For the week ending 14 June 2008 / 11 Sivan 5768

Ups and Downs in Edinburgh

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Frank in Edinburgh, Scotland

Dear Rabbi,

There’s a personal question that I have for the Rabbi. You see, I am Jewish, and I am on a long journey back to being more observant. The problem is that I notice that shortly after things start going well for me, religiously speaking that is, I mean when I really start to feel enthusiastic and passionate about observance, shortly thereafter I feel as though I fall away from it and lose the charge. This frustrates me because I wonder what’s the purpose of striving and making progress when it only seems to die down afterward. Shouldn’t that enthusiasm be constant and growing? Thanks in advance for your insight, as I need guidance.

Dear Frank,

What you describe experiencing is understandably frustrating, but on the other hand it’s so common that the phenomenon is referred by a specific phrase: “yerida l’tzorech aliya” which means “going down for the purpose of going up”.

The frustration that people feel regarding this perfectly normal, and even beneficial dynamic stems from a misunderstanding of what it’s all about, and from confusing “going down” with “falling”. If one understands the nature of this dynamic, rather than being perturbed by it, he would actually be able to capitalize on it for spiritual growth. I’ll explain:

In so far as the angels represent the epitome of the service of G-d, we can learn from their example how to serve Him. The angels are described as running toward G-d, then retracting from Him, in the semblance of fire (Yech. 1:14). The Talmud (Chagiga 13b) compares this to fire leaping from an oven. Rashi explains that just as fire, which is contained within the restrictive walls of an oven, leaps forth when the lid is removed, and then retracts back into the oven, so too the angels, normally restrained in awe of G-d, temporarily become imbued with passion and fervor in His service, leap toward Him in rapture, but then suddenly recoil back to place.

Since everything angels do is service of G-d, not only their rising toward Him, but also their receding from Him, is service. The explanation of the matter is as follows: Just as a rush of fresh air into the oven sends the fire leaping upward, spontaneous inspiration spurs the angels’ ascent. But this sudden, intense enthusiasm cannot be maintained constantly. Creations of G-d cannot exist continually close to His presence. Rather, the angels rise in fervor and then, unable to sustain that elevation constantly, they draw down the divine inspiration as they descend, integrating it into their place.

This, then, is the difference between falling and going down. The former is without control, with nothing to hold on to, and with no way to stop. Going down, however, is controlled, assured by holding on to something, and directed toward a specific place. This describes the dynamic of “going down to go up” which, far from departing from G-d’s service, rather directs the enlightenment and inspiration of those special, elevating bursts of fervor, into the realm of normal living.

When you experience these ups, then, be prepared for a down. But remember, this is not a free-fall to a lower plane. Rather, as you controllably descend, hold on to the banister of that new spiritual stairway you’ve created and return to your place — a place within which your new elevation can be maintained, integrated and shared with others. And don’t worry; the staircase is bi-directional, remaining there for you to rise even higher next ascension.

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