There are an infinite number of items in the world that we may gain inspiration from. Avrohom Avinu studied the briah and came to the conclusion that there must be a Master of the Universe. Shlomo Hamelech says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard: see its ways and grow wise” (Mishlei 6:6). And Chazal say, “Had the Torah not have been transmitted to us, we would have learned the prohibition of stealing from an ant, the laws of relationships from a dove, tzniyus from a cat, and derech eretz from a chicken” (Eiruvin 100b). There are so many things to learn from if we only pay attention. So please pardon me if I share with you some inspiration that I got from, surprisingly enough, a seltzer machine.
Yes, a seltzer machine. It’s one of those soda stream gadgets where you fill a bottle with water, place it into the appliance, and press a lever. Bingo! There is instant seltzer. You can set the machine to various levels of carbonation according to your preference.
So, what great spiritual lesson can we take from this device? Simple. Here you have a bottle of plain stagnant water, with no apparent movement at all. Although water is the most basic component of organism on our planet, it appears lifeless in its vessel. Yet, suddenly, with the simple flick of a switch, the water is infused with effervescence. It moves, it sparkles, and it tingles your throat, and if you shake it up a bit, it shpritzes out far and wide. Amazing.
This is exactly what Hakadosh Boruch Hu did to Adam Harishon. First, he formed man from dust of the ground. There he lay, a lifeless body of clay. “And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being” (Bereishis 2:7). What a seismic moment this was in creation. Man was filled with the breath of Hashem and was now equipped to infuse life into the entire briah.
In a physical sense, man now had the intelligence to develop Hashem’s earth by sowing, building and innovating. More significantly, he now had the ability to infuse the physical world with spiritual energy, much like Hashem had done to him. His intellect could be used to recognize Hashem’s greatness, his speech to praise Hashem and for tefillah. Both together could be used to learn and teach Torah. He could transform the physical into loftiness, the mundane into something holy. An animal could be infused with kedusha by sacrificing it as a korban. A simple daily meal could be sanctified with the machshavah that it is being eaten to energize man to serve Hashem. A simple amein with kavanah could bring blessing to the entire world and a mere few words of encouragement to someone who could use it can be such a great chesed, strengthening one of the pillars upon which the world stands. We have been imbued with a precious gift, a wonderful power, and the opportunity to utilize them are infinite.
A dybbuk, the wandering neshamah of a sinner, once possessed a man on a street in Vilna and he was brought to the courtyard of the shul. Understandably, this caused quite a commotion, as the man was screaming and a crowd gathered around to witness this wonder. At that moment, the Vilna Gaon was learning in his study. Hearing the uproar, the Gaon opened his window to see what the trouble was. As soon as the spirit saw the tzaddik, he called out in a loud voice, “Rebbi! You are the one about whom it is announced up Above, ‘Be mindful of Eliyahu and his Torah.’ If the rebbi will decree that I leave this man’s body, I will be forced to do so.”
The Gaon said, “I never wanted to have any dealings with your group, and now, too, I don’t want to speak with you.” Undoubtedly, the tzaddik had sound reasons for this. Apparently, this comment made waves amongst the wandering spirits, and shortly afterwards, there was an increase in incidents of dybbukim possessing people. When one of them was asked about the sudden frequency of these incidents, it answered, “We were always afraid that the Vilna Gaon would command us to leave the body, but recently he said that he wants no contact with us, so we are no longer afraid to enter.”
Then it was asked what it was about the Gaon that instilled such fear in them, especially since he leads a normal life, not fasting or torturing himself life some mekubalim. The spirit answered, “A simple meal of the Gaon is so full of kedusha. It is tantamount to the kohein eating korbanos in the times of the Bais Hamikdosh and it is most detrimental to the forces of tumah.”
Hashem instilled in Adam this power of spreading kedusha on the sixth day of creation. But he still lacked the wherewithal to utilize the power to its fullest. For that, he would need special instruments. “Yisroel is cherished, for they were given coveted vessels” (Avos 3:18). These are the mitzvos of the Torah. At the conclusion of the sixth day of creation, the Torah says, “Yom hashishi…,” with a hey hayediah. This refers to the special sixth day of Sivan, the day of Matan Torah. Rashi says that the creation of the world was conditional on our acceptance of the Torah. Why?
Without the Torah, the world would merely be a conglomeration of physical bodies. It would lack spirituality. Hence, it would be temporary and have no eternal value. This is not true life; it would be living only for the moment. With the Torah, we can infuse true life into the briah so that mundane acts can be transformed into eternal ones. It puts real sparkle into life so that it never fizzles out.
