In October of 2008, just months before the Burj Khalifa was officially opened in Dubai as the tallest building in the world, the UAE government and a firm called Nakheel announced, with much fanfare, that construction would begin on a new, even taller building. Rising to over a kilometer in height, the proposed “Nakheel Tower” would be something the world had never seen.

The project was scheduled to include mind-bending numbers: It would be home to 55,000 people living in residential apartments, and a daily work destination for 45,000 more. It would host 250,000 square meters of hotels, and 100,000 square meters of retail space.

You probably never heard of this building, because just a year later, in December of 2009, the project was shelved.

Sometimes ambitious projects are just that: too ambitious. They gain a lot of steam in the beginning, they generate a lot of excitement, and then—they fizzle out.

Arabian skyscrapers aside, this is a phenomenon we ought to be wary of in our personal lives.

Is This News?

Our parshah opens with its eponymous character Yitro (Jethro) arriving in the desert to greet his famous son-in-law, Moses. As we read earlier, Moses first met Jethro (a Midianite priest) while fleeing his Egyptian pursuers. In what seems to be a trend from that era, Moses met Jethro’s daughter Tziporah at a well in Midian and ended up marrying her.

Despite being steeped in pagan culture, Jethro was moved by the events that had transpired with the Israelites and decided to join their faith. We read of his initial meeting with Moses in the desert, and after their first exchange, the Torah tells us:

Moses told his father-in-law [about] all that the G‑d had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians on account of Israel, [and about] all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and [that] G‑d had saved them.1

Jethro responds with much joy, and the rest is history.

All’s well; as far as father-in-law-and-son-in-law reunions can go, this one seems pretty swell.

But there’s one problem: the entire exchange seems superfluous. The Torah makes it sounds as if Jethro hadn’t heard anything about the Exodus, and Moses is telling it to him now for the first time. But certainly, Jethro knew about it before; after all, the Torah told us very clearly in the first verse of the chapter, “Jethro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G‑d had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that G‑d had taken Israel out of Egypt.”2

The entire premise for Jethro’s arrival in the desert to join arms with the people was because he was so moved by the events of the Exodus! So why did Moses feel the need to tell his father-in-law the details yet again? And why does Jethro seem so surprised to hear it?

When the Flame Starts Dying Down

Moses wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know. Rather, he was trying to see if his father-in-law really possessed the mettle to join G‑d’s people.

To explain: Inspiration is great. It flares up, gets you excited and passionate, and at that stage, you do everything with gusto.

But then, time passes, and if you’re not extremely careful, it can very quickly fizzle out. The only way to ensure continued engagement is to maintain the memory of your original inspiration and try to summon it up as life goes on. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Such is the nature of life.

The people had been taken out of Egypt with the most remarkable miracles and display of G‑dly fireworks. Inspiration was everywhere.

In more Kabbalistic terms, the magnitude of inspiration was off the charts. The Zohar3 speaks of how the people at that time had sunk to the depths of what's called “The 49 Gates of Impurity,” and then, in the blink of an eye, G‑d whisked them away amid glorious miracles. They were simply on a high.

But of course, nothing lasts forever. Soon, they encountered their first challenge at the banks of the Red Sea, and sure enough, they didn’t pass with flying colors. Both physically and spiritually, the people demonstrated that their initial inspiration had already worn off. Some of them were scared, clamoring to turn back to Egypt. Others openly questioned G‑d, renouncing their newfound faith.

It was a struggle.

The beginning was all smiles and inspiration, but then the slog commenced. They were indeed able to carry on, but only by recalling the memory of their initial inspiration and adding a dollop of hard work.

Moses’s Warning

This is what Moses told his father-in-law. The key words are, “Moses told his father-in-law . . . about all the hardships that had befallen them on the way.

Meaning, “It hasn’t exactly been a bouquet of roses. Sure, it was great in the beginning, and we were all very inspired, but then hardships befell us along the way, and it’s been quite a grind—physically, and more importantly, spiritually. So, right now, my dear father-in-law, I can see you’re inspired. And that’s amazing. But what will you do when that wears off? Will you still be on board?”

Jethro answered, “I get it. I know that, and I know that I must keep this initial inspiration, just as you have done. I am aware that my current flame is at its brightest, and I will do my best to keep it burning, even after its initial shine begins to wane.”4

And with that, he was accepted into the fold.

Don’t Flame Out

Jethro was smart enough not to abandon his ambitious project. We ought to do the same.

Remember this: There may come a time when you get inspired. It could be a life-changing epiphany that drives you to completely change your ways, or it could be a small realization that marginally improves one pocket of your life.

These events do happen, and when the change occurs, you’re the better for it.

But bear in mind that the initial flame will inevitably die down. Know that in advance, so you don’t end up like a sorry construction project abandoned in a desert. Keep that in the back of your head as you go through the throes of the initial passion, and do your best to bottle up whatever inspiration you can to keep you going for many days ahead.

Then, eventually, you’ll be able to top off your personal skyscraper.5