FOR FRIDAY NIGHT: Spirit and Matter (Ha'azinu)
Tishrei 11, 5773 · September 27, 2012
Spirit and Matter

Our lives tend to be divided between spirit and matter, the sacred and the everyday.

The dichotomy between spirit and matter, or Heaven and Earth, is also expressed at the beginning of this week's Torah reading,1 Haazinu, which takes the form of a long poem. Moses is the leader of the Jewish people, filled with love for them, yet also seeing with pain the long and tortuous history they would experience. He warns them about the mistakes they might make in their relationship with G-d. Speaking dramatically to the Jewish people, Moses begins by addressing Heaven and Earth. Rashi tells us that he was calling them as witnesses to his words of warning which follow.

Moses says, "Give ear, Heavens, and I will speak; listen, Earth, to the words of my mouth."

Hebrew is a deeply poetic language which makes it difficult to translate into English. It has nuances which the English sometimes cannot convey at all. The Sages comment that the word haazinu, translated as "give ear" (ozen means ear) suggests a close proximity. If someone is standing next to you, you can speak right into their ear. By contrast, the word translated as "listen" suggests a greater distance, as if calling to someone who is far away.

Moses uses the closer term when he addresses the Heavens, and the more distant term when speaking to the earth. The Sages point out that Moses was a very spiritual person, and, therefore, in his case the Heavens were very close. By contrast, as far as he was concerned, the earth and all material concerns were further away.2

Now, what about us? Does the Torah reveal this aspect of Moses just to impress us with how holy he was, or is there a teaching which is also relevant for our lives?

There is a Chassidic idea that within each individual in the Jewish people there is a spark of Moses.3 This is our deepest aspect. In relation to this inner Moses, in our case too, the Heaven is closer than the Earth.

One moment. Isn't our task as human beings and as Jews to reveal G-dliness in the world? Surely we have to be immersed in the material concerns of daily life? The Chassidic answer is: "yes, but they do not have to get you down!" Indeed we are active in the world. But at the same time we have a close affinity with Heaven. Hence Moses' words are directly relevant for us too. We are active in the world but, in a deep sense, we are not limited by it.4

This very idea is expressed in the approaching Sukkot festival. The sukkah represents our everyday home and everyday life. At the same time, it is a spiritual realm. One of the teachings of Sukkot is that yes, we are in a material world. But at every step we have the power to make it holy.


Deuteronomy ch. 32.




See Tanya ch. 42.


Based freely on the Lubavitcher Rebbe's talk on Shabbat Haazinu in Torat Menachem 5750 vol. 1, p. 82 ff.

By Tali Loewenthal    More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
By Dr. Tali Loewenthal, Director of Chabad Research Unit, London, UK; based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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