Updated: Apr 29, 2020
When someone embarks on any new journey, there is always an initial boost of inspiration.
The beginning is exciting and full of potential.
You know what I’m talking about… like the excitement of a new relationship, the surge of energy at the start of a new exercise routine, the beginning of a marriage, or the thrill of a new job or a business venture… there is always that honeymoon stage. A heightened emotional state. A sense of security that this motivation will last forever. A feeling of true elation and limitless possibility.
The writings of Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Kohen of Lublin suggest that we need to identify and use those moments of enthusiasm to our advantage, and leverage them towards spiritual gain and personal growth.
These surges of energy are a gift.
They appear in our lives when we need them the most – to lift us out of our natural thirst for comfort and familiarity. We can wait for these catalysts or we can work towards change on our own. But change is inevitable. It always takes more energy to start something than it does to stick to it. G-d gifts us these moments to show us a glimpse of our potential. Then, once we have seen what we are capable of, we can look back to that taste of glory, so there will be no question in our minds of our ability to succeed again.
In any honeymoon stage, once the dust settles and reality sets in, the divine sparks of inspiration fade away, and we enter a new stage… a stage in which an immense amount of hard work is required to get back to that inspiring place once again (or an even greater place).
When we enter a new stage and are forced to work hard for a healthy marriage, a balanced routine, mental stability, or growth in our new business, it will likely seem daunting, and at times, unachievable. But we know that success is possible because we have been there before. We can glimpse into the past and look back at of all the great parts. Only this time, our success will be achieved with our own personal effort, without Divine inspiration. Only with our own effort can the inspiration become permanent (or as permanent as can be expected in life - hard situations are inevitable).
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the Midrash on Shir Hashirim (5:2) which says:
“Open up for me one opening like the eye of a sharp needle, and in turn I will enlarge it for you to be an opening through which chariots can go through.”
Effort exerted during the middle stages may sting a bit, like a pin prick. Initiative that is “the opening like the eye of a sharp needle” is that first & difficult push. We all like our comfort zones even if they are destructive. We tend to settle into old and familiar patterns when the going gets tough. That's OK for a time. But to reach up and climb, we have to change what isn't working. Growth and change can hurt - like muscle growth. Growth of any kind happens just outside your comfort zone, but not too far... it's important to find the sweet spot. Once there is painstaking effort, once you are willing to do whatever it takes, the floodgates of success can open.
Nothing valuable comes easy.
A couple of weeks ago we finished celebrating Pesach. Part of the experience is finding creative ways to relive and reconnect with the exodus story. Our sages tell us that during their time in Egypt, the Jewish People sunk spiritually to the 49th level of impurity. What that means in a nutshell… they lost their way. Their priorities became warped and their connection with G-d, themselves and their fellow humans were in a vulnerable place. (Sound familiar?) G-d nevertheless revealed Himself in miraculous ways. The entire story we read on Pesach is all about divine intervention in supernatural ways. It was exactly that spark of inspiration that the Jewish people needed to kick off their journey towards their spiritual and physical exodus experience.
Since that spiritual high was supernatural, the new spiritual level that they attained would not last long without personal effort and a plan in place.
Right after the Jewish people left Egypt, they were bombarded with tests. This stage of life was so different from the open miracles they had grown accustomed to. In Egypt, and during the initial stages of the exodus, all of their needs were taken care of. Under the care of their Egyptian slave-masters, they were fed and had a roof over their heads. There is an element of security in that – even if they were being taken advantage of and abused. Once they left, G-d, Himself provided sustenance for them. They had no need to worry about a thing. After the dust settled, their needs were still being taken care of in many ways, but they had to start putting effort into continued inspiration and into remembering the miracles that G-d provided for them. They had to start working for sustenance. For better or for worse, time allows us to forget… to revert.
The honeymoon stage always comes to an end.
Once the exodus was over, the Jews were thrown into a situation in which they were forced to attain and maintain the spiritual closeness that they had previously basked in without effort. G-d was no longer providing that spark.
Life can often feel like a roller coaster...
One minute you are on top of the world and the next you are in the middle of a global pandemic and having a hard time managing your life.
One minute you are the big boss in your company, and the next moment there are cutbacks and you have been demoted or let go.
One minute you are in love and flying high in your new relationship and the next you are lying on the floor curled up in the fetal position crying because you had a big fight that you are not sure you will be able to work through.
During turbulent times, keeping up some sense of normalcy, order and structure is critical.
This formula is mapped out for us in the period between Pesach and Shavuot. We look ahead and get excited about the prospects of a chance at reaching new heights. About reconnecting with G-d and ourselves. We count the days until the next big milestone. We implement our growth strategies based on prescribed Torah & psychology methods…
In Kohelet (7:14) it says;
“In a time of good fortune, enjoy the good fortune; and in a time of misfortune, reflect.”
The month of Iyar represents the “in between stage” - the “hard work” stage between the initial supernatural spark of inspiration of Pesach, and the stage in which we accomplish the spiritual heights on our own - earning the Torah in our own right on Shavuot (in Sivan).
When inspiration fades during the in-between stages, when you start to question why you have embarked on this journey in the first place, you can keep the motivation alive by reflecting back on the successful days. Journaling or keeping track of the good times (however you choose to do it) can help us remember the moments of inspiration, allowing us to channel those memories, to get us back to that optimal level of achievement (or often reach greater heights).
During this month, we count up - drawing the energy and inspiration from the previous month, while simultaneously looking towards the end-game.
We climb the steep “mountain” towards our ultimate goals, knowing that it’s OK to not be there yet. This month is not about achievement.
It's about the climb.
It's about the journey itself - the effort to bridge the successes of the past with the big hopes for the future.