Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Flashes of Inspiration
When you write a weekly column like I do, you need to come up with ideas frequently. Certainly, Hashem is the source for all my ideas, but I keep my eyes and ears open for them. However, what I’ve found is that the ideas can also be fleeting. While one moment I have an idea which I think will be great for a column, the next I’m distracted and the idea is gone. Trust me, that is very disheartening.
I’m reminded of the story of the Vilna Gaon who was looking somewhat depressed one day. His disciple, R’ Chaim Volozhiner, asked him why. The Gaon said that while he slept, he thought of two thousand interpretations of the words, “Alu zeh banegev, go up in the South.” When he awoke, he tried to remember them, but, since the Vilna Gaon’s personal opinion is that one may not think in Torah before he has said Birchas HaTorah, he forgot them, as Heaven ensured he followed his own rule.
His students davened for him and he later remembered them. I am not saying I’m on the level of the Gr”a, but if he could be saddened by forgetting an idea, then certainly I can. So, I try to take action. When I have these ideas, these flashes of inspiration, I try to jot them down so I can go back to them later and actually write the article.
In fact, that’s what I did with this one, and I’d even come up with the title. So, what was it that caught my attention and made me write these words? It was trying to get dressed in the dark. Yes, waking up in the dark is a challenge, as our bodies are set to wake with the light, as Hashem opens the curtains of Heaven, but since our days work more by the clock than by the sun, it’s not always possible.
The challenge is compounded when you have a spouse (or sibling, roommate, etc.) sleeping in the room and you are trying mightily not to wake them up. So now, it’s a dark morning, and I’m trying to get dressed for shul. Where did I leave my shoes? You might imagine that I’m a very orderly person who always puts them in the same place. But then, you might also imagine you can fly, or that chocolate is dietetic and good for your teeth. While I sometimes put them in the same place, I don’t have enough certainty to find them and put them on in the dark.
Then, of course, there is the obstacle course of nighttime. That collection of furniture and items which during the day are so clear to see, which by night begin lurking around the room creating havoc to any unsuspecting toes that might be trespassing through their domain. And Heaven Forbid that you’ve dropped anything like a child’s building brick or a dry cleaners tag on the floor which may be stepped upon to disastrous results.
Then, you’re even more likely to wake up that sleeping companion, and you certainly wouldn’t want to do that! Turning on a light isn’t an option, because, as I said, that’s what wakes our bodies up. So, what is one to do?
Well, my option is to utilize the flashlight feature on my cellular phone. Its light is small enough to be aimed as I need, but bright enough to cast the shadow monsters back to their rightful places. But again, I don’t want to wake my wife, so I use the light sparingly. And that’s when it hit me – flashes of inspiration.
If I turn my light on for a moment, I can see where my shoes are, in which direction they are pointed, and any obstacles I should watch out for. Even when I turn the light back off, I have a mental picture of where everything is and can gauge my movements accordingly.
To bring that into our spiritual lives, we all experience flashes of inspiration. We have moments of utter clarity, and the trick is to use those times to create the mental picture and plan for the rest of the time when that light will have gone. If you hear a lecture which makes you think, or you have a close call on the road, or you witness something striking, your mind has been illuminated. Now it’s up to you to make sure the flash doesn’t disappear as quickly as it appeared. You don’t have to jot it down, but you should focus on it; committing it to memory.
If your eyes were opened, you should try to hold onto that clarity and vision for as long as possible. Interestingly enough, if you do this, you will likely start to see even more flashes of inspiration; more illumination in your life, and those images will become clearer and clearer. Eventually, you will be able to walk in the dark as if you were always holding a torch, and you will stop stumbling over every little thing.
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