Rabbi David Lapin on Tisha B’Av: Small Steps – Giant Leaps

Jul 31st, 2011 by admin in Spiritual Growth
Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

“Exhausted, struggling to breath and unable to see more than a few feet in front of him, the climber focused every ounce of his physical and mental effort just to get one foot in front of the other. It took him years of preparation and weeks of torturous climbing to get to this point. With one slip he could tumble to his death in an instant.” Spiritual climbs also have their dangerous moments. After 49 days of the incremental spiritual climb from Egypt to Sinai, the Jewish people fell to the depths of idolatry in an instant: “They have moved away quickly from the pathway I instructed them, making for themselves an artificial calf” (Shemot 32:8).

Climbing is incremental, one step at a time, it is hard and it is slow. Falling is quick, it is hardly incremental; falling is a virtual quantum change in altitude. This is why Eicha uses the image of a fall to portray the status of the Jewish nation after the Churban Beit Hamikdash (destruction of the Temple): “Hashem threw the majesty of Israel from the sky down to the earth” (2:1). Once, at the very moment that Rebbe was reading this verse his book fell to the ground. “From an exalted peak,” he lamented, “to the depth of a pit” (Chaggiga 5b). Tish’a Be’Av was a cataclysmic tragedy. It is a stark reminder to us how any nation, organization or individual no matter how powerful, if they become arrogant or they panic in fear, can lose their exalted status in an instant.

A Quantum Leap

But there are also strains of festivity in the Tish’a Be’Av dirge. The day caries good tidings too, this is why we do not say tachanun on Tish’a Be’Av and we know that one day it will be celebrated as a festival. Tish’a Be’Av teaches us not only about falls but also about how quickly we can again reach pinnacles of achievement if we choose to.

The fall described by Eicha and amplified by Rebbe, is not a physical fall, it is a spiritual one. And while physical falls only appear to be quantum movements because of the speed with which they happen compared to the climb, spiritual falls really are quantum. A person at the peak of spiritual mindfulness in the moment of crying out Hashem Hu Ha’Ellokim (“Hashem; He is The Power”) at the end of Yom Kippur, can become ordinary and less than ordinary a moment later as he speeds through ma’ariv to get to his meal. In fact, like a quantum particle that can be in two places at once, a person can be in two spiritual places at once. He can be both ordinary and exceptional at the very same moment, simultaneously both righteous and bad.

In the spiritual world there need not be any time separating a low level from a high one. No matter how low a person is at a given moment in time, they can transform to angelic heights in an instant: “Yeish Koneh Olammo besha’ah achat” (“It is possible to achieve an eternity in a moment”) was the axiom of the same Rebbe who commented on the speed and the severity of a fall when his book of Eicha fell to the ground. Rebbe was not drawing our attention to the difference between a fall and a climb. He was alerting us to the difference between changing altitudes in the physical world and in the spiritual world. All physical movement, both horizontal and vertical, is incremental no matter how fast it occurs. Physical climbs are incremental and slow. Physical falls are incremental and fast. But spiritual change, whether climbing or falling, is not incremental at all. Spiritual change is quantum.

Because of its quantum nature, spiritual movement follows different laws from the laws that govern physical movement. For example, in the physical world if a particle has been moving in a specific direction at a given speed, then without further intervention and friction it will continue to move in the same direction at the same speed. Not so in the more spiritual world of quantum mechanics where a sub-atomic particle’s movement is unpredictable even if we know how it has been moving until now.

In the same way, in the physical world, history is a fairly accurate predictor of the future. For example, we use the historic financial performance of a company to predict its future performance. In the quantum world of spirituality, history has little bearing on the future. People that have shown no tendency for growth in the past may through a sudden disruption of life, transform into individuals with spiritual greatness. In the physical world, we also use statistics to indicate future trends. But in the spiritual world, statistics have limited or no predictive relevance. Consider how both demographic statistics and the history of the Jewish people would have predicted our demise centuries ago. But we are a spiritual nation. Our rises and our falls are quantum not incremental, history and statistics tell us nothing about our future.

