In this week's haftorah we read how Yeshayahu Hanavi lamented, "Ami lo hisbonan" - My nation did not contemplate. The fact that he began his prophecy with this allegation shows just how essential hisbonanus is. What exactly is hisbonanus, and why is it so important?
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 89) cites the Ramchal who reveals the secret behind hisbonanus. We find that The Torah is likened to a fire. This is because every word is like a coal and if it is untended it will glimmer slightly at best. However, it one fans the coal by toiling to understand the Torah, each coal will burst into a fiery flame. Additionally, a person is endowed with the capabilities needed to reach awesome levels of spiritual comprehension, but this too can only be accomplished if he "ignites the fire" through hisbonanus.
The Ramchal continues that the world was specifically created in this fashion to allow for free will. If at first glance everything would be crystal clear, and we would comprehend the absolute truth of the Creator of the world and the Torah, we would never sin. We would recognize how every mitzvah is a treasure and how every sin is literally a disaster. The yetzer hara would have no dominion whatsoever. In order to balance the scales, Hashem created a world where true knowledge is like a smoldering coal that has the potential to turn into a blaze. Man must choose whether to allow it to remain a dim coal or to ignite it.
With this in mind, writes Rav Wolbe, we can understand how the need for hisbonanus plays a fundamental role in the purpose of creation. Hisbonanus is the motor that triggers a person's seichel to comprehend things properly which aids him in his war against the yetzer hara. The more clarity he has in his role in this world, the less interest he has in sin.
Hisbonanus is the ability to focus on an idea and objectively contemplate the topic with the intention of integrating the knowledge into one's own life. It means taking Torah and mussar ideas that we might already know - but only as a smoldering coal - and turning them into a roaring fire that will burn its way into our minds and hearts. Hisbonanus is also the tool one must use to truly get to know oneself. If one focuses, with composure, on his emotional state, his way of doing things and his life goals, he can come to realizations that will literally change his path in life for the better.
As we approach Tisha B'Av, many feel that they simply cannot relate to the Bais Hamikdosh for which we are mourning. The truth is that it is almost impossible to feel connected without hisbonanus. However, if we take some time to ascertain and contemplate just what we are missing and how it affects us in countless different ways each and every day, we will b'ezras Hashem, be able to mourn, to some extent, the Bais Hamikdosh and thereby ultimately merit rejoicing with it. As Chazal tell us, "All who mourn Yerushalayim will merit rejoicing with it."