Where Heaven Meets Earth
G-d came down on Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain. He summoned Moses to the mountain peak, and Moses climbed up – Exodus (Yisro) 19:20
Gazing at the Manhattan skyline — my thoughts drifted to the World Trade Center, whose two mighty towers were felled on what has become known as, 9/11.
As spontaneous thoughts go, it’s difficult to say why our minds wander to different conscious or unconscious memories. In this instance, perhaps my synapses connected the skyscraping theme of this week’s Torah portion — when heaven met earth — with the two twin skyscrapers that rose so mightily into the firmament and then suddenly met their tragic demise.
And as one thought leads to the other, a flow began to emerge…
In the early years of the Word Trade Center I remember a great ad that always remained with me. It was advertising the observation deck of the WTC. The ad consisted of a photo showing a birds eye view of the WTC observation deck. Above the picture were the words: “The closest some of us will ever get to heaven.”
A sad smile came to me as I reminded myself of this ad while reading in this week’s Torah portion about one of the most if not the most momentous event in history: the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
The Midrash offers the following parable to explain what happened at Sinai:
Once there was a king who decreed: “The people of Rome are forbidden to journey to Syria, and the people of Syria are forbidden to journey to Rome.” Likewise, when G-d created the world He decreed and said: “The heavens belong to G-d, and the earth is given to man.” But when He wished to give the Torah, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: “The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms. And I, Myself, will begin”—as it is written, “And G-d descended on Mount Sinai,” and then it says, “And to Moses He said: Go up to G-d.”
Before Sinai, there existed a “decree” that split reality into two self-contained realms: the spiritual and the material, the Divine and the mundane. Spirituality could have no real effect upon the physical world. It remained relegated to the sublime reality of the “heavens.” The material on the other hand could not be elevated—it could be improved and perfected to the limits of its potential, but it could not transcend its inherent limitations and subjectivity. Nor could the spiritual be truly brought down to earth—its very nature defied actualization.
This dichotomy was dissolved at Sinai. A fissure was opened in the inviolable wall, a window from the inner world of the spirit to the external world of the material. Heaven and earth met.
No longer did the old rules apply, where what was inside was locked in and what was outside shut out. The human was empowered to integrate the spiritual and the dark, cold world of matter and imbue it with warmth and light.
The process that began with Abraham and continued with Isaac and Jacob, finally reached fruition seven generations later, with Moses climbing Mount Sinai and G-d ‘descending.’ As discussed in my previous essays, Abraham and his children were primarily concerned with the fundamental struggle between spirit and matter – how to integrate these two worlds. At Sinai the marriage of heaven and earth was consummated.
Life ever since has not been the same. The window that opened at Sinai changed reality forever. Now it became possible to not only scrape the sky but to actually reach it. Though physical skyscrapers were yet to come, the human race on earth was empowered to touch heaven.
Over 3300 years have passed since the sky was scraped at Sinai. During these years much has transpired. Abraham’s teachings, conveyed at Sinai, had reached not only the children of Jacob, but also began reaching the children of Esau and Ishmael. Christianity and Islam were born. Great wars have been fought. Religious wars have been waged – all struggling to make peace between G-d and the universe. Industry and technology transformed this planet. We seemed to have conquered not just earth but the very skies, with our air travel, spaceships and skyscrapers.
Who is not in awe of the New York skyline which, among the many skylines around the world, is a tribute to mans’ tremendous power.
And then, 3313 years later, on September 11th the altered landscape of the New York skyline has rudely reminded us of the fragility of our manmade airplanes and skyscrapers.
Isn’t it interesting that the Midrash uses “Rome” and “Syria” as symbols of the two dichotomous worlds of heaven and earth – each forbidden to travel to the other. Christian Rome and Muslim Syria – West and East – have been at war with each other over the centuries. In our times, Muslim fundamentalism is attacking, in the name of heaven (as distorted as it may be), the secular earthiness of Rome [Edom].
Perhaps they have forgotten Mattan Torah. And this week’s Torah portion is here to remind them that heaven and earth can be joined, that we can and must reach a balance between these seemingly incompatible realities. It happened 3328 years ago at Sinai. And it can happen today.
Until I reminded myself about Mattan Torah, I felt that the WTC observation deck was the closest I would ever get to heaven. Hey, after all I am a man of this earth. I have my share of vices and failings. I was never very optimistic about my secure place in heaven. Of course, we all want heaven for its climate, but hell seems so much more fun for its company. And let’s face it, it’s just so much easier to live an undemanding life.
That was all till Mattan Torah. Sinai has given me – and all of us – hope. Hope that we can get closer than we ever have to heaven.
Again great writing…….
We ALL have heaven on earth! We are surrounded by miracles and wonders on an ongoing basis. We just need to recognize it and behave accordingly. The biggest problem we face, which causes HELL on earth is the capacity for dysfunctional behavior which seems to be part of out genetic make up. Snow is just a metaphor for purity but truth is, a simple amoeba is a pure miracle when you consider its ability to reproduce, grow and be an important part of our environment. Than look at the complexity of man kind and nature…WOW! All working, for the most part in amazing harmony. We surely have been given heaven on earth.If Hashem, can harden Pharoh’s heart , surely he can tweak our behavior for the better.
Such insight Rabbi
who can not relate to these comments and you gave me a chuckle with ” I have my share of vices and failings. I was never very optimistic about my secure place in heaven. Of course, we all want heaven for its climate, but hell seems so much more fun for its company. And let’s face it, it’s just so much easier to live an undemanding life.”
my dear rabbi Jacobson,
now I can really reach as I stretch each day for physical health to meet spiritual healthb’eh.
a gezinten shabbis
Sylvia hope berman (Donnie el’s eemahb’h)
Dear kind holy Rabbi Jacobson, what is going on in phsiciatry world, can health organisation reading minds show Dreams, talk to our mind. I have mikrochips many from differensiert countries in my back, and health organisations in entire world searching me, and demons and hex hurt me badly, but fortunatly I feel holy God is With me and sending his angles to help and keep me and my kids safe, and I feel holy Jewish peoples are correct in faith AS Well AS some Christian and feeling close to holy Kabbalah. Please explaine what is going on in these END times, for peoples, how could we be safe in these danger phsickly world. I feel paradise times coming soon in holy Jerusalem will be made holy God templet. and dead and illness will going away of holy peoples, holy God willing.
I willsaying I have 3 big kind holy sons, first I was vergen When I born hiim, he is holy Jesus, second son holy Moses, i had holy Soul for him in mountains eccoh and last One profet of times holy Jacob or holy Spirit. I am holy mother and I guess holy Messiah is from Jewish peoples. If They are reading for him.please tell us what shall we do more Than these danger hard life, please, dear kind holy Kabbalah, holy Jocobson, friends.