Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Above & Below
A Simple Jew asks:
It is well known that an isarusa d’l’eila (arousal from above) comes only in response to a isarusa d’lesata (arousal below).
How do you think this concept should be best taught so that a person doesn't draw the mistaken conclusion that he can "control" Hashem's actions, so to speak, by performing actions that he believes constitutes Hashem's will down in this physical world with the hopes that Hashem takes notice and changes His course of action in the person's favor?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
Before I get to your question, let me take it a step beyond isarausa; there is in inherent paradox between Hashgocha and Bechira that has to be addressed first. Does G-d control the world b’hashgocha (through Divine providence), and everything runs exactly as He sees fit, or do we have bechira (free will) to make decisions and thus impact the direction that things take? Simply stated: Do we run the world, does G-d, or is it a shared endeavor?
And there is no single answer (as with all things Jewish) – there are many opinions and nuances to those opinions. Chassidus generally focuses on Hashgocha as primary (with Ishbitz to one extreme) while others emphasize Bechira and personal responsibility – but in any case, there is an element of paradox that remains (and some, such as Breslov, even emphasize the paradox itself).
The Mitteler Rebbe in the beginning of Derech Chaim explains the paradox as essentially about point of view: When viewed from Above, it is indeed b’hashgocha, and when viewed from the perspective of the observer (us) it is (appears to be) bechira based. Or, in other words, one is how it is, and the other is how it appears.
Nevertheless, as long as we remain in this world, it is our perspective that is most essential to our success; we need to take responsibility for our actions and our role. We need to make responsible decisions and maximize our bechira for the good, as the Torah cautions us, “u’vacharta b’chaim (chose life)!” It is our role in this world of action to act properly and seek to cleave to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Indeed, it is His desire that we do our best to change the world for good – and He charges and empowers us to achieve that task.
Yet, we all have our ups and down, as “there is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Koheles). In Yiddishkeit one does not stand in one place – we are rising or we are falling – and through our actions we create a chain of events, along the lines of “mitzvah goreres mitzvah (one good deed brings another).” But G-d plays a role – we aren’t left to our own devices – which brings us to Isarusa d’lesata and Isarusa d’l’eila.
Isarusa d’leila: An awakening (inspiration) that is initiated from above. Hashem does us a favor and inspires us. Suddenly we have new-found energy in avodas Hashem, etc, that we didn’t have before – but since it isn’t internal it doesn’t last on its own. On a more macrocosmic level, some well-known examples of isarusa d’leila would be the festival of Pesach, or Creation for that matter.
Isarusa d’lesata: An awakening (inspiration) from below. Here, we take the initiative and create our own inspiration – which gives Hashem great delight, and He responds by drawing us closer. This time it’s our own, so to speak, so while it’s less powerful, is more lasting and internalized. Now, whether our inspiration is self-induced or induced from Above, that results in a reaction. When we experience an arousal or awakening from above it is less powerful – as it’s not really ours. It’s a fleeting feeling that can be easily wasted and we only use whatever limited amount we take advantage of. However, when it is self-induced, it if far more powerful, as G-d responds with energy far surpassing that which we put in. And most commonly, we experience an arousal or awakening from Above that initiates us to experience an additional arousal or awakening from below and in return a more powerful awakening from above.
These forms of isarusa obviously vary in degree and in circumstance, but the process isn’t as simple is either/or. The isarusa-d’lestata-isarusa-d’leila should bring a subsequent isarusa d’lesata, and so too should an isarusa d’leila-isarusa-d’lesata bring a subsequent isarusa d’laeila, and back-and-forth, on and on. So, who does it? G-d certainly sets it all up for us and it’s our job to take the baton and run with it. Does this mean that our avodah and our decisions control G-d?
We know the rule that “Torah lo baShomayim hi (the Torah is not in Heaven),” and G-d gives man the power to determine the Torah’s position. Furthermore, there is the rule that “Tzaddik gozer v’Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu mekayim (the Tzaddik decrees and G-d fulfills). So, it would seem that He gives us that ability and wants us to use it. It seems that it is His specific desire that we control His hand. In fact, all of Creation is really for the sake of the relationship between G-d and humanity, as the Zohar says “be’gin de’ishtimodin lei (or order to know Him),” which is what the isarusa reflects.
May we take advantage of our short opportunity in this world and not waste the awakenings from above or neglect our awakenings from below.