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The Motor of Contemplation (Hisbonenus)

Contemplating our life and what we already know about Torah leads to great personal progress.

The prophet’s, Yeshayahu’s (Isaiah’s), first lamentation, as the destruction of the First Temple approached, was not that the Jews had been involved in murder, idolatry, and adultery, as the sources teach. He seemed most concerned that we were not contemplating, even though contemplating is not even one of the 613 mitzvahs.

What makes contemplating so important? The Ramchal writes that Torah is like fire and every word is like an ember. If we leave embers unattended they will glimmer at best. But if we fan the embers by toiling to understand Torah, they will burst into flames. And the same is true for a person’s spiritual level.

The Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lazatto) says this process is part of how G-d goes about granting us free will. If everything were crystal clear at the beginning, and we would comprehend the Torah perfectly, we would be machines to do things right. We must choose to ignite true knowledge so it doesn’t smolder. Hisbonanus (contemplation) is the path that triggers intelligence to uncover the truth and beat the evil inclination (yetzer hara). At which point we will have exercised our free will to achieve a clarity that only at that time “removes” our free will for the better --- through our hard work.

Hisbonanus is the ability to focus on an idea and objectively contemplate a topic with the intention of integrating this knowledge into our lives. It helps us know ourselves. It means taking Torah and ethical ideas that we may already know, but which are only smoldering like embers within us, and make a fire that will burn in our minds and our hearts.

"My nation did not contemplate (hisbonan)". (1:3) From the Haftorah of this week's Torah portion, Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Based on the writings of Rav Shlomo Wolbe


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