Laying Low – Flying High

            I was recently on an international flight. After my small meal, I settled into my small seat with the advertised “more leg room” and tried to catch some sleep. Being a full flight, I had not the chance to sprawl out on three seats. So there I was trying various ways to make myself comfortable, pointing my head one way while leaning my body another way. At that point I remembered the saying of Rabbi Yisroel Ball Shem Tov, “Every experience even the mundane ones, is supposed to teach us a lesson.” I then realized something that would teach me a lesson not only related to sleeping on flights but for life as well.

            A person cannot be comfortable when his mind is pointing in one direction and his body leaning in another direction. In order to get something accomplished properly, a person must focus both body and mind towards one goal.

            At first glance, this seems to be an impossible feat. The mind is spiritual and lofty and the body is physical and earthy. How can we be expected to do both? No matter how good you are at multi-tasking, a union of the mind and body is life long mission. Not in any way comparable to say driving while talking on a cellular phone.

            On the surface, the approach is either all body which means a life of self indulgence, or all mind which means a life of seclusion and meditation. In fact, for many years this was the approach of many scholars until Chasidic philosophy came along some three hundred years ago. Chasidic philosophy teaches to look to the holiday of Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, to show us just how we can join the spiritual and physical.

           Shavuos (small) The giving of the Torah is marked as the most important event in Jewish history. Without this momentous occasion, the Jewish people would not have an identity. Rabbis throughout the generations have asked the same question. We know that even prior to the giving of the Torah, it was studied and practiced. So what was given at the “giving” of the Torah? What was the momentous occasion after all?

            Let us put aside all the pomp and glamour and analyze this special event. It says that when God created the world, he created the heaven above and the earth below. For 2448 years it was just that. The Heaven was not able to descend down to earth and the earth was not able to ascend to heaven. In plain words, physicality and spirituality were not able to mix. One could contain the other. But on the sixth day of the month of Sivan in the year 2448 an unprecedented thing happened. It says, “And God came down on Mt. Sinai.” In another verse it says, “And Moses went up to God”.

             Chasidic philosophy teaches that there is more to this verse then meets the eye. God coming down was not a one time event, but rather a beginning of an era. The descent onto Mt. Sinai gave us the ability to infuse a physical object with spirituality. The ascent of Moses onto Mt. Sinai means that now we have the power to be more then just a body. We can now make our bodies holy. Now when we use something for a good deed, the object itself becomes holy. When we help our neighbor, our hands become holy. Prior to the sixth of Sivan, 2448, this was not possible.

            The Torah the Jewish people practiced before the giving of the Torah was like trying to fall asleep in an airplane seat. Their minds were pointing in the direction of heaven but their bodies were leaning towards earth remaining as is, not feeling the effects of their godly service.           

            In order to accomplish this feat, we can not continue to live separate lives. Being a good and honest person isn’t reserved for synagogue or church. Being a godly person is something we can accomplish every hour of the day, every day of the week. If you truly want to be a godly person though, this does not entail abandoning the world around you. Rather it means utilizing the world and time given to us to ascend our Mt. Sinai just like Moses did.

            So the lesson of this Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah is, that getting involved in the community is holy. Being more involved with our family and children is Godly. We now have the ability to join two opposites. Like they say, “opposites attract”.