Making Inspiration real
Yesterday I wrote about inspiration.
I (poetically) compared it to a vapor that quickly disperses.
One thing that made me think of inspiration this way is the phrase that occurs several times in Kohelet.
Many shuls have the minhag of reading Kohelet on the Shabbat of Chol Hamoed Sukkot.
As you know, Kohelet is rather long. So the reader speeds through the text. There is almost no chance to understand the message unless you are extremely fluent in Hebrew.
One phrase that’s repeated several times is “havel havalim.” This is usually translated as “futility of futilities” or “vanity of vanities.”
However, in both Biblical and modern Hebrew, the word “hevel” can also be translated as “vapor.” So, our phrase would become “vapor of vapors.”
I think that this can describe inspiration.
It’s a very soft, volatile thing. It must be captured and nurtured if it is going to produce anything substantial.
Dancing on Simchat Torah
Suppose as a result of dancing on Simchat Torah as person is inspired to learn Torah.
I was in a shiur once when the rav asked, “Why do we dance on Simchat Torah? Why are we so happy? Is it because of all the Torah we learned in the past year?”
At this point everyone who was listening knew that couldn’t be the answer. We all knew that in a comparative sense we had learned very little Torah.
The rav suggested that we dance on Simchat Torah in anticipation of the Torah that we will learn in the coming year.
How do we actualize that inspiration to learn Torah?
We must start small. Baby steps.
Don’t start with a plan to spend two hours each day learning Daf Yomi with Rashi and Tosafot.
That could be a wonderful long term goal, but it’s not a starting place.
Pick a topic. Say, Chumash with Rashi.
Start with five minutes. Every day. That’s right, just 5 minutes.
Read a verse. Translate. Use an English translation to help.
Ask yourself questions about the verse. Think about how you might answer your questions.
Then, look at Rashi and try to understand his answer to your questions.
Do this every day for a week.
The following week reward yourself by adding five minutes onto your daily learning.
Now, 5 minutes may not seem like very much. But, look at this:
Not only that, you will have done it so gradually that without any strain you will have strengthened your learning muscles.
As many of you know, I used to teach Chumash and Gemara at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.
I’m no longer teaching in a yeshiva, so I’ve decided to take on 2 or 3 tutoring clients.
All the details can be found on the Thinking Torah Tutoring page.
Please take a look and pass it on to any friends who may be interested.