“If I created him from the heavens, the heavens would spar with the earth. And if I created him from the earth, the earth would spar with the heavens and there would be no peace. I created him from the upper and lower worlds for the sake of peace.”

Bereishit Rabbah 12:8

Peace is great, for the whole Torah was given to make peace in this world, as is written (Proverbs 3:17), “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its pathways are peace.”

— Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Chanukah and Megillah, 4:14

After Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they were expelled from the garden. How did they do after that?

Not very well, it turns out. It didn’t take long for Cain to kill Abel, and by the third generation, Adam and Eve’s grandchildren were worshipping idols.1 It went downhill from there, and by the 10th generation, humankind had deteriorated so badly that the entire population was wiped out in a flood, save for Noah and his family.

Chaos and Conflict

So much devastation as a result of eating from the tree! Was this the plan as G‑d envisioned it? Apparently not. When contemplating what His children had wrought, the verse states, “And the L‑rd saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time. And the L‑rd regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart.”2

So far, so sad. Whatever rosy dreams Adam and Eve may have had, of being partners in creation and building a beautiful palace for G‑d, it turns out that life outside of Eden was every bit as dark and ugly as you might expect. There is very little to feel good about in the first two millennia of human existence.

Then, at the dawn of the third millennium, there’s a ray of light with the birth of our forefather Abraham, who discovered the One G‑d and dedicated his life to spreading monotheism. He and his wife Sarah begin the work of restoring man’s fallen crown.3 But how do we make sense of the horror and chaos of the first two lost millennia, until Abraham and Sarah came on the scene? The Talmud says:

The school of Eliyahu taught: Six thousand years is the duration of the world. Two thousand of Tohu [chaos]; two thousand of Torah; and two thousand years are the period of the Days of Moshiach.4

On the first day of creation, the verse states: “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”5 All of creation was created in potential on day one, and then gradually brought from the potential to the actual on the successive days.6

“And there was evening” refers to the first two millennia of chaos, when the world carried on in darkness. “And there was morning” refers to two millennia of Torah, starting with the birth of Abraham. “One day” refers to the two millennia of preparation for the Messianic era, which began with the destruction of the second Holy Temple and continues to this day. During this time, we carry out the difficult task in exile of joining together the evening and morning, the intermingling of darkness and light, making them one day, one essential whole.7

Duality entered the world with G‑d’s initial decision to withdraw some of His light to leave room for creating a world. In that moment the world split in two: G‑d had introduced the concept of “other.”

On the first day of creation, the Torah does not say, “The first day,” yom rishon, but “one day,” yom echad, because on that day, G‑d was alone in the universe.

On the second day, G‑d separated the waters above from the waters below to create the sky. This introduced tension and division in creation. The world was now divided between upper and lower, heaven and earth, material and spiritual. On the other days of creation, G‑d observed his handiwork and then said “it was good.” But on the second day, G‑d did not say that it was good. On the second day, G‑d created strife, which cannot be classified as “good.”8

Keeping to the theme of the days of creation corresponding to epochs, we can now understand why chaos and conflict reigned during the first two millennia. Mankind was in freefall. Adam and Eve had been ejected from the garden, but as yet they had not been given the tools to repair the damage. They wanted individuality and independence. The result, for their descendants, was alienation and fragmentation—from themselves, from each other, from G‑d. Everyone had maximal independence. There was no cooperation, little communication, no common goals. Each man for himself. The result was utter devastation.

The Number Three: Union and Synthesis

On the third day, G‑d gathered in the waters to create the oceans and exposed the dry land, which then gave forth vegetation. With this he completed the work of the second day and improved upon it. Now the heavens and the earth, the water and the dry land, harmonized to produce grass and trees and flowering plants. On the third day, G‑d said “it was good” twice.

The story of the first three days of creation is the story of our life—the story of why conflict exists and how we can resolve it. On the first day, G‑d was alone. If you are alone, you have absolute peace. There’s nobody to argue with or to disagree with. There’s also nobody to share with, nobody to talk to, nobody to relate to. This was the state before the world was created.

The number two symbolizes strife and division. There are differences of opinion; there are multiple points of view. There are the two poles that characterize everything in creation: Heaven and earth; spirituality and materiality; male and female, right and left. Because G‑d is infinite, these two poles can be infinitely far apart. That’s why it can be so hard to resolve our conflicts, whether within ourselves or with others: The distance between the two extremes can seem unbridgeable.

The union and synthesis of opposites is represented by the number three, when two opposite sides come together and find common ground. Maybe we learn to better understand the other’s point of view and see the value in it. Maybe we realize that we both want the same thing but are coming at it from two different approaches. When two extremes merge, we have created a new entity that has all the advantages of both. The quintessential example is a harmonious marriage. The husband and wife remain individuals, but through their union they become something greater than just two people living side by side. They become a new unit with strengths that neither of them possessed on their own; a new unit with the power to give life.

Straddling Spiritual and Material

The root of our internal conflicts is the fact that our origin is not in one world but two. Our body is from earth, and our soul is from heaven. We straddle a divide between spiritual and material, between infinite and finite. Which one gets precedence? Where should we focus the bulk of our time and energy? Are we here to tend to the needs of the body or the soul? We can call it the “first world” problem: Which world takes precedence? Is it the physical world, or is it the spiritual world?

