Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our Spiritual Ladder

There is a well known story that is told of a Rabbi who in a moment of inspiration gets down before the aron hakodesh, the holy ark, and cries out "oy ich bin a gornit", "woe is me, I am a nothing". In the story the chazen sees the rabbi's passion and follows suit. He too gets down next to the rabbi and cries out "oy ich bin a gornit". Not to be outdone, the shames sees the rabbi and the chazen and he gets down next to them and also cries "oy ich bin a gornit".

On seeing the shames next to them, the chazzen turns to the rabbi and says "Look whose calling himself a gornit?".

That story is often used to illustrate how inspired moments may be nothing more than disguised ego. But according to Rav Wolbe in his sefer Alay Shor there is a bigger issue here than the pseudo humility of the rabbi and cantor. What's wrong in the story is the idea that the way to nearness to Hashem and spiritual excellence is in self abnegation.

Rav Wolbe points out that in earlier times musar often expressed itself in tough talk..debunking peoples inflated image of themselves...making them aware of there chesronot, their limitations, so they could make the corrections necessary to serve G-d with a greater degree of shlaimut.

He writes that our times are different. Weak as we are, we cannot climb the ladder to spiritual excellence by beginning with a focus on our flaws.

On the contrary, the Sages of the Talmud taught that a person should always say "when will my deeds reach the excellence of the deeds of my Fathers...Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov." The first rung on the ladder to spiritual excellence is affirming the greatness that inheres within us in potential. We need to believe that we have the capacity for the greatness of the righteous of the generations lying inside.

What keeps us stuck in our mediocrity is not that we have an inflated view of ourselves, that is only our facade. What keeps us stuck is that we don't think enough of ourselves. If we really knew how great we could be in the service of our G-d we would never find where we are now acceptable. We would strive to become that greater self inhering within us .

Ramchal writes that the way to achieve spiritual excellence begins with spending an hour each day thinking about why we were created, what our purpose is, and where we are relative to our calling and destiny. It is believing that we are necessary in the Divine plan and that fulfilling our role is vital to the ultimate redemption that will lead us to self-improvement and growth in the derekh Hashem.

In the shirat ha'b'air, the song of the well, found in this weeks parsha, we find the beautiful and much interpreted verse, "mimidbar matana, umematana nachleail, umenachleail bamot, ..." . The Rabbis understood the obscure verse to be referring to the way to nearness to Hashem. First one receives the Divine inspiration in his/her wilderness, midbar, as a gift,matana, undeserved, a hitorerut d'leaila, an inspiration emanating from on high. Then it becomes the portion of the Divine, nachleail, in which s/he participates in. Until finally s/he ascends the bamot, the high places as his/her own residence.

The starting point of the great spiritual ascent is believing that even in one's wilderness one can receive the gift of call and inspiration if one allows oneself to be available to it.

The great tragedy for most of us is that we are blind to our own giftedness in matters of the spirit. We simply sell ourselves way too short. We are satisfied with much less than that of which we are capable.

You and I can bring Mashiach. We have enormous powers for the good. We can remake ourselves. We can remake our families, our world. True its a process. But the results are guaranteed.

Lets take that first step on our personal sulam, ladder toward self-actualization. Its not about saying "oy ich bin a gornit" no matter how sincere. It is about saying "matay yageyu maasay l'masai avotay" "when will my deeds be as excellent as those of the patriarchs and matriarchs"...
because their excellence inheres in us too.

Lets bring Mashiach now!
Shabbat Shalom!

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