It is said that the AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), the mystic luminary upon whose teachings so much of our understanding of the Kabbalah is based, was more familiar with the passageways of heaven than the streets of Safed, the town in Israel where he lived.

When this was told to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement, he responded: “And I see the passageways of heaven as they are manifest in the streets of Mezibuzh (the village in Poland where he lived).”

Parshas Haazinu

The word haazinu, the name of this week’s Torah reading, is generally translated as “listen.” Literally, it means “give ear.” In that vein, our Sages compare Moses’ call: “Listen O heavens, and I will speak; earth, hear the words of my mouth,” with Isaiah’s prophecy: “Hear O heavens..., listen O earth.”

They explain that Moses was “close to the heavens and far from the earth.” Therefore, he was able to address the heavens at close range. Isaiah, by contrast, despite his lofty spiritual stature, was still “close to the earth and far from the heavens.” And thus he used wording that reflected his level.

But questions arise: Why did Moses address the earth as well as the heavens? And why did Isaiah address the heavens as well as the earth? Why did they not confine themselves to speaking to the realm closest to them?

The answer to these questions depends on a fundamental tenet of Judaism: We must relate to both earth and heaven. For material and spiritual reality are meant to be connected, instead of existing on separate planes. Judaism involves drawing down spiritual reality until it meshes with worldly experience (Moses’ contribution), and elevating worldly experience until a bond with the spiritual is established (Isaiah’s contribution).

Indeed, the two initiatives can be seen as phases in a sequence. By revealing the Torah, Moses endowed every individual with the potential to become “close to the heavens.” Isaiah developed the connection further, making it possible for a person to experience being “close to heavens” while “close to the earth” — involved in the mundane details of material life.

In a more particular sense, “the heavens” can be seen as an analogy for the Torah. The Torah is G‑d’s word, and through its study a person comes “close to the heavens,” nearer to spiritual truth. Mitzvos, by contrast, are often associated with the earth, for their observance involves worldly matters.

In the first stage of a person’s spiritual development, he should be “close to heaven,” submerged in Torah study. Afterwards, he must realize that deed, not study, is the essential. Each of us must emerge from the protective cocoon of study and become “close to the earth,” shouldering our part in the mission of making this world a dwelling for G‑d.

Looking to the Horizon

These two stages are reflected in the development of mankind as a whole. In the present era, our Sages state that study takes precedence over deed. In the era of the Redemption — the culmination of our human experience — deed will take precedence. For in that era, man’s Divine service will have established a consummate connection between heaven and earth, and we will perceive the G‑dliness that permeates every element of existence.

From G‑d’s perspective, the Redemption has been a reality from the first moment of creation. That’s our Sages’ intent in their interpretation of the verse: “And the spirit of G‑d hovered over the [primeval] waters” as meaning, “This refers to the spirit of Mashiach.”

But G‑d left man the task of bringing that ideal from the potential to the actual. Rather than feeding man “bread of shame,” unearned reward, He afforded man the opportunity of becoming “a partner in creation” by revealing the inner spiritual potential the world contains.

Man does not have to bring about anything new. All he has to do is uncover the potential that already exists.

This serves as a lesson for each of us: When looking at the world, focus on its potential. Don’t get hung up on those factors that are preventing it from being expressed. See the world — and for that matter, yourself — as what it truly is, in the image that G‑d originally intended for it to be.

When we tell that to people — to ourselves and then to others — the message resonates. It rings true because it is true; it’s the real reason for the world’s being here.

Focusing on this message also enables us to achieve a foretaste of the Redemption at present, for conceiving of existence in this manner habituates us to treat the people and the situations we encounter according to G‑d’s desire and intent.

This in turn precipitates the Redemption’s dawn. When a person lives according to this understanding, it’s natural that the people he encounters will be influenced to assimilate this way of thinking into their lives. The ripple effect this brings about creates the setting for Mashiach’s coming, bringing it ever so much nearer.