The ‘down’ is only leading to the ‘up’
I remember that around 30 years’ ago, there were a lot of crises because people didn’t know when to back down. A person would make teshuva, go to yeshiva, get some enormous spiritual uplift, start learn Torah for half a year like the Vilna Gaon, or like the Chazon Ish – but after half a year would come the time of ‘night’. But people wouldn’t be willing or prepared to accept that, and they would start to experience some tremendous emotional frustration, as a result.
Rabbenu is telling us something very deep, here: When you aren’t willing to accept this reality, or you aren’t aware of it, that you need to serve Hashem when it’s ‘day’ according to the service of ‘day’, and to serve Him at ‘night’ according to the service of ‘night’, this will lead to you falling even harder – like the Cripple, who was left alone in the forest and who was forced to eat grass.
Each person has two different forces within him
Generally, each person is composed of two different inclinations, or forces. There’s the yetzer hatov, or force for good, which is the Divine neshama (soul) that exists inside of us, and which is a part of Hashem, that only wants good. And then, in order to maintain our free choice and to enable us to work, spiritually, there’s also the Nefesh behemit, or animal soul, inside of us, which wants exactly the opposite things from the Divine neshama.
From the ‘Divine neshama’ side, a person wants to help other people, and he wants to do good. But the animal soul wants to act like an egotist, so then a person only thinks about himself, and he doesn’t even consider other people. But the Divine neshama does think about others, and he’s concerned for others.
All the good, truth and holiness comes from the side of the Divine neshama. All the inclination for evil, and for wanting bad things, and all the thinking about the ‘I’ and the ‘me’, and empowering the forces of tumah (spiritual impurity), that all comes from the animal soul. Rabbenu tells us that when a person doesn’t know the right way to proceed, then from shemayim (Heaven) they cause him to fall into his ‘animal soul’ and then he’s forced to ‘eat grass’ (as happened to the Cripple).
When the animal soul is in charge
Grass is animal food. Rabbenu is hinting to us here that there will be times – and that this will happen to each and every one of us – when their Divine soul will be hidden from them. You won’t feel it anymore, and it won’t light you up anymore. The moment that the light from the Divine soul is hidden from us, the animal soul gets stronger and stronger inside of us.
The Cripple got to the point where he needed to lower himself to eat grass. The meaning of this is that all of a person’s vitality is now coming from his animal soul. If you now tell him some story about politics, he’ll give you his full, rapt, attention. He can listen to that stuff, and discuss it, and talk about it for hours. But if you come and tell him some dvar Torah during these times of katnut, or smallness, he’ll tell you: ‘Leave me alone! Speak to me another time.’
Rabbenu says that for as long as a person hasn’t clarified his path, then he’ll fall into an aspect of the animal soul. All of us have times when the animal soul inside of us starts to get stronger, and then he ‘eats grass’. The meaning of this is that all that matters to him, all that excites him, is the material world. Spirituality simply doesn’t interest him at all, at this time.
Eating grass leads to diamonds
Rabbenu then tells us that the Cripple continues to eat grass until he reaches a type of grass that looks extremely good to him [so he plucks it out by its root], and underneath that grass he finds a precious stone. Here, Rabbenu is hinting about something very deep and wonderful: the purpose of the descent is in order for us to rise up again. Dafka, because we descended into the aspect of having to ‘eat grass’, dafka that’s how we found the precious stone, which hints to an extremely lofty spiritual level.
Ultimately, our descent brings us to an extremely high place.
To be continued…
Abridged and translated from Ohr HaDaat newsletter #108