Here’s the short d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI yesterday for parashat Ki Tisa.
In the verses we just read, Torah tells us God has filled the craftsman Bezalel son of Uri with ruach elohim, “spirit of God” or “breath of God.” In the very beginning of Torah, we read that ruach elohim m’rachefet al pnei ha-mayim, “the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” God has instilled in Bezalel that same divine spirit which was manifest at the first moments of creation.
The craftsman Bezalel, it appears, was truly inspired. In / spired — literally it means that someone (or some One) had breathed into him. God breathed inspiration into Bezalel, and in return Bezalel led the team of artisans who made the mishkan, the tabernacle which the Israelites are instructed to build so that Shekhinah, God’s presence, can dwell within and among them.
So is inspiration something you either have, or don’t have? Either God gives it to you, or you’re outta luck? As a writer, my answer is no. Or at least — not exactly. In my experience, inspiration comes and goes, but it can be cultivated. I have learned over the years that there are practices which will help to ready me to receive inspiration when it comes. As it turns out, Jewish tradition agrees with me.
The tradition prescribes a variety of steps which we should take if we seek divine inspiration. They include deep study of Torah, diligence in fulfilling mitzvot, cultivating piousness, and cultivating humility. Doing these things is no guarantee of divine inspiration, of course… but not-doing them is probably a guarantee that if God is offering inspiration, we won’t be primed to receive.
I used to have a quote from the author Jeanette Winterson hanging over my desk. It read:
I do not write every day. I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognize in nature the same slow complicity. The same inevitability. The moment will arrive, always it does, it can be predicted but it cannot be demanded. I do not think of this as inspiration. I think of it as readiness. A writer lives in a constant state of readiness.
I think spiritual life too asks us to live in readiness. Readiness to receive whatever comes. Readiness to experience connection with something greater than ourselves. If we keep our hearts open; if we keep our spiritual selves open; then maybe that wind from Beyond will blow into us and through us, bringing us gifts to share with our community, and gifts to share with the world.