When a person knows and grasps in his mind a Torah law… he thereby grasps and holds and encompasses with his mind the divine wisdom and will… while his mind is simultaneously enveloped within them. This makes for a wonderful union, like which there is none other and which has no parallel anywhere in the terresterial world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, is attained. (Tanya, chapter 5)
Marriage comes in three varieties: the singular marriage, the twosome marriage, and the three-dimensional marriage.
In a singular marriage, one partner is completely consumed by the dominant other, as he or she cedes his or her will and identity to serve the other’s will and identity. Two have joined to become one, yet theirs is not so much a union as an annihilation: either one abnegates one’s own understanding, feelings and very self to the others, or one’s ego swallows up the other’s mind, heart and very being.
In the twosome marriage, each partner preserves his or her distinction as an individual. They share thoughts, feelings and resources, and deeply affect and are affected by each other; but each does so on his own terms, assimilating the marital bond as part of his own experience and identity. So what we have here is not a union, only a relationship between individuals.
Then there is marriage in its true and ultimate sense: a marriage in which two individuals collaborate in the creation of a third reality which encompasses and suffuses them both, while preserving their differences as the very dynamics of their union. A true marriage houses not a single, all-negating being, nor two distinct beings, but a threesome that is the essence of unity: the individual selves of the marriage partners, and the marriage itself—the third element within whose context their two beings unite into a harmonious whole.
As human beings, we inhabit a finite and corporeal reality, which, by nature and definition, precludes all contact with anything truly infinite, transcendent and absolute. Nevertheless, the Creator has established channels of awareness and experience which extend beyond the boundaries of our existence and allow us to relate to His all-transcendent truth.
These outlets to a higher reality assume many forms, but may be divided into three general categories, akin to the three types of marriages described above.
On the unilateral level of relationship, there are occasions when the Almighty chooses to overwhelm us with a supra-natural, supra-rational dose of His reality. For example, we may witness a miracle which shatters the very foundations of how we understand ourselves and our world—an experience which we cannot assimilate in any humanly sensible way except to be overcome with awe and humility. Another example of the unilateral relationship is when a person, confronted with a challenge to his deepest convictions, will choose to sacrifice his very existence for the sake of a higher truth.
In both these cases, the wall which encloses our self-bound existence has been breached. Yet the result is not so much a union of the human with the divine, but the negation of the human, the exposure of its insubstantiality in face of the divine.
Then there are the twosome type relationships between Heaven and earth—natural, humanly digestible points of contact between our world and the divine reality. Every sunrise, every beat of the human heart and every flutter of an insect’s wings, is G‑d acting upon our reality. While these divine deeds are no less miraculous than the splitting of the Red Sea, nature is G‑d’s way of affecting our world through a veil of constraint, routine and predictability—a veil which filters His input into our lives in a way that is readily absorbable by our finite senses and minds. On our part, the whole of human science is man’s attempt to gain insight into what lies behind and beyond the mere facts of his existence.
Through these natural channels of connection we relate to the divine truth on our own terms, without annihilating the norms of human existence and experience. On the other hand, however, they cannot be said to truly unite the earthly and the divine—only to establish a connection between them as two distinct and irreconcilable realms.
Meeting of Minds
But on the 6th day of Sivan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 bce), G‑d descended on Mount Sinai and “gave a threefold Torah to a threefold people through a third-born on a third day in the third month.”1 Torah is the third element of our relationship with G‑d — the element which makes our relationship a true marriage.
In the words of the Midrash, at Sinai “The higher realms descended to the lower realms” with G‑d’s descent upon Mount Sinai, while “The lower realms ascended to the higher realms” with Moses ascent to the top of the mountain.2 Had there only been a descent from Above to below, the divine reality would have totally overwhelmed the earthly reality, resulting in a one-sided marriage — a relationship that is wholly defined by the nature and character of only one of its partners. If there had been only an ascent from below to Above, our encounter with the divine would have been characterized by the finiteness and tactility of our physical existence, resulting in a “twosome” marriage in which each side relates to the other from behind the defining walls of self. But at Sinai there occurred both a descent from above by G‑d as well as a rising upwards of man. In other words, this was an encounter in which each partner not only relates to and connects with the other but also participates in defining the nature of the relationship between them, so that the relationship affirms his individual identity even as it expands it to include the very different identity of the other partner.3
For at Sinai was introduced the third element of Torah, where the finiteness of man unites with the infinity of G‑d in a union that is both finite and infinite, both human and divine.
Torah is the wisdom and will of G‑d. But G‑d did not communicate His wisdom and will as a detailed manifesto and a codified list of instructions. Instead, He gave us a relatively short (79,976 word) Written Torah (the Five Books of Moses), together with the Oral Torah—a set of guidelines by which the Written Torah is to be interpreted and extrapolated, and applied to the myriads of possibilities conjured up by the human experience. So while the Written Torah encapsulates the immense sea of legal, homiletic, philosophical and mystical teaching we know as Torah,4 it is the human mind and life which G‑d designated as the tools with which to unlock the many layers of meaning and instruction implicit in its every word.
This is most powerfully demonstrated by the Talmud’s account of a halachic dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues:
Rabbi Eliezer brought them all sorts of proofs, but they were rejected… Finally, he said to them: If the law is as I say, may it be proven from heaven! There then issued a heavenly voice which proclaimed: What do you want of Rabbi Eliezer—the law is as he says…
Rabbi Nathan subsequently met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: What did G‑d do at that moment? [Elijah] replied: He smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me, My children have triumphed over Me.7
Torah is where the human and the divine fuse to one. Where a kernel of divine wisdom germinates in the human mind, gaining depth, breadth and definition, and is then tangibilized in the physicality of human life.
In this marriage, our humanity is not obliterated within the infinite expanse of the divine; but neither does it remain distinct of it. In this marriage, our human finiteness and subjectivity themselves become instruments of the divine truth, joining with it to create the ultimate expression of divine immanence in our world: the Torah.FOOTNOTES1.
Talmud, Shabbat 88a.2.
Thus there were, in fact, three stages to the union of heaven and earth: 1) the descent of the higher realms to the lower; 2) the ascent of the lower realms to the higher; 3) the collision or merger of these two movements in a single marriage and union.
On the historical level, the first millennium of history, which was characterized by an abundant flow of life and nurture from Above, was a time in which the relationship between heaven and earth was defined exclusively by the higher realms. The second millennium, which saw the refinement and self-elevation of earth, was a time of upward striving on the part of the lower realms. And the third millennium, which commenced the age of Torah, saw the union of the supernal and the earthly in the convergence of the two.
In the immediate events leading to the revelation at Sinai, these three stages were actualized in: 1) the Exodus, which was a unilateral, divinely initiated revelation and redemption from Above; 2) the seven-week period of preparation and self-refinement between the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai (re-enacted each year with our Counting of the Omer); and 3) the Giving of the Torah, in which G‑d came down on Mount Sinai and Moses ascended the mountain.
On another level, the revelation at Sinai, though it included elements of the lower realms ascending, was primarily a revelation from Above. This is followed by many centuries of self-refinement and self-perfection on our part, to be followed by the Era of Moshiach and its ultimate union of heaven and earth (see next essay, Yes and No).4.
In the words of the Talmud, Scripture, Mishnah, Talmudand Aggadah, and even everything that a qualified student is destined to deduce before his teacherall was already said to Moses at Sinai (Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 2:4).5.
Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b.Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher RebbeBased on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.Originally published in Week in Review.
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