Keeping heaven and earth in heart and mind


“…The stories of the Torah are thus only her outer garments, and whoever looks upon that garment as being the Torah itself, woe to that (hu)man — such a one will have no portion in the next world. …. The senseless people only see the garment, the mere narrations; those who are somewhat wiser penetrate as far as the body. But the really wise, the servants of the most High King, those who stood on Mount Sinai, penetrate right through to the soul, the root principle of all, namely, to the real Torah.”

The Zohar, Behaalotcha 152a

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Amongst my father’s favorite expressions is: “The older I get, the wiser my father becomes.” Sadly, my paternal grandfather did not live long enough to hear my father share this touching quip. My father, on the other hand, has (thank God!) enjoyed many an opportunity to hear me quote him, and share with him – privately and publicly – just how profound his love, teachings and guidance have been in my life.

One of the greatest gifts that my Abba has bestowed upon me — through personal and passionate role modeling — is the discipline of Shnayim Mikra VeEchad Targum; the weekly reading, repetition and exegetical review of the Jewish Lectionary, the Parashat HaShavua (the weekly Torah Portion). What this practice does is enable the casual reader of the Bible to quickly become a sensitive and critical student of the Torah; one who is able to take note of the profundities, oddities, lacunae, redundancies, inconsistencies and irregularities in the sacred “Urtext” of our Holy Tradition.

This week, as I was reviewing Parashat HaAzinu, two rather remarkable features found in this section of Sefer Dvarim, the Book of Deuteronomy, struck me. The first is the unique topography of the Torah text (as seen in the Torah scroll), and the second is the fact that the portion contains a total of 52 Psukim, verses.

When one examines the layout of the text of Parshat HaAzinu carefully, one immediately notes that the two columns, which make up the reading, form two distinct arrows or triangles – one facing down (the base of the triangle at the top of the column and the tip facing towards the bottom) and the other facing up (the base along the bottom with the tip facing the top). It seems to me, that these arrows or triangles are “inserted” in to the text to direct and focus our attention — one towards the heavens and the other towards the earth. In fact, the opening verse of the portion underscores the point: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words that I utter!”

Thus, in both its syntax and structure, our Torah Portion alludes to a central tenant of Jewish Tradition. As we quest to fulfill our destiny as members of an Am Segulah, a treasured people, we must keep both heaven (Divinity) and earth (humanity) in heart and mind. We must work to balance our preoccupation with metaphysical speculations and our concern for corporeal obligations. We must hold — in dynamic tension — the attraction to the upper world with the needs of the lower reality. Only when we do this, when we synthesize our heavenly and earthy pursuits, when we bring together the two triangles, are we able to become fully what God intended us to be – “Stars of David”, true members of the House of Israel

And this is also why our Parshah contains 52 verses. For as everybody knows, in Gematriah (the mystical system of assigning numerical values to Hebrew letters, words and phrases), 26 is the numerical equivalent of God’s Four Letter Name, Yuh (10) – Hay (5) – Vay (6) – Hay (5) – 26!

If we are to ever become true servants of the Almighty, we need to realize that what our Creator wants of us is a “dual allegiance”; a commitment to serve the God who is at once perceived to be transcendent (located in the distant sphere above) as well as the God who is best apprehended as imminent (in the here-and-now; this worldly, earthly realm).

The 52 verses of Parshat HaAzinu (the 26 facing the heavens — the 26 facing the earth) provide for us a paradigm for bringing about the unity that we so desperately seek — and need. May the powerful messages of this Parashah penetrate — ever more deeply — our psyches and souls so that we can more fully live out our high and noble calling.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is the Spiritual Leader of Congregation Bnai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.