The demands of life in the physical universe are insistent and pervasive. Even if we choose to live a simple, ascetic lifestyle, we can’t just opt out. The work required just to keep ourselves alive is tedious and exhausting. The daily pressure to earn our keep, to keep clothes on our back and a roof over our head, can suck up all the time and energy that we might like to dedicate to more spiritual pursuits. We can’t escape it even if we tried.

We can blame the stresses and pressures of life in the physical universe on the curse of Adam and Eve. But the need to grapple with worldliness was part of the plan all along. Before coming down to earth, the soul already was in heaven. It already had all the closeness to the Divine it could ever ask for. What gain or benefit is there in coming down into a physical world almost devoid of G‑dliness? This is the question that the Alter Rebbe asks in Tanya: “Why then did their souls descend to this world, to strive in vain, G‑d forbid, waging war all their lives against their evil inclination yet never being able to vanquish it?”9

And so, the Tanya concludes, the primary world is not heaven but earth. Our task here is not to find a way back to heaven or even to make earth more like heaven. Our task is to accomplish something entirely novel—to merge the two worlds, into a place that has all the advantages of both heaven and earth.10

Fusing Opposites

But how do we fuse opposites? How do we take all the disparate elements of creation and bring them all together to serve one function, one purpose? The secret lies in the Torah.

Before putting up a building, an architect must first draw up plans. Likewise, before creating the world, G‑d first looked into the Torah.”11 The Torah is G‑d’s original blueprint for creation, laying out His dream and vision and desire. When G‑d withdrew His light to allow the world to exist, He hid that light in the letters of Torah.12

Before the Torah was given, there was a barrier between the upper, spiritual worlds and the lower, physical world. The two existed as separate domains that could never meet. By giving us the Torah, G‑d removed this boundary. The most refined spiritual energies can be brought down to earth, and the coarsest physical objects can become holy by being used for a holy purpose.13

Torah was given to make peace in this world,14 and Torah itself represents peace: “Its pathways are paths of pleasantness and all its ways are peace.”15

The Ultimate Equalizer

The merging and blending of extremes, represented by the number three, is reflected in the Torah itself. The Torah was given during the third millennium of creation, corresponding to the third day of creation, when G‑d said “It was good” twice. The Talmud16 says, “Blessed is the all-Merciful One, Who gave the three-fold Torah (Torah, Prophets and Writings) to the three-fold nation (Priests, Levites and Israelites) by means of a third-born (Moses) on the third day (of preparation) in the third month: Sivan.

When we study Torah, we use our physical brain, and thus our finite human mind becomes a vessel for G‑d’s infinite wisdom.17 The Torah is G‑d’s gift to us that allows us to balance and harmonize every source of conflict and tension in our life. When we examine our sources of stress in the light of Torah, we often find that the conflict resolves itself.

Just as we were created with a body and a soul, the Torah also has a body and soul, which corresponds to the “revealed” parts of Torah and the mystical teachings of Torah. The revealed Torah encompasses the study of Mishnah, Talmud and halachah, which analyze and dissect all the practical points of Jewish law that govern our daily lives. The Torah represents G‑d’s innermost will and desire, yet it expresses itself in mundane physical matters such as mixtures of milk and meat or a goring ox.18 The mystical part of Torah is Kabbalah and Chassidut, which engages in more esoteric concepts such as love and fear of Heaven and the oneness of G‑d.

Because the Torah has the power to unite opposites, it is also the ultimate equalizer, as the verse states: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G‑d, the leaders of your tribes. ... Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers.”19 Only through the power of Torah can such disparate individuals be drawn together as one.20

Through studying Torah and fulfilling its precepts, we learn how to achieve true harmony. The idea of harmony is not to give up our identity for the sake of the collective. The ideal is that each of us should achieve maximal individuality, developing all our unique strengths and talents, while coming to appreciate and value each other for what we are.

Achieving Unity

A soul in the upper world, before it comes into a body, can be compared to a stem cell, a cell from an embryo at a very early stage of development. Immediately after conception, all the cells of the body are the same. At some point they start to diverge. Some genes are turned on, others are turned off. A cell might develop into a bone cell, a brain cell, or a liver cell. Once a cell is differentiated, it can’t go back. It can never become anything other than a brain cell or a bone cell. Yet each of those cells from one body has the same DNA and belongs to the same person.

Chassidus explains that in the first world, where souls originate, we are undifferentiated.21 We all share the identical G‑dly source, the same spiritual imprint. It’s only when we come into this world that we occupy different bodies and have different roles, personalities, needs and desires.22

Differentiation, at first glance, is the antithesis of unity. Yet G‑d’s infinite creative power is most fully expressed in this diversified world, not in the undifferentiated first world, where everything is subsumed within G‑d’s infinite light.23 Our challenge is to discover within every person, animal, plant and element in this world a reflection of the Divine, which enables us to connect and identify with each other on a deep, essential level.24 This is how we merge heaven and earth to create a new, unprecedented reality.

We were sent down here to this world to make peace: within ourselves, with our families and friends, with the community and the wider world. Abraham and Sarah began that process, reaching out to humankind with love and kindness and readying the world to receive the Torah. As their descendants, we continue that role and mission of unification and integration. Torah is the path of peace, teaching us how to nurture and integrate our physical and spiritual sides. Attaining peace within ourselves is the key to being kind to others, and uncovering the unity and harmony within all of creation.