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Going Against the Flow

Plant them on your holy mountain, in the Sanctuary of G-d which your hands have founded (15:17)

Said the son of Kapara: greater are the deeds of the righteous than the work of heaven and earth. For concerning the work of the Creator it is written: "Also My hand (singular) has founded the earth, and My right hand has spanned the heavens"1; but concerning the work of the righteous it is written, "the Sanctuary of G-d which your hands (plural) have founded."

- Talmud, Ketuvot 5a

G-d transforms the spiritual2 into a physical world, and the Jew transforms the physicality of the world to spirituality.

- Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

The Talmud3 relates the following story:

So poor was Rabbi Chanina, that he would live on a kav4 of carobs from Friday to Friday. One day, his wife said to him: "How long must we suffer such poverty? Pray that we should be provided with sustenance." Rabbi Chanina prayed and the form of a hand extended itself from heaven and gave them a table-leg of gold.

That night, his wife saw the righteous in the world to come in a dream. Everyone was sitting at three-legged tables of gold, while she and her husband sat at a table with two legs. So again Rabbi Chanina prayed, and the golden leg was retrieved from them.

The second miracle, concludes the Talmud, was greater than the first. For while things may be given from heaven, they are not taken back.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe shlitaexplains:

Man's mission in life involves a feat greater than G-d's creation of the universe. The act of creation meant the formation of a physical reality out of utter nothingness (creationex nihilo). But when man implements G-d's will in the world, he in effect reverses the process: he shows the physical existence to be but a reflection of the all-pervading truth of G-d - its 'formidable' mass is now seen as but an insignificant facade to a deeper spiritual reality. So if G-d creates something out of nothingness, man makes nothing of its somethingness.

It is far easier for a spiritual reality to find expression in a physical form than for something to be divested of its physicality and revert to a purer and more elevated state. Hence the talmudic axiom: things are far more readily given from heaven than they are taken back. Or, in the words of the son of Kapara, "greater are the deeds of the righteous than the work of heaven and earth."


1. Isaiah 48:13
2. i.e. the divine attributes of creation.
3. Taanis 25a.
4. Approximately 47 oz.


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