What happens when you run out of inspiration?
Every time the high holidays come this early in the year it is a challenge to feel the inspiration.
Simply put, August and Elul don't fit well together.
August has the laziest days of the summer, when you've already had a month of practice at doing nothing. We sit by the water, and work on our suntans.
Elul is the time of awe and spiritual preparation.
Someone quoted me recently the Yiddish saying about Elul - "in Elul, der fish tzittert in vasser" "in Elul, The fish trembles in the water."
Elul is a time of fear and trembling, when we undertake the spiritual inventory and search for greater inspiration and meaning in our lives.
It is definitely not at all like August.
In any year, when Selichot falls in the month of August, it is difficult to find inspiration.
But this year it is all the more difficult. After 18 months, we are still grappling with the coronavirus crisis, still struggling with this awful illness. And not only that, we are preoccupied with the enormous amounts of day to day minutiae in connection with the coronavirus.
Inspiration is difficult to come by right now.
So what happens when you run out of inspiration?
How do you say Selichot when your heart just isn't into it?
The answer can be found in a passage of the Talmud, Pesachim 117a
״לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר״ — מְלַמֵּד שֶׁשָּׁרְתָה עָלָיו שְׁכִינָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ אָמַר שִׁירָה. ״מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד״ — מְלַמֵּד שֶׁאָמַר שִׁירָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ שָׁרְתָה עָלָיו שְׁכִינָה.
If a psalm begins: Of David a psalm, this teaches that the Divine Presence rested upon him first and afterward he recited the song. However, if a psalm opens with: A psalm of David, this teaches that he first recited the song, and afterward the Divine Presence rested upon him.
This may seem to be an interpretation of a textual anomaly, a simple way of resolving why the order of words is sometimes reversed.
But it actually is a lesson. Sometimes you are inspired and song is natural.
Other times, you are without inspiration. What do you do then?
You read the song without inspiration.
You read the song without inspiration, because sometimes the song will bring inspiration.
You read the song without inspiration, because sometimes the song will remind you of when you were inspired in the past.
You read the song without inspiration, because it's still worth reading the song.
In excellent example of this is the mourner's Kaddish. At the graveside, we tell the mourner to read this prayer. It begins with the words:
"Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world"
Most mourners are not inspired when they saying these words. If anything they feel alienated from this lofty vision of divine redemption. The mourners are often wondering how God could visit this tragedy upon them. So why do we recite the Kaddish?
The answer lies in an idea that many Jewish thinkers have mentioned: we not only have faith in God, but also have faith in ourselves, in our ability to find faith. We know that even after alienation, We can find faith again.
And this is why it is so important to say the song even if we don't feel the inspiration. Because we know that even if we don't feel inspiration now, we will feel inspiration later; perhaps in 2 months, perhaps in 2 years.
We continue to say the song and read the words, and hope the inspiration will come eventually.
That is why we always read the words, no matter what we feel.
What should we do tonight, if we just aren't inspired for the high holidays? Let's read the song, let's read the words.
With God's help, the words will lead us to inspiration.