Jewish mystical tradition reveals the tremendous power that each human being has to affect the world through the unique gift of freewill. The Zohar itself illustrates this idea when it proclaims, "When man accomplishes G‑d's will below, he causes a parallel rectification above." (Zohar I:35a) This single statement can gives us an understanding of the differences between the beings that inhabit the upper, spiritual worlds, and human beings in the lower, physical world.
G‑d created a system where the ripples of our freewill in the physical world are felt even in the spiritual realms….
The idea that G‑d created a world where humans were given complete freewill is a gift of tremendous magnitude and responsibility in itself. But the Zohar teaches us here that G‑d created a system where the ripples of our freewill in the physical world are felt even in the spiritual realms.
Let's examine this concept on a deeper level through the mystical commentary on the Torah written by the great Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (1194-1270), known as the Ramban.
In the beginning of parashat Vayetzei, Jacob is fleeing from the murderous intentions of his brother Esau after receiving the blessing of the firstborn. On his way to seek refuge in the home of his uncle Laban, Jacob unknowingly sets up camp on the holy site of the future Temple. The Torah recounts the fantastic vision that appeared to him that night:
And behold the ladder was standing on the ground, and the top was reaching up to the heavens, and behold, angels of G‑d were traveling up and down on it. (Gen. 28:12)
Angels are beings that in their essence completely lack freewill….
The question that drives the Ramban's comment here is a simple one: why are the angels going up first, and then coming down? If angels are truly beings of the upper spiritual worlds, then shouldn't they come down first, and then go up? On this point the Ramban writes:
G‑d shows Jacob in a prophetic dream that everything in the world is done through angels, and all that occurs in the world is done through heavenly decrees given to them. Angels themselves that are sent to interact with the world never do anything on their own accord, whether a small or a large matter, until they return and stand before the Master of the World and say: "We have traveled the earth, and behold it is filled with tranquility", or "it is filled with sword and blood", and then G‑d commands them to return down to the Earth and to do what G‑d desires.
Before we delve into the Ramban, let's first uncover the Torah's perspective of an angel. Unlike the popular image of blonde rosy-cheeked children with feathered wings, the Torah understands an angel as simply a messenger. Anything that is doing the will of its Creator is acting as angel. Even forces such as gravity and the tides, which are natural forces that G‑d creates, can be seen as "angels".
Bringing us back to our topic, the Ramban teaches here that angels are beings that in their essence completely lack freewill. They can only fulfill their assigned tasks, which is why they are going up first, to share their report, and then coming down afterwards, to complete their assignment.
Our freewill actions affect this world, and then are sent up to the heavens….
We, on the other hand, unlike every other aspect of Creation, both in the heavenly and earthly realms, are given freewill. Therefore, our actions must affect the world in a completely different way than any other being.
Both the Ramban and the Zohar are pointing out the two opposite cycles of influence based on freewill, one from the side of angels, and the other from the side of humans.
The influence of angels comes from above. Since they cannot act according to their own freewill, they are always reacting to the desires of their Creator. The will of the angels is nullified to the forces of the heavens, so therefore their cyclical flow starts from above.
The way that G‑d created the world proves the great faith that G‑d has in us….
But for mankind, it is the opposite. Our freewill actions affect this world, and then are sent up to the heavens, inspiring G‑d to react to our deeds. Based on our actions here, G‑d reacts in order to bring about the desired result. For us, the cyclical flow starts here, in the physical world.
On another level, we cannot truly oblige G‑d to do anything. Nothing can occur in this world without the desire of the Creator. But that does not deny the existence of this elaborate system that G‑d created in order to elevate us as equal partners in bringing the world to its complete state.
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