Recall a time when you felt really inspired. Did the stirring words of a great speaker touch your heart? Perhaps you were inspired by someone who beat great odds. Each of us experiences inspiration differently, as a unique but short-lived “Ah-ha!” moment.

In Parashat Yitro, we recall the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, experienced collectively by the entire Jewish nation. No other people has ever received Divine revelation en masse. At Sinai, the Jewish people shared an all-encompassing state of unity. Rashi states that “they encamped there like one man with one heart.”1 Previous encampments were marred by internal conflicts and discord. Yet, here they were, permeated by a feeling of shared purpose. Their hearts became spiritually aroused, causing the underlying unity among all the Jewish people to be revealed.2

The Jewish people’s united agreement was unprecedented. The first word of acceptance of the Torah by all of Israel, in unanimity, was na’aseh—“we will do,” spoken at the greatest spiritual epiphany ever.

The multidimensional manner in which the revelation at Sinai took place stimulated all the human senses. An all-powerful blast of a shofar reverberated throughout their encampment. All of Mount Sinai shook forcefully, while an ascending smoke enveloped it. A thick cloud hovered over the mountain, while thunder and lightning punctuated the shofar’s crescendo.3

Rashi comments that the people all were able to see that which is heard.4 Perhaps this is most similar to what modern science calls synesthesia, it’s a condition in which the senses react in a novel way to a stimulus usually dealt with by another sense. Imagine your sense of sight perceiving a certain sound as purple, or your hearing designating a specific color as the sound of a violin. All those at Mount Sinai had the heightened ability to actually see sounds. During this elevated state of consciousness, the dimensions of physical and spiritual reality were perceived as one harmonious whole. An entire nation, simultaneously, was able to transcend its previous limitations.

Can inspiration last? It’s not meant to. Inspiration is the spark that lights a flame. It functions specifically to jump-start us into action. Every inspirational experience begins as a brilliant flash and gradually diminishes into a weakened recollection. Without continued efforts, the initial feeling engendered by inspiration cannot be maintained.

Think of the contrast between infatuation and enduring love. The first sensory high of discovering one’s beloved eventually will subside. That initial flash of awareness must be nurtured so that it can grow into a sustainable relationship. Imagine a couple telling one another, ”I love you” on their wedding day, but never repeating it again for 30 years. Blithely saying, “if anything changes, I’ll let you know,” certainly is not what we’d consider a loving relationship. Regularly acting on their love is a way to achieve a loving relationship.

Why do companies, hospitals, schools, etc., prominently display portraits of their founders? Such visual images encourage viewers to connect to their ideals and to continue them. Likewise, mission and vision statements encourage us to activate our raison d’être into daily practices.

Inspiration is the first phase that’s meant to evoke a second phase of continuous effort. In the introduction to his Guide to the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim), Maimonides metaphorically refers to life as “a dark night on a stormy plain.” Lost in the darkness, one cannot see his/her way. Suddenly, a flash of lightning illuminates a pathway. As the light disappears, the faded memory of that flash provides guidance. The pattern of our lives is expressed in this description. We are meant to focus on phase two—utilizing inspiration to create actions.

The Torah’s mitzvot enrich and vivify our relationship with G‑d, self and humanity. Each mitzvah is part of a greater Divinely calibrated and connective system. As the expression of infinite wisdom, Torah and mitzvot act to enrich both our physical and spiritual quality of life. Thus, life can be infused with ongoing meaning and purpose.

How can inspiration be maximized? It’s not a quick fix. As with any worthwhile endeavor, you must invest yourself. Sitting on the couch and binging on junk food while watching exercise videos won’t cultivate a healthier lifestyle. Likewise, just reading self-help books or essays on spiritual growth won’t produce sought-after, optimal results. Yes, those things can offer inspiration, but you have to act on it.

Take upon yourself a hachlata (a practical decision) to initiate a new action aimed to help sustain and increase your inspiration. Through this intentional action, you can mindfully generate a greater resolve to keep the flame of inspiration burning.

Don’t become overwhelmed with inspiration; it is a call to action. What you do with it can maximize the initial spark of inspiration into an ongoing flame.

Making It Relevant

  1. Starting today, resolve to take action towards actualizing an important life goal.
  2. The next time that you get a flash of inspiration to do something, act on it immediately. If you wait until the next day, the inspiration already will have dissipated, and you’ll have rationalized your decision not to act.
  3. Strive to keep the flow going of daily Torah learning to fuel inspiration in your life.