Will is the initiator and the energy that underpins a choice and powers its conversion to action.
© Rabbi David Lapin, 2015
What the Midrash Means Series - 1:15
Power is the way we experience energy. When electricity provides us with power, we experience its energy. We experience the energy of others when we feel the power of their personalities. When we experience G-d’s power in our lives, we feel His energy. The most potent energy we can experience is when we feel the power of another’s will.
Simply, the term willpower, connotes the power a person to act in a disciplined way. But the word also suggests a kabbalistic idea that there is a deep source of energy in a person’s will, and that this energy provides people with their power. We will return to the idea of individual power of will, but first consider Divine energy.
In Kabbalah, G-d’s will is often referred to as Or, energy (perhaps the true source of the word aura), and the radiation of His energy to us as he’arrah. Hashem brought enormous energy into the universe to initiate its creation. This energy was the Or of His will to create the world. Hashem’s will is the fountainhead of His Divine energy, an energy that he radiates to us and that we can experience.
We can access the energy of Hashem’s Divine will and use it to power our own choices helping us overcome the obstacles that can make our choices difficult to act on. We can infuse the energy of Hashem’s will into the world and uplift it. We do this through the vehicle of another force also known as “Or” – the Torah.
The term “Or” is used to refer to the Torah (see the Midrash quoted below) – the Aramaic term for which is Oraaitta. The Torah is both the articulation of G-d’s will, and as such it is also a source of Divine energy. It is through the Torah that we can – so to say – plug into the source of Divine energy and conduct it into our lives and all of our interactions. Conducting Divine energy into the world in this way is how we express the idea of “lettakein olam bemalchut Shamayim” – to uplift the universe with the energy of Shamayim. This is the true meaning of the often misused idea of Tikkun Olam.
Consider the relationship between the Divine energy of G-d’s will used to create the universe, and the Divine energy that we can access through the Torah as explained in this Midrash.
ד"א ועשו ארון עצי שטים מה כתיב למעלה ויקחו לי תרומה מיד ועשו ארון עצי שטים מה התורה
קדמה לכל כך במעשה המשכן הקדים את הארון לכל הכלים מה האור קדם לכל מעשה בראשית דכתיב (בראשית א) ויאמר אלהים יהי אור ואף במשכן בתורה שנקראת אור דכתיב (משלי ו) כי נר מצוה ותורה אור קדמו מעשיה לכל הכלים
(שמו"ר פר׳ ל"ד ס"ב.)
Commenting on the juxtaposition of the instruction to collect contributions from the nation and the first thing to be made from these contributions – the ark to contain the tablets of Torah – the Midrash says:
“And make an ark of shittim wood,” what is written immediately before this instruction? The section of “And take for me a contribution,” then immediately afterwards it says, “and make an ark of shittim wood.” Just as the Torah preceded the creation of everything else so also in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), He placed the building of the Ark before all the other instruments of the Mishkan. Just as energy preceded all the creations of the Beginning, as it says (Bereishit 1), “And G-d said, let there be energy (light),” so also in the case of the Mishkan, the construction starts with Torah (the Ark) which is also called Or (light) as it says (Mishlei 6), “ for a candle is like a mitzvah, and the Torah is Or (light or energy).” All the actions relating to the Torah came first in the building of all the Mishkan’s instruments.
This Midrash comments on more than the respective order with which the world was created and the Mishkan built. The Midrash identifies the energetic source of everything that followed on the first creation. Divine energy, or Or, was the first object or force that was created. All physical matter was formed from this energy. The energy of Divine Or is the stuff from which the universe is created. In the same way, the Torah (the energy of G-d’s will) provides the energetic source of all of our actions. We, the Jewish people, have the capacity to plug into the Torah, the expression of Hashem’s Divine will and use it to power our own choices and overcome the obstacles to implementing the things we choose to do. This is our national willpower, our Divine willpower.
The application of these ideas goes beyond plugging into the power of Divine will, it also informs us about the power of our own will.
As humans we experience two forms of will each of which is a source of energy that drives action. We experience instinctual will and conscious will.
Instinctual and Conscious Will
Each time you take a breath you are reacting to your instinctual will to live. In this case your instinctual will is subconscious and your reaction, breathing, is automatic and unconscious. When you take a glass of water to quench your thirst your action is conscious even though you are reacting to this same subconscious, instinctual will to live. In both cases the energy used to breathe or to drink derives from the will to live. Your will is the source of your energy.
An action can also result from a conscious choice. For example you may decide to spend the afternoon with your loved ones. This choice is not the outcome of an instinctual will, but it does still emanate from a will, the will to set aside the time and dedicate it to your loved ones. The stronger the will to spend time with your loved ones, the more energy and presence you will bring to this special time of togetherness and the more readily you will ignore the barriers and distractions that could undermine your choice. The power of our will to act, helps us overcome the barriers to action. When our choices are not underpinned by a strong will we tend to succumb to the barriers that impede our actions. Strong will, on the other hand, provides the power we need to overcome the obstacles to the choices we make. This is willpower.
Sometimes, as in the case of addiction, what started as a conscious choice converts into an instinctual action. At first a person might choose to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol. After repeatedly acting on this choice the conscious will mutates into an instinctual will and becomes an addiction. An individual can overcome addiction. He does so with a conscious choice underpinned by a very strong will. It is this strong will to overcome the addiction that gives him the power he needs to conquer it. This too is willpower. Animals have no choice but to act on their instincts; humans have choice. As humans we can amplify the power of our will to overcome almost any obstacle or override any instinct to live the choices we make. This is willpower.
When making choices and decisions, try to access the source of the choice in your will. How strong is your will to act? Will is not something that needs to be understood or analyzed, just recognized. Your will, when it comes from a higher place, is one of the ways through which Hashem communicates with you. Your will is spiritual; it resides deep in your soul. It is a powerful force that can give you the energy you need not only to act, but also to overcome obstacles. When your will is the force that energizes your actions, others experience your will and thereby experience some of you at your most quintessential: they experience your aura – your Or. It is this manifestation of your Or that is you at your most attractive, charismatic and impactful.