There is a machlokes between Tana’im how we should celebrate our regolim. Is it half for Hashem, being immersed in spiritual pursuit, and half lachem, in physical engagement? Or either completely for Hashem or completely lachem? Rav Elazar says: “Everyone agrees that on Atzeres (Shavuos), there must be some component of lachem, physical enjoyment. Why? Because it is the day on which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b).
One would think that we should celebrate Shavuos with ruchniyus, for what better way is there to rejoice over the Torah than by dedicating our entire Yom Tov to limud haTorah and thanking Hashem for this magnificent gift? Yet, Chazal tell us that, quite the contrary, we must celebrate with some gashmiyus, because the Torah helps man fulfill his purpose in this world to take the physical and transform it into the spiritual. Therefore, by indulging in food for a devar mitzvah, we infuse it with ruchniyus, thus demonstrating how to utilize the Torah for this purpose.
If only our avodah was as simple as pressing down on a soda stream lever. One of the great difficulties is that we don’t realize the vast powers that we were given. Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler says, “The yeitzer hara robs us of our most valuable possession: the ani in all of us. He fools us into thinking that what he wants is what I want. But that is the greatest untruth. As the Rambam says, the inner desire of every Jew is to fulfill the commandments of Hashem and to refrain from wrongdoing (Rambam, Hilchos Geirushin 2:20). His true aspiration is to bond with his Creator. About this, Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” (Avos 1:14). Similarly, Hillel said, “If I am here, then everything is here” (Sukkah 53a).
In order for me to utilize my strengths, I must first identify who I am and what I really want, not what the yeitzer hara tells me I want. Only then can I utilize the powers with which I have been endowed to their fullest. One must realize, say the baalei mussar, that the evil inclination is not really part of my essence. He is a foreigner, an invader who tries to hijack my true interests. Our job is to discern between what he wants for us and what we really want for ourselves, and to isolate him.
Shimon Hatzaddik said, “In all my years, I never ate from the korban asham of a defiled nazir except one time. Once, a man from the south who was a nazir came, and I saw that he was good looking, with beautiful long hair in curls. I said to him, ‘My son, what motivated you to become a nazir, who must cut off his hair when bringing his korban?’ He answered, ‘Once, while shepherding my father’s sheep, I went to fill up some water from the spring and I saw my reflection in the water. Suddenly, my yeitzer hara hurried to entice me to capitalize on my good looks for aveiros that will make me lose my Olam Haba. Immediately, I told him, ‘Rasha! Why are you displaying your arrogance in a world that is not yours, in a body that will eventually decay in the earth? I swear that I will shave you off for the sake of Heaven.’ I stood and kissed him on his head and said to him, ‘My son, like you may there be a proliferation of nezirim in Yisroel…’” (Nedarim 9b).
What was it about this nazir that so amazed Shimon Hatzaddik? Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l explained that the fact that this nazir carried on a conversation with his yeitzer hara showed that he recognized that he was a foreign invader in his midst and that what he tried enticing him to do was not what he himself really wanted. Indeed, he expressed himself this way. “Wicked one! Get out of my world! You don’t belong here.” This nazir was in tune with his true aspirations, and he had the self-discipline to isolate the yeitzer hara. With other nezirim, Shimon Hatzaddik wasn’t sure of their sincerity and therefore did not eat from their korban. Here he was sure that this nazir accepted it upon himself totally lesheim Shomayim.
When the Bnei Yisroel said na’aseh before nishma, a heavenly voice rang out saying, “Who revealed to My children the secret of the malachei hashareis, who can say na’aseh before nishma (Shabbos 88a)? How, indeed, were the Yidden able to accept upon themselves the entire Torah without first hearing what their obligations will be? Wasn’t it a foolhardy thing to do? And what is the special quality of the angels that enables them to do this?
It was because at that moment, after spending forty-nine days in the midbar, eating from the monn, the bread of malachim, they were purified and in touch with their essence. They realized that a malach’s power is unlimited because it lacks a yeitzer hara to inhibit it. If so, we can do the same thing. We can isolate the evil inclination so that he doesn’t hijack our will. And nothing can stand in the way of a person’s true ratzon. Hence, they took the bold step of saying na’aseh venishma.
This is also why Hashem had to lift up Har Sinai upon the nation and force them to accept the Torah even though they had already accepted it willingly. Hashem was telling them that there will be times when they want to be on the same lofty level that they are on at the moment. There will be times when the evil inclination will have invaded their midst. And then their acceptance of the Torah will not be so easy. They will have their human limitations. For such circumstances, they had to be forced into acceptance.
Every Shavuos, we relive Maamad Har Sinai. It is a new beginning, a new Kabbolas HaTorah. And to a certain degree, the yemei haSefirah have purified us and we are capable of marginalizing the yeitzer hara and considering him an outsider. It is a wonderful opportunity for reflection, to realize our full potential, and willingly accepting the Torah to help us sanctify ourselves and the entire briah.