Chazal tell us that spiritual growth does not happen in leaps and bounds. The real battle, the choice between truth and falsehood, life and death, happens in the smallest possible steps – teeny, tiny, micro-movements, not miles.
There is a well-known, oft-quoted midrash: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “My sons, open for Me an opening of t’shuvah like the size of a needle, and I will open for you openings big enough for wagons and carriages to pass through [or like the gates of the sanctuary] – Midrash Shir HaShirim (5:2)
Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler brings an interesting insight about it: We usually understand the idea of “Heavenly aid” in the sense that Hashem provides us with the means by which to serve Him… This may take the form of a good environment, a good teacher, etc. [i.e., the person is put into situations that will help him grow further]… But Heavenly aid can also come in another form: Just as the needle point refers to an inward spiritual reality – the complete penetration of the heart’s obstruction, even if to a tiny extent – the Divine response must be of the same nature…an inward reality in the heart. This is how the world is run. A person makes a choice [to come closer to Hashem] and bores a hole the size of a needle point into the obstruction around his heart…and the “great gate of the Sanctuary” develops from this. This is G-d’s response to our actions… We only need to begin, and Hashem will complete our task. (Strive for Truth, Vol. 3, pg. 91-92)
When we make even the slightest real effort to come closer to Hashem, what results is a small opening in our heart. Always. Without exception. Though we may not feel much different after spiritual growth in Judaism, on a spiritual level a lot is happening. From that small, little impression, Hashem makes a hole the size of a gate in our heart so that the light of t’shuvah can flow in and we are empowered to further our spiritual growth. This too is always…without exception – and regardless of where you currently are in life.
(Material was previously published on www.ShiratMiriam.com.)