Daf Yomi Bava Metzia 117
With no sign of rain in the Land of Israel, the people are willing to do anything. Whether that means praying to Hashem or any other god, who cares? As long as something works.
The prophet Eliyahu is pretty disappointed with their attitude and decides to demonstrate once and for all that the Baal is a false god. He challenges the Baal prophets to a dual atop Mt. Carmel. Each will prepare a sacrifice and pray for their respective powers to accept the offering.
All day long, the wicked prophets raise their voices to their deity, but all for naught. Having failed in their efforts, Eliyahu approaches his altar, pours water upon the offering and then utters the Mincha prayer. A fire descends from Heaven and consumes the sacrifice.
And in unison, the people cry out, “Hashem is the G-d!”
Nevertheless, they can’t get Eliyahu’s original challenge to them out of their heads: “How long will you waver between two options?”
Mishnah: A house with an upper story, if the upstairs was ruined and the owner (living downstairs) does not want to repair it, the upstairs tenant may go and reside downstairs.
Gemara: If there were two upper stories, one above the other (i.e. three stories) and the uppermost was ruined, the tenant descends and resides in the story beneath. But if the lower (i.e. middle apartment) got ruined, must the tenant ascend to reside in the uppermost apartment?
Do we say that the owner may tell the tenant, ‘You assumed a name of ascent upon yourself?’ Or perhaps he only accepted one level of ascension; he did not accept two flights upon himself.
Many of us are prepared to take baby steps along our spiritual journeys. We do a little bit for Hashem here, a little bit there. Nothing major, just enough to feel we’ve made Him happy. We seek spiritual growth, but we’ll only accept one level of ascension upon ourselves at a time, and no more.
The Prophet Yeshayahu speaks about this attitude (28:9-10). “To whom shall they teach wisdom, to whom shall they impart knowledge? For instruction by instruction, instruction by instruction, measure by measure, measure by measure, a bit here, a bit there.” Yes, we’re willing to learn Torah; yes, we’re willing to do mitzvos – but bit by bit, we wouldn’t want to overdo things, would we?!
What’s holding us back?
Very often our impediment to spiritual progress is simply, like the Jewish people on Mt. Carmel, we’re still hanging on to our options. Sure, I’ll do the Hashem-thing, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on Baal-life quite yet. We’re okay with doing Jewish, but we’re not up for completely embracing it, hook, line and sinker. We want to keep all our options open, and so our spiritual growth consists of only tiny ascensions.
Eliyahu’s message and Yeshayahu’s prophecy are that you can and will do more than baby steps! It’s time to assume a name of ascent upon yourself! That means throwing yourself into the Almighty’s lap! Embrace your neshama, no strings attached! It’s no longer about the odd time you do something for Heaven; it’s time to make Heaven your middle name!
Does that mean radically switching everything you do from one day to the next? Of course not; people who do that are serving Hashem irrationally. Very often, it’s easy come, easy go. One day, they appear to be completely committed; the next day, they’ve thrown it all out the window, G-d forbid. That’s not the meaning of a name of ascent.
Embracing your name of ascent means committing to a life of spiritual growth. That each day you wake up and ask yourself how you plan to develop your spiritual bonds today. That each night before your close your eyes, you ask yourself how you grew spiritually today. Not radical spiritual growth, but constant spiritual growth!
It’s time to stop plodding along. You are destined to achieve spiritual greatness. May you let go of the mediocre earthly options and utterly embrace your spiritual destiny!