If the realization of Dirah Betachtonim—a this-worldly dwelling place for the Essence of G‑d—is the goal of our existence and the direction in which reality ought to proceed, it follows that this must be reflected in the way history charts its course through the seas of Time. Triumphant, heroic and happy periods in Jewish history must in some way represent a climax in Dirah Betachtonim; tragic, traumatic and unfortunate times, a decline in the fulfillment of this goal. Similarly with regard to the future, the great hopes held by Judaism for the end of time must revolve around the ultimate fulfillment of this ideal. Indeed, this thought-system does interpret much of history as rises and falls in the realization of the Dirah Betachtonim goal. In some cases, Dirah Betachtonim sheds new light on apparently sad events, asserting that they too are part of the fulfillment of this ultimate purpose of history. Dirah Betachtonim perspectives on a number of historical events follow.

The Temples

In times of old, the focal point of religious activity was at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was to that edifice that Jews thronged three times annually to “be seen” by G‑d as well as “to see” G‑d1. Jewish law, lore and liturgy abound with laudatory references to the exemplary perfection of service at the Temple; decrying the inefficiency of our worship today, expressing longing for a period when the Temple will be restored and service will return once more to its ideal.

And because of our sins we were exiled from our land... and we cannot go up... and perform our duties in Your chosen house... May it be Your will, Merciful King, that You once again have mercy upon us and upon Your Sanctuary in Your abundant mercy, and rebuild it speedily2 .

What was it about the Jerusalem Temple that made it so distinguished, rendering it the consummate focal point for Jewish worship when it stood, and the longed-for-ideal since its destruction, to this day? The answer from this system’s viewpoint: the Temple was a unique manifestation of Dirah Betachtonim. Firstly, the Temple was quite literally a Dirah Betachtonim, a dwelling place for G‑d on this earth. At that site G‑d was, as it were, attendant in a building of stone. But moreover, it was in fact the very Essence of G‑d, the important dimension for Dirah Betachtonim, that was manifest there, predominantly in its most sacred of chambers.

The Sages relate that the Ark took up no space in the Holy of Holies where it was located. That is, though the ark measured two and a half cubits by one and a half cubits, and the Holy of Holies measured but ten cubits across and ten abreast3, it was nevertheless possible to measure five cubits from each wall to the outer edges of the ark. Put in other words, here was a representation of the unrestricted ability of G‑d in the face of which no impossibilities exist.

Now, the ark had to be made to specific measurements and only if complied with, would it assume its holiness. In effect, then, the ark was on the one hand constrained by specific dimensions, yet these constraints were simultaneously transcended. That is, constraints and the absence of constraints—or the finite and the infinite—coexisted at the ark in perfect harmony. Indeed, were the ark not to be made to specifications and therefore not possess its special sanctity it would not manifest its defiance of spatial boundaries. Specifically because it was made to specific measurements could it lose these measurements. The normally exclusive parameters of finite and infinite were transcended alike—for here G‑d, as He transcends and therefore incorporates both the finite and the infinite, was manifest in physical space.

Now the Jerusalem Temple was preceded by the Sanctuary in the desert. It is generally accepted that the permanent Jerusalem Temple was spiritually greater than the temporary desert Sanctuary. If the aim of these sacred sites was in fact to manifest Dirah Betachtonim, it follows that these two edifices represented progressive stages in the manifestation of Dirah Betachtonim.

The very materials of which each edifice was formed symbolize this progression. As explained, the community between G‑d and the physical represents a climax in union with the Divine on two levels: first, it manifests G‑d’s infinity—that He can stoop so low, that His infinity is not barred from the finite; second, and of greater significance, it involves the essence of reality and the Essence of G‑d. These two aspects were manifest in the Sanctuary and the Temple, respectively: the Sanctuary represented G‑d’s infinite reach; the Temple manifested that the physical is co-essential with G‑d. This progression is reflected in the material structure of these edifices.

The Sanctuary was “roofed” by animal skins, its walls were of wood and its floor was of earth. That is, its physically highest part was fashioned of animal material, its middle part of vegetable matter, and its lowest part of inanimate matter. In other words, it was fashioned of metaphysically higher as well as lower materials, progressively from higher to lower. The Temple, on the other hand, was primarily and virtually entirely fashioned of stone—inanimate material. The reason: The Sanctuary represented the far reach of G‑d, how He extends outward over all distinctions, reaching downward from the greatest heights down to the lowest depths. The Temple, on the other hand, was concerned with essence, to be found specifically in the lowest realm.

Galut (Exile)

Nothing happens by chance, as history follows a course pre-charted by G‑d. Thus, even the most unfortunate events in our history did not just happen, but, on some level, were deliberately brought about—in order to bring reality further along the road towards its ultimate goal, towards Dirah Betachtonim. Even evidently tortuous events, even occurrences referred to as punishment for sins, are part of this odyssey towards the realization of this goal.

