And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 (The Israel Bible™)
As parshat (Torah portion of) Noach was drawing to a close, Avraham, on his own, set out for the land of Canaan. That being the case, it’s puzzling why at the beginning of this week’s parsha (Torah portion) he needed to be told, “Lech lecha, go … to the land that I will show you.” Wasn’t Avraham already on his way?
The holy Zohar poses this question and derives from here a powerful, fundamental insight: It is only because Avraham took the initiative to first set out for Canaan that God then responded and joined, so to speak, in Avraham’s journey. Avraham’s commitment from “below” (itaruta d’ltata) triggered God’s response from “Above,” (itaruta d’layla). This fundamental spiritual law of nature says that God’s shefa, the flow of His influence and participation, directly reflects and corresponds to our actions. This is the inner meaning of (Tehillim 145:15), “The eyes of everyone are lifted toward you,”—meaning that the relationship is first initiated by us, and then—“and You provide each person with food in his time.”
This concept, this reality, is mentioned countless times in the Zohar, and according to Jewish sages this may be the most central principle among all the core principles in the deepest realms of Torah and relationship to God.
Indeed, this inspiration-commitment from below, triggering the inspiration-shefa from above, touches on the essential notion that behind creation God’s “motivation,” so to speak, was to invite the nation of Israel to be His full partner in the directional movement of history. For this reason, God chose to make His actions dependent on ours. This is the most critical power that God handed over to Israel, and it’s for that reason that at the seminal moments of the appearance of Avraham and the nation of Israel on the stage of history, that the operative dynamics were itaruta d’ltata and itaruta d’layla.
There is a natural tendency for people to feel insignificant in contrast to the infinitude of God. Though understandable, this can lead to a passive outlook where one feels the utter inconsequential smallness of one’s actions. The result is inaction and an attitude of leaving everything up to God alone. Therefore, from the outset, this fundamental principle says just the opposite: If you seek blessing from Above, then first take the initiative from below. This is the meaning of (Tehillim 68:35), “Give might to God …” Yes, we contribute might to God.
Of course God is infinite and transcendent, and there are no limits on His power. Still, though He can do anything and everything, in fact He limits Himself to doing almost everything. It’s into our hands that He has deposited one thing: the initial movement, the first step. God waits for us. Only after our initial stirring begins does the Heavenly flow open up; only then God’s great blessings (shefa bracha) elevate all of existence. Like at the splitting of the sea. Only once Aminadav took the first step did the great miracle become manifest.
This very principle is the cornerstone of geula.
“…You who continually mention and call out to God, must never be silent. Do not allow Him to be silent until He completes His establishment, and makes Jerusalem a place of renown in the Land.” (Isaiah 62:6-7)
It is specifically because we constantly yearn and call out that there is an Awakening from above. Similarly, King David said, (Tehillim 102:14-15) “You will arise and mercifully comfort Zion, for the time of her favor has arrived.” — And how is it that we can know that the time of her favor has arrived? — “For Your servants lovingly desire her stones, and favor her dust.” The initial stirrings of loving desire necessarily bring in their wake blessing and salvation. Clearly we all need to appreciate and value the great potential that has been entrusted into our hands. Don’t be fooled into measuring our potential by superficial appearances that insist that our abilities are meager and paltry. On the contrary, measure them by the fact that they are capable of setting in motion boundless waves of Heavenly momentum. Imagine the enormous Hoover Dam on the Colorado river: Imagine one man beginning to open just one floodgate, and the torrent of water that begins to rush through. That’s us. We hold the lever of that floodgate in our hands. Our efforts to just begin to open it, in turn opens the windows of Heaven allowing a flow of Godly light to spill forth and have the impact that was contained in the desire within our initial effort.
One Small, Holy Step
We all encounter times when we feel like what is required of us is just too much. Nonetheless, our deepest roots, the roots of Am Yisroel stretching back to Avraham, call to us saying, “Don’t wait. Do what you can, even the smallest holy step.” Just a bit of effort from below opens wellsprings of shefa from above that greatly assist us as we tread the path of God. So too when we stir our hearts to long for, and to work toward, the redemption of Am Yisroel: We mustn’t despair or allow ourselves to grow weak in the face of the great task. We need to look inside and to appreciate the awesome potential stored up within even our slightest efforts. Avraham took his first step, and we follow in his footsteps.
Yes, we are capable of shaking ourselves awake, and making efforts towards our geula. Let us take our potential to heart; that every small step sets off giant waves, waves that are the heartbeat of the redeemer, that is already now in stride, bringing back the revelation of the Shechina, God’s Presence, to Zion.
Written by Rabbi Reuven Sasson