Monday, March 24, 2008

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - Bridging The Gap Between Thought & Action

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught,

"Sometimes a person can be thinking good thoughts and he is cleaving and connecting to Hashem. But the thoughts are easily interrupted and forgotten. This is because he has not yet brought them out through speech or action."

Can you think of examples in your life where a holy thought remained in the realm of ideas because you did not act upon it or even discuss your desire to act upon it with another person? Also, has the process of writing blog postings ever helped you bridge this gap between thought and action?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

First off, I've always sort of held the opposite view, I fear that whenever I write down what I'm thinking about, it empties out my head. Once the idea has been written, I feel I cannot really think about it anymore, it has been concretized when it leaves my head. Perhaps for this very reason the Degel encourages expressing holy thoughts so they don't get lost if something else were to distract us.

Rebbe Nachman explains how we need to serve HaShem new every day. No matter what level/understanding we have attained until now, we must serve Him anew, a blank slate waiting to be inspired by HaShem. Contrasting this, Rebbe Nachman also teaches that one can't give over an idea that isn't fully worked through, otherwise one runs a risk of choking one's students on a raw indigestible lesson. He explains that when we give over an idea, we give over our present pnimiyut. This creates a vacuum within us, which sucks in our makifin (that which was previously beyond our ken) so that we can now digest this new loftier understanding. If we pass on this new idea before we have made it pnimi, before we have internalized it, then our students will stumble over makifin that are beyond their ability, and learn in error.

The Noam Elimelech brings down regarding the Akeidah that sometimes our initial thoughts are very holy, but over time, they cool down and lose their initial intensity. For this reason Avraham Avinu chopped the trees that would be used for the Akeidah right away after receiving the commandment. He knew it would take a few days journey and he wanted to enter into the mitzwah with this initial complete intensity. [Perhaps this is part of the reason we start to build the Sukkah on motzaei Yom Kippur.]

I believe the Baal HaTanya mentions that a child's ability to think conscious thoughts doesn't really develop until they learn how to talk. By speaking they allow themselves to hear what is going on within themselves, and in this way they may become aware of the inner world of their mind.

When we tie these lessons together, perhaps we can understand the depth of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim a little better. It seems to me there are three stages to developing an idea, perhaps this relates to the quote of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim which you quoted recently on A Simple Jew:

In the beginning a person needs to learn the simple meaning before he can delve into the mysteries of the Torah. Afterwards, he should return and seek out the simple truth.

First, When we are inspired with a particularly holy thought we should give it the physical vessel of expression in this world, as soon as we can, like Avraham Avinu by the Akeidah. In this way we don't lose the initial excitement that comes with this thought.

However, once we've phrased the holy thought vocally, it awakens us to the depth of that thought as well as provides it with some physical being. Then we can ponder and puzzle over it until we have totally internalized the thought and it has become a part of us. At this point we can properly serve HaShem through this new understanding.

Finally, we then share this thought with others putting it into new and simpler words. In this way we clean the slate of our mind to encounter and relate to the next holy thought.

Despite my original inclination, I've found that what I write up in my blog has a much more lasting impact on me, and it comprises the majority of what I remember from my studies. Whereas the ideas I've kept inside in order not to lose them have simply vanished over time, or become indecipherable.

I know your question was more about experiences, but for better or worse, HaShem made me a person whose thoughts and understandings are his most cherished experiences.


At March 24, 2008 at 1:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

I agree that writing down a thought/idea when it hits you can be useful and capture the magic of the idea before it dissolves.

In terms of uttering the idea, not so sure I've experienced that as useful, although if all of these great thinkers say it’s a good thing, then certainly it is. But for example, haven't we all had the experience of saying, "I'm going to go on a diet." Or maybe it's saving money, or tackling something we've been avoiding, etc. It seems like saying it aloud becomes some sort of substitute for actually doing it, like it releases the pressure that needs to build in the engine for it to really happen.

At March 24, 2008 at 1:51:00 PM EDT, Blogger Freddie said...

For me writing something down is helpful in getting my thoughts clear enough to actually voice it to someone else. But it is the voicing of it to another person that makes it more real. Once someone knows about it, action is then expected. Whereas if I just keep it to myself, well the next thing I know I’m thinking of something else and the idea falls by the wayside. The blogs are nice but for me nothing replaces face to face dialogue with a close friend.

At March 26, 2008 at 5:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

@Alice & Freddie,

Perhaps the reason the Degel Machaneh Efraim says through "speech or action" is because it is different for each person.

For some people saying something aloud may be a powerful encouragement, for other people, putting something into action might be the decisive moment.


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