For close to two thousand years, we have been in galut, an exile materially as well as spiritually turbulent, painful and debasing. Gone is the Temple in Jerusalem with its manifest spirituality, along with the comforts we are told existed in the Temple times. Jews have to struggle to maintain their spirit, and all too often, to save their very skins. The purpose of this too, according to this thought-system, is to bring about the ultimate in Dirah Betachtonim.

As indicated above, the more lowly, the more indifferent to G‑d, the more G‑dforsaken, the greater the potential for Dirah Betachtonim. For hereby, entities totally devoid of spirituality, thoroughly alien to G‑dliness, respond to G‑d—solely because they are co-essential with G‑d. This is most fully realized through the hardships of galut.

True, the Sanctuary and Temple represented the union of G‑d with the physical, even with mere stones, but that union occurred in a milieu that was essentially harmonious with G‑d: an ideal time, an ideal place and an ideal society for a relationship with Him. Whereas the ultimate in Dirah Betachtonim—the ultimate union of G‑d with that which is inherently unG‑dly—was to be realized only by engaging the most alien and hindering of circumstances, only through encounter with the most remote corners of the globe, with extreme social realities and with harsh, unG‑dly circumstances. It is specifically through sustaining the will of G‑d during these circumstances, through introducing sanctity into these adverse situations, that true Dirah Betachtonim is achieved. First, hereby a victory is achieved for G‑dliness, demonstrating the infinity, the far reach, of G‑d, how He is compatible with even the most G‑dforsaken of circumstances. But more important than the display of victory, of greater significance than the manifestation of infinity—is the realization through galut of the communion of G‑d with a reality which is, in all its overt dimensions (manifestly), thoroughly different to Him: for it, too, is co-essential with G‑d.

Furthermore, when circumstances are ideal, it is these positive circumstances themselves that contribute towards the producing of Dirah Betachtonim. The realization of Dirah Betachtonim is, therefore, in a sense, a state granted by the grace of G‑d. This is especially true of the Divine presence manifest in the Sanctuary and Jerusalem Temple, for there G‑d was manifest, after all, by His own decision. Hence, the true objective of Dirah Betachtonim is short-circuited: it is not indifferent reality in union with G‑d, but a reality upon which G‑d shines that is in unison with Him.

More deeply: Even to the degree that the physical and finite themselves are in fact involved in the relationship, where Dirah Betachtonim emanates from G‑d, the compatibility is, in a sense, imposed from the outside. As it were, it is an external force acting upon reality rendering it compatible, not reality itself involved in a relationship. It is accidental (in the philosophical sense), rather than essential. Hence, it cannot be truly said that indifferent reality is in communion with G‑d: reality itself, its essence—the being of reality, its être—has not been reached.

Under the conditions of galut, on the other hand, Dirah Betachtonim can only be reached by purely human endeavor, whilst challenged by the most adverse conditions: The human himself works through the most negative of circumstances themselves, producing a Dirah Betachtonim. Thus, the very essence of the human being as well as the very essence of these negative circumstances disclose a compatibility with G‑d.

This is not only cause for celebrating “victory,” something meaningful in terms of manifestations—here lies something more significant: where reality reaches community with G‑d by its own endeavors, by working through itself, with nothing, not even ideal conditions, provided by G‑d, then it itself, not its pliable features—the essence, the être, of lowly reality—has reached communion with G‑d. Dirah Betachtonim—essence one with Essence—has now been truly realized.

The Spies

The Torah relates that as the Jewish people were poised for their conquest of the Promised Land, they sent twelve spies on a reconnaissance mission. These men, as stated in the Torah and especially as interpreted by the Sages, were all exemplary pious Jews, leaders of their people. Yet, upon arriving in Canaan they were completely overcome and upon their return led their people in revolt, decrying entering the Land.

What came over them? Leaders of the Jews, men of faith, people who had encountered Divine intervention and miracles repeatedly in their own lives; G‑d told them to conquer the land, why should they be overwhelmed by fear of mere flesh and blood? “These come with chariots, and these with horses, but we raise the banner of G‑d our Lord4!”

This episode assumes a uniquely illuminated character in Dirah Betachtonim. The spies were indeed men of faith; their refusal to enter the land was in fact motivated by deeply felt religious convictions. Their conflict with Moses was a theological one, a disagreement on a central religious issue.

In the desert, the Jews enjoyed an idyllic existence. Manna rained daily from Heaven, the people’s clothes, according to the Sages5, were miraculously cleaned and pressed and even grew with them, and the Clouds of Glory provided protection from all who attempted to disturb them. Free from material concerns, they could devote their time and energies to matters of the spirit. They could pray, meditate and study Torah, reaching the greatest spiritual heights. But now they were to enter Canaan. Food would have to be sown and harvested, clothes spun and woven—what would become of their saintly existence! Perhaps they would be overwhelmed by physical demands and would lose their carefully cultivated spiritual sensibilities. Proclaimed the spies: “It is a land that devours its inhabitants6!”

