were melaveh him to the Next World. We had such hisorrerus from it.”

Rav Chatzkel’s answer is so important I think.

“Hisorrerus iz nisht kein avodah.”

“Feeling inspired is not what constitutes a person’s avodas Hashem.”

When we think about it, there are so many aspects of our avodas Hashem that really and truly are inspiring events or activities, but we are thus missing out on meat and potatoes because this is not true avodas Hashem, they are ancillary. Important and life changing as they may be, they are not what really build our avodas Hashem and our connection to Avinu Shebashomayim.

This hits me because perhaps this is why there are so many “Kinus Hisorrerus” today. This is why so many are looking for chizuk. Could it be we are looking for chizuk because we have not built the proper foundation within ourselves?

Of course, one should go and hear a Rov or a Mashgiach about seminal life events and current events as we recently endured. But one should not think that he has fortified himself in his own Avodas Hashem by going.

It only comes through the struggle and toil we all have experienced in working over a Gemora, or working through some loshon in a sefer and we get it better because we “chorvened” over it. We worked on it. We made a kinyan on it. We all know that feeling.

My question to everyone is, with all of our family obligations and being kovea itim, how do we still make those kinyonim being older? It was much easier when we were younger! I have that longing to achieve still and find it so challening.

Until I heard this vort, I might have thought I was spending my time wisely. Now, I realize that there’s this and there’s that. There’s the need for outside chizuk and inspiration which is always welcome. And there’s the personal yegia.

I wish everyone the brocho to achieve in their own yegia and to reap tremendous nachas from it which encourages us to move on and acquire more Torah.

By the way, I hope we can approach this maaseh on its merits and not go with an idea, “Why did he have to be so critical?!” etc.

The talmidim of those days were extraordinarily special and only wanted to do what would bring nachas to their Rebbe who they admired immensely.

12 comments on “Feeling Inspired is a Means, Not an Ends

  1. Bob-we dissagree-I didn’t say that the emotional component should be downgraded toomuch,but rather IMO it is an insufficient basis for a day to day committment.

  2. The question as to the relationship between emotional experience and committment rooted in Torah observance can also be seen in the firm stances against Chasidus’ excesses by the Gaon of Vilna and R Chaim Vololzhiner ( especially in Shaar Daled of Nefesh HaChaim) as well in the opposition to the Baalei Musar by R Chaim Brisker, and the CI. For more on the CI’s views on this issue, one can see evidence of the same in Emunah VBitachon as well as in the novels of Chaim Grade.

  3. R Moshe Besdin ZL, the founding head of YU’s JSS program, which was one of the US first yeshivos for BTs, always stressed the difference between “it”, and “about it”. It is easy to be inspired by emotional highs and to be let down by conversely emotional lows.OTOH, when one had learned something, that is a constant. Look at it this way-RYBS pointed out that Klal Yisrael given some mitzvos at Marah no more than three days after the amazing events at Kriyas Yam Suf to concretize on a daily and weekly basis what they had experienced, which was already becoming a distant memory.

  4. Some of this discussion points to the need for humility in discussing BTs. That is, nobody, whether a BT or not, should be so ego-driven as to assume he or she knows or can know everything about BTs (motivations, drives, behavior…). There is too much diversity among BTs to allow for this.

  5. I think that Yakov and Ben David are both right –Ben David that the phenomena of using religion to feel special, and Yakov that not everyone does this (I assume Ben David didn’t mean everyone does, though of course he can speak for himself).

    But it is undeniably true that the yetzer hara has an impressive bag of tricks, and sometimes the desire to serve God gets abused because of it (feel free to see this in terms of human psychology if you prefer that).

    I certainly don’t have any profound insight into this age-old issue, so I try to handle it myself (and humbly suggest to others they consider doing the same) by having a rav whom I respect, who knows me well, and who can give me individual-specific guidance. And take the attitude that I need a psak (or at least guidance) from my rav equally for adopting a chumra or a kula.

  6. Ben David: I’m not sure how to respond to you, but I feel some response is necessary.

    In your “environment” where does Hashem fit in?

    Even if we were to accept your scenario that too many frummeh yidden are not balanced in their approach to halocho,there have to be SOME that are taking on “yesh machmirim” in a proper light as stated in the Mishnah Berura. And we know to be true that many are learning the Mishnah Berura and understanding the chilukei deos involved in the various halochos so that they are know how to ask a question to their Rabbi or moreh derech if they are understanding it properly.

    Regarding feeling “special,” I would hope you mean that by being a part of the am hanivchar- and thereby owing the Ribono Shel Olam a great deal of gratitude- we therefore feel honored to be in the “King’s Court”, as it were.

    Hisorerus, is supposed to be that feeling of closeness to Hashem that I can’t let Him down for all He does for me. I love Him too much to not follow the “derech ha’yashar” He has set for His people that I am priveleged to be born into.

  7. This directly relates to several issues I have repeatedly mentioned on this blog:

    When one looks at the narcissistic elements in the BT movement, and at the “pull up the drawbridge” and “chumra one-upmanship” mentalities of the frum world – one sees people who have not surrendered a sense of being “special” as part of being religious – and are, in fact, using religion as an ego-bolstering wedge.

    In this environment, “hisorerus” often translates into another self-directed experience: my feeling special/uplifted is the goal, rather than real avodah.

  8. I have heard this said to Jewish women at home with young children, that they should not lose sight of the importance of their “avodah” in building a Jewish home and nurturing neshamos amid the piles of dirty dishes and laundry.

    We may admire the accomplishments of a mother of kayn yirbu nine, ten or eleven children, but remember that those accomplishments are built one day at a time, each day being 24 hours to get through.

  9. Rav Sholom Brevda mentions often that the Stipler would give chizuk to bnei yeshiva many times a week. If you just get it once in a while, it disappears. That’s why it’s so important to transfer the chizuk immediately into small kabbolos which can last.

    Life always goes in waves. Jump on the “up” times and work hard so you can be propelled even in the “down” times.

  10. Despite the Mashgiach’s vivid language, I think we may be dealing here with primary vs. secondary or tertiary forms of avodah. The Mashgiach was telling his students to make the best use of their limited time (as the ill talmid chacham was doing in his way). This does not rule out helping others and getting inspirational boosts when truly needed. Rather, it means focusing on the most important job at hand.

  11. “This hits me because perhaps this is why there are so many “Kinus Hisorrerus” today.”

    I’ve wondered the same thing. “Chizuk” is an important thing, but as you say, inspiration is not an end to itself, because one is not always walking around in such a state(also, what inspires one person doesn’t inspire another, so the trick is to take out of any speech what one can work with).

    R. Wolbe(quoting Sefer HaYashar)speaks of a cycle of “ymei ahava” and “ymei sinah”(less-energizing days), the latter also being a reality of life.

    Perhaps an extreme example of this is the following story(quoted by R. N.L. Cardozo in “Oh, That I May Believe!”):

    “Once, a young man approached a Jew in the street and told him that his synagogue needed a tenth man to make up a quorum for Mincha, the afternoon prayer. The man responded, “I am an apikores (heretic)!” To this the young man answered, “Since when does an apikores not have to pray mincha?”

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