By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
Kids ask the toughest questions.
“How far away is heaven?”
It is surprising how often the answers can be found in the Bible or in Jewish sources. But in this case, the sources give two totally contradictory answers. When Moses is speaking to Israel before departing, he calls out to the heavens:
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter! Deuteronomy 32:1
The sages note that when Moses said “Give ear, O heavens”, he was speaking to the heavens with a level of intimacy as if it they are indeed close.
But later in the Bible, Isaiah implies the opposite.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, For Hashem has spoken Isaiah 1:2
The sages interprets this verse to understand that Isaiah is describing the heavens as distant and the earth as close.
So which one is it? Are the heavens far away or are they close?
ARE THE HEAVENS DISTANT OR CLOSE?
Even stranger, is that the sages explain that Isaiah’s description was a continuation of Moses’s speech. If Moses addressed all of Israel and described the heavens as being close, why would Isaiah, a great prophet in his own right, feel that they are distant? Mosese literally reached the heavens. He was closer to God than any other prophet. How could Isaiah’s words be a continuation of Moses’?
The heavens represent spirituality, while the earth represents physicality. We can, therefore, reframe our question differently: Are we to strive to transcend the earth in order to approach heaven, or are we to seek the divine in everyday life?
According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known to many as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Isaiah was actually describing an even higher level than Moses. Moses was instructing the Children of Israel to strive for heaven. Isaiah, picking up the instruction where Moses left off, says that once you get close to heaven you should bring heaven back down to earth. It is not enough to rise up to heaven and disconnect from worldly events. Rather, we must discover the depths of spirituality in the mundane here on earth.
Though it is true that men cannot physically reach heaven, by studying the Torah and following God’s commandments we able to connect to heaven. And in doing so, we elevate the mundane. We don’t have to literally rise up to heaven, we can actually bring heaven down to the earth.