But Moses, in the name of G‑d, was of a different opinion. Prior to descending into this world, the human soul enjoys just such an idyllic existence desired by the spies. Similarly, angels in otherly spiritual worlds continually bask in the spiritual presence of G‑d. But man has a greater calling. Man’s peculiar greatness lies in engaging, not escaping, the indifferent physical world into which he is created, and transforming it into a Dirah Betachtonim. “We shall surely go up and conquer it7!”

The Messiah

At the end of time, at the culmination of human existence, at the ultimate finale of our people’s odyssey through history, the Messianic era will arise. It is the period of which the prophets spoke, our poets sang, for which Jews have longed throughout the ages. But what is the attraction of that era? In which way is it worthy of such longing and anticipation?

Prophetic and Aggadic statements abound describing that epoch in glowing terms. Isaiah states famously: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks8.” And the Sages state, for example, that food ready to be eaten and clothes fit for wearing will grow on trees9.

Maimonides has cautioned not to be sidetracked by such promises of physical delight whilst ignoring the essence of the messianic times:

The scholars and prophets did not long for Mashiach’s days—so that they should rule over the entire world, nor that they should subjugate the pagans, nor that the nations shall elevate them, nor in order to eat and drink and make merry—but so that they shall be free for Torah and its wisdom without oppressor or hinderer, in order to merit the life of the World-to-Come... at that time the business of the entire world will be aught but knowing G‑d alone, and therefore the Jews will be great scholars and knowledgeable of the hidden matters and they will apprehend the knowledge of their Creator, to the degree man is able, as is written10 “for the earth is filled with knowing G‑d as water covers the sea11.”

The Messianic era is, then, primarily a spiritual “utopia,” a time when man’s spiritual acumen and activity will reach unprecedented heights, indeed, their ultimate zenith.

Now the Dirah Betachtonim system, too, attaches significance to the spiritual value of the Messianic era, it too talks of this time as one in which the earth will be filled with G‑dliness—but, as we have learned to expect, with a striking difference in nuance. To elucidate, we look at another of Maimonides’ views regarding the end of time and the Dirah Betachtonim perspective on that matter.

It is a principle of faith that there will come a time when G‑d will resurrect the dead. Maimonides insists12, however, that this will be but a temporary period. Eventually, the physical body must disintegrate. Ultimately, the soul will free itself from the body’s grip and live a free spiritual existence. At the end of all time, resurrection too will be in the past, for the ultimate end will be spiritual rather than physical.

We have already noted briefly in a previous chapter that Dirah Betachtonim is of a different view. Siding with Nachmanides in his classic debate with Maimonides on this matter13, Dirah Betachtonim maintains that the final state, the one in which the ultimate nature of reality will be realized, is in fact the state of resurrection. A spiritual reality does exist, even today, for souls after they pass on from this life—but it is that reality that is temporary: once the dead will be resurrected, that will be the way things will remain.

Now, a “utopian” state represents the total realization of that which one generally views as ideal. On a light note, for a person whose greatest enjoyment is eating chocolate ice-cream, utopia is a world filled with this culinary delight; for one whose greatest thrill is high speed driving, it is a world filled with breakneck sports cars. Something similar (given of course the evident differences) might be said of the two views regarding the end of time: the views of Dirah Betachtonim and Maimonides diverge on the final utopian state—in parallel to their differing views on the ideal direction for man until that time.

In Maimonides’ writings the ideal which man ought to pursue during his life is to escape the transient contingent body and physical world, enjoying transcendent spirit. Accordingly, for Maimonides the end of time will be a transcendent state. If the general overriding objective is to escape the body, if the body is at best a tolerated evil—can it still persevere at the end of time when all will be good?

But according to Dirah Betachtonim where transcendence itself is regarded as a light that blinds, hiding the essence, where escaping the body into a spiritual state amounts to being lured by the brilliant luminosity of Divine features (manifestations) at the expense of that which is truly rewarding, namely, a relationship with the Essence of G‑d in the physical—the ultimate state of reality at the end of days must be a physical reality, souls resurrected in bodies. Can utopia be mere manifestations and not essence?

We have seen several examples of the way history is seen from the Dirah Betachtonim vantage point. Some negative historical episodes such as the mission of the spies represent a deficiency in realizing the latent spiritual potential of this reality; others, such as galut are interpreted as opportunities to engage G‑dforsaken reality. Positive chapters of history amount to high points in the realization of the Dirah Betachtonim goal—culminating with the ultimate realization of Dirah Betachtonim at the end of all time, when the co-essence of this finite physical reality with the Essence of G‑d will be manifest to all14.