Ramping up for Transformation

There is a strange law that governs the construction of the main Mizbeach (altar) in the Beit Hamikdash and the way we bring korbanot (sacrifices). The top of the ramp leading up to the 15 foot-high mizbeach had to be placed at a small distance from the mizbeach surface. This gap between the ramp, the Kevves, and the mizbeach necessitated the Kohannim to have to throw the pieces of carcass to be sacrificed from the ramp onto the mizbeach surface rather than to drag or carry them. There is a shock-factor in that throw: we are never permitted to throw food, why are we commanded to throw our korbanot onto G-d’s table, the mizbeach?

The ramp represents the incremental climb by which the physical (the animal) prepares to be converted into the spiritual (the burning korban). However, there is a point in the conversion from physical to spiritual that cannot be incremental. Throwing an object entails a flight through the air. Like a flying trapeze artist there is a moment in time when the object in flight has left the security of one platform before it has landed on the other. This is the moment of transformation. The moment where there is no security in any structure. It is the moment where connection to G-d is the only certainty: the moment of bitachon (trust). This moment as the piece of meat hurtles through the air just for an instant (like the sprinkling of the animal’s blood did a few minutes earlier in the sacrificial practice), is the moment of transformation not only for the korban but also for the person bringing the sacrifice.

We did take 49 days to travel both the physical and the spiritual journey from Egypt to Sinai. But that journey was merely the step-by-step preparation it was not yet the leap of transformation. This 49 day journey was just the “ramping up” to Sinai. The real transformation came when we put “na’asseh” (we commit to observe) before “nishmah” (we commit to learn). Committing to observe something you have not yet learnt is the jump over the gap. In the physical world you need to know something before you can observe it. However, in that quantum moment of bittachon when we said na’aseh venishmah we recognized that in the spiritual world, learning and observance happen simultaneously.

Engrossing oneself in a Talmudic tractate is like practicing the laws of that tractate; experientially doing a mitzvah, is also a moment of learning it. Learning is not the pre-condition for observance; they happen simultaneously.

When at Sinai we said na’aseh venishmah G-d said “who revealed this secret that only angels know, to my children?” In that instant we were at once both human and angel. This is the nature of the quantum: at the same moment it is possible to be you can be both human and angel, both physical and spiritual. At Sinai we made a quantum leap. We transformed into a different category of human being: a part of the Jewish Nation, a species capable of simultaneously being in two places: in heaven and on earth.

Jump with Joy – so that you are not thrown

Tish’a Be’Av reminds us and cautions us about the potential and the quantum nature of spiritual freefalls. But Tisha Be’Av should also remind us how we can instantly transform both nationally and individually from where we are to where we want to be. There are times in life when we stand at the precipice of the ramp. Having taken the 49 steps of incremental preparation to come to where we are, but there are no more incremental steps. The next one is a quantum leap. We have a choice to make: We can stay rooted on the edge of the ramp until Hashem “throws” us over the scary abyss, or we can make a free choice, to joyfully skip over the gap. In any transformation and at each point of moral choice there is a moment of uncertainty and insecurity: “What will happen on the other side?” This is the moment that defines who we are. This is the moment in which we can either panic and fear, or do the right thing and stride onto a higher plane of moral and spiritual being. This is the moment of Bitachon.

When you are faced with a hard decision the outcome of which cannot be fully certain and that might entail some personal sacrifice, follow these steps:

Am I satisfied that doing this is the RIGHT thing in terms of my own value system? If no, examine the correctness of the decision further and explore alternatives. If yes, then:

Have I done everything that is reasonable to prepare for this (walking up the ramp)? If no, outline additional incremental steps of preparation. If yes, then avoid remaining stationary:

Envision, imagine and actually feel the joy of being on the other side, and having the decision behind you instead of ahead of you;

Tune your connection into Hashem and feel your Bitachon in His power;

Use the joy you feel in being on the other side and the power you feel from your connection to Hashem to energize your jump over the little gap ahead of you;

Thank Hashem for the courage and congratulate yourself for the movement.

The Foundation Stone is proud and honored to introduce Rabbi David Lapin of i-Awaken.org to its readers. Rabbi Lapin is a brilliant Torah scholar, thinker and a true Servant of God. We urge people to register on the i-Awaken website.