Vayetze: Our Upper World Connection

Whenever a smoke-alarm in our home chirps, I schlep an extension ladder from our garage, slide it open to maximum length, and hold it securely against the wall.  My wife shimmies up to the high-ceiling to change the battery. Why her and not me? This week’s Torah portion teaches us that ladders are for angels!

I refer, of course, to Jacob’s vision of a ladder (or stairway or ramp) extending to heaven with angels descending and ascending. [Genesis 28:12] The conception of an “upper world” of celestial beings – and of its connection with our “lower world” -- is a profoundly significant one for Judaism.  It’s an explicit part of the standard prayer service, the Kedushah portion of the Amidah, during which we sing:

N’kadesh et shimchah baolam….We shall sanctify Your Name in this world just as they sanctify it in heaven above, as it is written by Your prophet [Isaiah 6:3]: “and one would call to another and say: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, Master of Legions, the whole earth is filled with His glory!”’ [Cantor:] Facing them, they proclaim, “Blessed!”  [The Congregation responds] “Blessed is the glory of Adonai from His place!” [Ezekiel 3:12]

Not only do we “join them” in the upper world by proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy…,” we even emulate them physically (according to our imagining) by standing with legs together and rising on our toes in unison.

The upper/lower world connection is also illustrated (literally) by the Kabbalistic image of an inverted tree.  Its roots (a person’s soul) are planted in the upper world, from which nourishment is drawn, and its broad leaves (divine emanations) are spread throughout the lower world.

These and other images denote more than a mere “connection” between upper and lower worlds; they indicate interdependency and reciprocal influence.  Our behavior “down here” affects conditions “up there,” or put less esoterically, our decisions and actions matter “cosmically” more than we can ever know. (“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet, Act I, Scene V). 

I find this imagery and sentiment, so foreign to everyday rationalism, to be moving, inspiring, and motivating.  Our lives have impact beyond our experience and reckoning!  This is an essential part of my spiritual life and perhaps can be of yours, too. There is more for us to do than work and enjoy life.  Indeed, although these are important, they are not what is most important.  Our impact upon others – even upon other “worlds” – is most important.

Seeking more spirituality in your life?  One path is to pursue a connection with the world beyond routine consciousness through meditation, prayer, study, and mitzvot.  Judaism teaches that these are rungs on the ladder to heaven.

Shabbat shalom.   

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