Arousal from Below; The basis of the first part of the three-part expression is the word “Er,” meaning “awake.” The meaning of “mi” is “from.” The basis of the third part of the expression, “Tata’a,” is similar to the Hebrew “tachat,” meaning “below.” Thus the meaning of the three-part Aramaic expression, used widely in Kabbalah and also widely used in Chassidut, is the bringing to wakefulness of the spiritual powers of a human being by his or her own efforts. The opposite of this expression is “Itaruta mi-Le’ela,” Arousal from Above.
In order to facilitate contact between the Infinite and Eternal G-d and the finite and mortal human being, a two-way process of “reaching out,” analogous to an electrical circuit, is necessary. One level issues forth from the Creator; the other from the creature, the human being. HaShem has built into the human being two faculties that enable him to engage in “Itaruta mi-Tata’a:” Intellect and Emotion.
The Midrash describes Avraham Avinu as a youth, emerging into intellectual maturity. On his first encounter with Nature, he asked himself, “Who created the heavens and the earth, and me?” He prayed all day to the sun, the most obvious and impressive manifestation of Nature. When evening came, the sun set in the west, and the moon rose in the east. When he saw the moon and the stars surrounding the moon, he said, “It must be this heavenly body that created heaven and earth, and me.” He remained awake all night and prayed to the moon. In the morning the moon set and the sun reappeared. He concluded, “Neither of these has ultimate power. There must be a Master Who rules over them, to Whom I shall pray and bow down!”
At the time of the Roman persecution, there was an edict issued by the Romans, punishable by death, not to teach Torah. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest of the Tannaim, violated that edict, and was condemned to death. At the time of his execution, it was the time to say “Kriat Shema.” The Romans were combing his flesh with iron combs, an exceedingly painful form of torture, but he concentrated intently upon accepting upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven with love. His students said to him, “Master! Must one go this far!?” He answered, “My whole life, I was concerned that I might not have the opportunity to fulfill the requirements of this verse, ‘And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul…’ (Devarim 6:5) – even if He takes your life! I asked myself, ‘If I ever have the chance to fulfill it, will I be able to? Now that the opportunity has come to me, should I not try?’ ”
Three inter-related manifestations of “Arousal from Below” are:
1) “Tefilah,” Prayer
2) Study of Torah
3) “Teshuvah,” Repentance
As we saw in connection with Avraham, in the Process of Prayer, the human being makes a “leap of faith” and assumes that the Universe must have a Creator, Who is interested in contact with His creature that was invested with the power of speech. The Midrash asks, “Why were all the ‘Imahot,’ the Mothers of the Jewish People, initially barren?” And the answer is given, “Because He wanted to hear their Prayers.” Jewish Tradition maintains that it was the “Avot,” the Forefathers of the Jewish People, who established the Prayers; Avraham established “Shacharit,” the Morning Prayer, Yitzchak established “Minchah,” the Afternoon Prayer and Yaakov established “Maariv,” the Evening Prayer.
The Torah, that was given to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai, offers a peek into the “Mind of G-d.” This peek is enough to show that its Author is interested in Truth, Justice, Humility and Kindness. One soon discovers that the more effort one invests in the study of Torah, the more insight one gains into its profound Truths. Another discovery is that the more one arouses himself to study Torah as an expression of “Itaruta mi-Tata’a” the greater is the sense of holiness that he becomes conscious of, and the more love he feels for HaShem.
Yet, the more one becomes involved with Torah and observance of its Commandments, the greater is the inadequacy that one feels as a Servant of HaShem. And the smaller he feels vis-à-vis the infinite Creator of the Universe. Actually here we have an example of the interaction between “Itaruta mi-Le’ela” and “Itaruta mi-Tata’a.” HaShem calls out to him, “Open up for Me the size of the head of a pin, and I will open for you the size of a barn.” Thus, the Process of “Teshuvah,” Repentance, Return to HaShem, becomes possible. For in fact, “There is no human being so Righteous that he does not sin.” (Kohelet 7:20). A human being gathers all his strength and attempts to return to HaShem. And HaShem, seeing this self-Arousal from Below, sends a tremendous Arousal from Above to draw him very close.