Weekly Dvar Torah: Heaven Meets Earth
When Hashem gave the Torah, something transformational happened in the world. Heaven met earth.
When G-d created the world, He conditioned its existence on the Jewish people accepting His Torah and keeping His Mitzvos down here in this physical world.
This was no small matter. Because in order to keep G-d’s Torah in this world, heaven must first meet earth.
What’s the challenge?
On the second day of creation G-d created the firmament which separated the upper waters from the lower waters. This, in essence, created a permanent division between heaven and earth. G-d then decreed: הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַה’ וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵי אָדָם = the heavens are Hashem’s, and the earth He gave to mankind. This was meant to serve as a firm dividing line, a border, between heaven and G-dliness, vs earth and humanity.
The Midrash explains this by way of analogy: A king decreed, “Romans shall not descend to Syria and Syrians shall not ascend to Rome.” Likewise, when the Holy One created the universe, He decreed: “the heavens are for G-d, and the earth He gave to humanity.”
As a result, there could not be anything G-dly down on earth. Even our holy forefathers, when they wanted to serve Hashem, they could do so only in a heavenly and spiritual manner.
The Midrash describes the service of the patriarchs: כָּל הַמִּצְווֹת שֶׁעָשׂוּ לְפָנֶיךָ הָאָבוֹת רֵיחוֹת הָיוּ = “All the mitzvot that the patriarchs performed before You were fragrances”. Meaning, that our forefathers served G-d only like a fragrance, which has no physical substance. Their service was purely spiritual. They could not put on Tefillin made from a cow’s hide and make it holy. They could not have a pair of Tzitzis made from a sheep’s wool and make it holy. They served Hashem spiritually, and whatever they did, had no lasting effect on this world.
They were not able to keep the Torah in a way that would impact the world. Because the separation that was created on the second day of creation served as a barrier to the influence of heaven and its impact on earth. Because there was a clear division and separation between heaven and earth. Heaven belongs to G-d and is holy, and the earth belongs to mankind and cannot be holy. Therefore, the patriarchs were able to keep Torah only in a spiritual manner, it could not be done in a physical manner.
Then came Matan Torah. G-d is giving the Torah to mortals down here in this physical lowly world. Now the world will continue to exist, because His condition will be fulfilled and implemented (retroactively).
Here is how the Midrash describes the process of Matan Torah:
כְּשֶׁבִּקֵּשׁ לִתֵּן הַתּוֹרָה בִּטֵּל גְּזֵרָה רִאשׁוֹנָה וְאָמַר הַתַּחְתּוֹנִים יַעֲלוּ לָעֶלְיוֹנִים וְהָעֶלְיוֹנִים יֵרְדוּ לַתַּחְתּוֹנִים, וַאֲנִי הַמַּתְחִיל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיֵּרֶד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי, וּכְתִיב וְאֶל משֶׁה אָמַר עֲלֵה אֶל ה ‘
When He desired to give the Torah, He nullified this original decree. He said: “the lower [realms] shall ascend to the higher, and the higher shall descend to the lower; and I am the one who initiated [this].” As it is written: “And Hashem descended upon Mt. Sinai.” “And to Moshe He said ‘ascend to Hashem’.”
This was a game changer. Henceforth the world can become G-dly and holy. From now on when you do a Mitzvah it can and must be done in this physical world in a physical manner. For six days you work, and on the seventh you rest. You start by lighting the candles, and this makes the Sabbath holy. When you take a cow’s hide and you write the scripture, and shape the boxes properly, they become holy. And like this we have 613 Mitzvos which make the world a holy place. Something that Avraham, Yitzchock and Yaacov were not able to do.
This is a gift that Hashem gave us, the Jewish people. He nullified the decree that separated heaven from earth, clearly delineating the holy from the mundane. A decree that lasted for 2448 years, and 26 generations. Now we have the ability to take the mundane and make it holy. When we study Torah, our mind wraps around G-d’s wisdom, and His wisdom wraps our brain, a full-fledged union that makes us one with G-d. When we enjoy a delicious Shabbos meal, we honor the Sabbath and make the food holy.
This is how we create a dwelling place for G-d in this world. We fulfill G-d’s desire to have a residence down here in this lowly world. And when we study Torah and keep the Mitzvos, we turn G-d’s plan into reality.
G-d chose us, and He betrothed Himself to us, by giving us this mission to prepare for Him a dwelling place through keeping His Torah and Mitzvos. But this is only the first step of G-dly revelation in this world. The final step will be when G-d’s palace will be completed, and G-d will come to His palace that we built, and He will reward us by marrying us. Then G-d will be revealed in His full glory. This will happen when Moshiach comes speedily.
Have a revealing and G-dly Yomtov and Shabbos,
Gut Yomtov, Gut Shabbos
Rabbi Yosef Katzman