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The Joining of Heaven and Earth

Harav Yehuda Amital

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



This shiur is dedicated in memory of Barry (Baruch) Saltzman z"l.



Summarized by Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig


The beginning of this week's parasha - perhaps more than any other parasha - teaches us about the uniqueness of Avraham, of the Patriarchs and of the Jewish nation.

"And God appeared to him in Elonei Mamreh and he was sitting at the entrance to the tent in the heat of the day." Avraham was sitting at the entrance to the tent, and at the same time was receiving prophetic visions. He combined daily life with Divine visions, with no apparent logical bridge between them. In his experience, two worlds, heaven and earth, meet and are unified. Three angels reveal themselves to him as three men "from the marketplace."

"And he said, My Lord(s)..." Whether he meant this to refer to the Divine, or merely to be polite to these three men, "these and those are the words of the living God;" the two worlds - the holy and the mundane - meet, and the reality thus created seems altogether natural. The patriarchs of our nation demonstrate how heaven and earth can be brought close to each other and unified.

One of the central issues upon which atheism and paganism are based is the assumption that earthly creatures cannot participate in a higher, heavenly world. If there is to be any meeting at all of the two worlds, then it can only be between the earth and the most lowly manifestations of the higher powers. This is what is signified by the midrash's portrayal of the angels' appearing like pagans who "bow down to the dust of their feet."

Avraham welcomes into his home people whom he suspects of being pagans who worship the dust under their feet, who believe that no convergence of the higher and lower worlds is possible - and Avraham proves to them that this is not so. A person may live a day-to-day practical life - sitting at the entrance to the tent, preparing and serving a great feast - and at the same time experience prophetic visions.

However, this lifestyle, the daily combination of heaven and earth, involves some measure of difficulty. The person who concentrates his spiritual energies on a few individual and isolated occasions is at times capable of attaining very high levels of spirituality. But the person who spreads his energies throughout his entire life often finds it difficult to reach any kind of spiritual climax. The prayer of a person who prays once a day is different from that of a person who prays three times each day.

Avraham demonstrated at the 'akeida' that although his entire life was one long expenditure of spiritual energy, it lost none of its power along the way, and he continually succeeded in attaining tremendous enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.

According to the Rambam in Moreh Nevukhim (3:51), only four people achieved this level of combination of spirituality with daily life: the three patriarchs, and Moshe Rabbeinu. In the same chapter, the Rambam describes the path to achieving prophecy, i.e. how to bring the heavenly realm closer to the earthly one. This path, he maintains, is divided into levels, the highest of which is "when a person reaches real achievements and is pleased with what he has achieved, in that he communicates with people and takes care of his physical needs, but all the while his thoughts are with God, and He is before him always in his heart, even though physically he is in the midst of other people." The Rambam says of this level, "I do not say that this was the level of all the prophets; I say only that it was the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace ... and this was also the level of the Avot."

As to the reason why these four people managed to attain this elevated level, the Rambam writes: "Because their ultimate aim in all their actions was to achieve a great closeness to God; because their principle intention throughout their lives was to create a nation that would know God and serve Him, 'for I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him...' It is clear that the purpose of their strivings was to bring monotheism to the world and to direct people to love God, and hence they merited to reach this level."

This example and message of monotheism cannot be transmitted by individuals, no matter how impressive their spiritual achievements. It can only be carried by an entire nation, with all its sectors and institutions, with its political, social and economic arrangements, which carries out complex and varied activities while living according to its Divine mandate. This is the only way in which heaven and earth can be bridged. Those who strive towards this aim are rewarded by having their material lives inspired and accompanied by a spiritual and Godly world, in which men and angels serve together.

(Originally delivered on Leil Shabbat, Parashat Vayera 5732. Translated by Kaeren Fish).

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