Editor's note: By far the most important
event in human history is the Giving of the Torah
-- the divine revelation at Mount Sinai recounted in the 19th and 20th chapters
of the Book of Exodus. But what exactly happened on the spring morning when the
Children of Israel gathered to hear G‑d pronounce Ten Commandments from a flaming mountain is not entirely clear. After all, the Torah was already being studied and observed for thousands of years -- by Adam, Noah, Shem, Eber, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers. So either G‑d had already given it to
someone, or some enterprising human had gotten a hold of it on his own. What,
then, was the "Giving of the Torah" about?
The Midrash offers a parable:
"Once there was a king, who decreed: 'The
people of Rome are forbidden to go down to Syria, and the people of Syria are
forbidden to go up to Rome.' Likewise, when G‑d created the world He decreed and
said: 'The heavens are G‑d's, and the earth is given to man.' But when He wished
to give the Torah to Israel, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: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.'"
The Chassidic masters explain:
Before the Giving of the Torah there was a
physical world, and a spiritual realm. You basically had a choice: you could
live a physical life, or you could pursue a spiritual existence.
Or you could alternate between the two (physical on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, spiritual on Mondays, Thudays and Saturdays). Maybe you could even be both simultaneously. But you could
not integrate the two. At the Giving of the Torah, G‑d rescinded the "decree"
and "schism" (the dual meanings of the word "gezeirah" the Midrash uses)
that separated the two realms, enabling and empowering us to begin fulfillment
of what our sages describe as the purpose for which G‑d created the world in the
first place: "G‑d desired to have a dwelling in the lower realms."
What follows is a series of meditations
by Tzvi Freeman on the nature and meaning of this "dwelling below"
(dira b'tachtonim, in the terminology of
Chassidic teaching), based on the writings and talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
Where the Essence Dwells
We were at Mount Sinai, and every dimension of Heaven was folded upon the
Earth as fine sheets upon a mattress. It was then that G‑d declared, "I have
come to my garden, to the place I most desired from the very beginning."
The angels were stunned. Since the outset of existence, they were praising
their Creator in sublime harmony. Amongst them, there is no jealousy or
unpleasantness, only love and brotherhood. No ignorance, no confusion, only
revelation and vision.
The angels look upon our world of cruelty between man and man, of mortal
blindness to the most obvious of truths, and they say, "This place He desires?!
This He calls a garden of delight?! Of all possible worlds, this is the lowest,
the ultimate descent of His Holy Light! And this He chooses for His holy
So the Almighty replies, "For Me, even the most elevated of worlds is a
descent. I began with Infinite Light that contained all things and is the
perfection of them all. Within that light I imagined the shadows of many beings,
and I withdrew that light so that the shadows could become real. And they are
you and your worlds, sustained by a glimmer of a reflection of a ray of the
Light that manages to squeeze its way in. Each world lower than the next, the
Light successively diminished through endless filters and contractions."
"Do I then have a need for the descent of light? Is there anything your
worlds can provide that I lack? I have no needs, no need for fulfillment,
therefore I need no reason for anything I do, including the very act of
"I fashioned your worlds not with a need, not from any cause, yet with a
purpose and a desire: It was that the Infinite Light should meet with the
Absolute Darkness and in their marriage My Essence would be found. And where is
it that these two can meet? Only in the lowest of worlds."
This is what is written in the ancient Midrash, "The ultimate purpose of
creation of all worlds, upper and lower, is that the Holy One, blessed be He,
desired a home in the lowest of all worlds."
How to Be Spiritual
Phil Sofer is an enlightened being. He spends his life in the wilderness far
from humanity, focusing his mind on the higher realms.
Harriet Goldberg is a schoolteacher. She spends her life cultivating small
minds, hoping to nurture their sense of wonder for the world in which they live.
Who is closer to G‑d?
If the world came from G‑d as light comes from the sun, spontaneously, but
with no real interest, then Phil is closer.
If G‑d created a world deliberately, because that is what He desires and
cares for, then Harriet is closer.
Heaven Above, Man Below
Heaven above and the soul of Man below are two halves of a single form, two
converse hemispheres that fit together to make a perfect whole.
Attuned in perfect consonance, they dance a pas de deux of exquisite
form, each responding to every subtle nuance of the other, mirroring and
magnifying the most subliminal inner thought, until it is impossible to
distinguish them as two.
Within the human being is the consciousness of G‑d looking back upon Himself
from within the world He has made.
We sit upon the vortex of Creation.
At the Essence
Do not be misled by those who claim there is no purpose.
They may know life, but not the bowels of its fountain.
They may know darkness, but not its meaning.
They may have wisdom, but they cannot reach higher, to a place beyond wisdom
from which all wisdom began.
They may reach the very source from which all rivers flow. To
the place where all known things converge, where all knowledge is one. But they
have not touched the Essence.
At the Essence there is nothing -- no light, no darkness, no knowledge, no
convergence, no wisdom -- nothing but the burning purpose of this moment now.
In the Work of Our Hands
People imagine that since G‑d is not physical, He must be in heaven. But the
heavens -- and all things spiritual -- are just as much creations as the earth.
Less dissonant, more harmonious, more lucid -- but finite realms nonetheless.
G‑d is found not because the capacity of a place, but because of His desire to be
there. And where is the place He desires to be? In the work of our hands, as
they fix up His world.
In the heavens is G‑d’s light. In our handiwork dwells G‑d Himself, the
source of all light.
For thousands of years, souls wait up in heaven, longing for their moment
upon this earth to do another soul a favor.
Angels burn with jealousy each time a human being turns himself around and
creates beauty in this world.
Heaven is nice, but on the best things, earth has exclusive rights.
People might tell you,
"When you come to work, leave your spirituality at home. Don’t bother us with
your peculiar lifestyle, your ethics, search for meaning… That’s all nice, but
this is business. This is the real world."
There is only one real world,
and it belongs to one real G‑d.