"And I will make your walls [of Jerusalem] of kadkod"—Isaiah 54:12.

"In the heavens, two angels, Michael and Gabriel, disagreed regarding the definition of the word kadkod. One said it is shoham, the other said yashfeh. So G‑d said, 'let it be both!'"—The Talmud.

What is the deeper meaning behind the argument between these two angels regarding the material of which the walls of Jerusalem will be built when Moshiach comes? Is there really a difference whether they will be constructed of shoham (popularly translated as onyx) or yashfeh (translated as jasper)?

Though much has been written about the future redemption, it essentially all boils down to one point: During the Messianic Era, the divide between heaven and earth, Creator and creation, spirituality and physicality, will disappear. The physical will be elevated, pervaded by awareness of its G‑dly essence, and the Creator will no longer conceal His face behind a veil of nature.

Bridging the gap between two entities, when one is inherently higher than and inaccessible to the other, can be accomplished in two fashions:

a) The higher entity can "reveal" itself to the lower one. In this case, though creation is unrefined and unworthy of divine revelation, G‑d – because He is omnipotent – can nevertheless reveal Himself to Creation, thus raising it to the greatest levels of spiritual awareness. This is precisely what happened when G‑d descended into Egypt and revealed Himself to His mitzvah-less chosen nation. This revelation spurred them to flee Egypt and the immorality and depravity it represented, and to embrace G‑d at Mount Sinai. This is the approach of chesed, kindness—granting the unworthy an unearned opportunity to be redeemed.

b) In a slow and arduous process, the lower entity can improve and refine itself until it itself actually becomes higher, reaching the level of the higher entity, and able to interact with it as an equal. This is the path we follow six months after Passover, when we prepare ourselves for a full month for the High Holy Days, repenting and working on our character—elevating ourselves in order to be spiritual beings worthy of enjoying a profound relationship with G‑d. This is the approach of gevurah, severity, discipline and justice; to earn a relationship with our Father in heaven.

Which of these two approaches is preferable? When the Moshiach will come and finally marry heaven and earth for good—will it be a marriage based on divine chesed, or human-earned gevurah?

This is precisely what Michael, the archangel of chesed, and Gabriel, the archangel of gevurah, were debating. Michael claimed that no matter how much a human being elevates and refines himself, as a finite creation, his capacity to reach an infinite G‑d is severely limited. Ultimately, if we are to achieve a genuine and perfect relationship, it must be through a revelation from Above.

Gabriel countered that a relationship that is predicated upon a revelation isn't real. A revelation that isn't earned can never be considered ours; it is superimposed from above, not part and parcel of our nature. Better a less perfect relationship, but one that characterizes who we are, than a higher relationship that is an act of G‑d.

The shoham stone emits a clear and serene light; representing a revelation from Above; constant and unaffected by human fluctuations and imperfections. The sparkle of the yashfeh, on the other hand, flickers and jumps, producing an erratic and unsteady luminescence; symbolic of the vacillations that characterize the human's quest for spirituality and meaning. Hence the debate between Michael and Gabriel regarding the nature of the light of the Messianic Era: Will it be a shoham light or a yashfeh light?

"Let it be both!" G‑d responded. It is within His power to create a relationship based on the highest levels of spirituality, indeed involving His very essence, and nevertheless to cause this relationship to be part of the fabric of creation, not a superimposition.1