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 But when He wished to give the Torah to Israel, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: 'The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms.'"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 At the Giving of the Torah, G‑d rescinded the "decree" and "schism" (the dual meanings of the word "gezeirah" the Midrash uses) that separated the two realms, enabling and empowering us to begin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 dwelling?!"

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 existence."

"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.

You choose.

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.

Underrated Earth

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.

One World

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.