Every yeridah (descent) exists for the purpose of an aliyah (ascent).
Furthermore as everything we experience in physical life exists only because it is a mirror of its spiritual source, every descent in spirituality is also only for the purpose of an ascent. This as we have seen
is true of neshomas, with their descent into bodies for an ultimate ascent in Gan Eden, as it is true in physical life. The pattern can, with training, be observed by every Jew, in all aspects of his own daily life.
With this in mind, we now learn of another important distinction - the notion in spirituality of Left and Right. At its physical level, this is manifested in a human being with his right and left sides and the known difference in dexterity invested in each one. But of course, the reason there is a difference lies in the spiritual source of left and right with their spiritual distinctions.
Chesed, (kindness, warmth, mercy) comes from HaShem's "Right Side" whereas Gevurah, (strictness, measurement) comes from His "Left Side". Whenever Left and Right are mentioned in Torah they are code for Gevurah and Chesed respectively.
The two concepts, of descent being for the purpose of ascent, and that Chesed is the other side of Gevurah, are the matrix of all creation and two of its deepest secrets.
The concepts begin with creation of the world itself. This in itself is a yeridah. There are four worlds, each more remote from their spiritual source; each closer to the end physicality. They are in order, Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. As these four worlds were separated off in the process of creation, the separation itself was a process of descent, because each world is less spiritual. The purpose of this is that ultimately there will be an aliyah, when we, Am Yisrael will return the physical to the spiritual, so making a dwelling place for HaShem in this most lowly of worlds.
Now, the concept of Left is the concept of yeridah, and the concept of Right is the concept of aliyah. With every descent there is a concept that we can do teshuvah (make a return) and be reconnected to HaShem.
Sometimes one's tests are such that, however objectively incredible, it is easy at the time to go wrong. It is easier, for example, to understand the grotesque error of the Golden Calf when one tries to imagine how Am Yisrael, fresh from their total spiritual climax of encountering HaShem at Har Sinai, felt without Moshe. Moshe, they believed, was the conduit which made that, the greatest experience of their lives, possible. Once they thought him dead, their craving for a repetition of the phenomenon caused them to seek the formation of a substitute. G-d made it easier for them to err from there as the calf, self-formed of molten gold, leapt from the fire bleating. Although as we read the Torah we wonder how Am Yisrael, just having experienced G-d could go so wrong, imagining the moment of the cow's leap helps to understand how it was possible.
There is a deep philosophical question in all of this. Which came first; the yeridah of the people as they sinned or the background structured by the HaShem in allowing them the environment in which they could make the horribly mistaken decision?
A father can do everything for a child, preventing ordinary mistakes. This can cause the reverse of what he wants; rather than being saved trouble in the long run, he inadvertently cripples the child. Alternatively, he can train the child by small punishments as he goes temporarily wrong, so teaching the child to steadily grow. He, in effect, gives the child a yeridah, so that ultimately the child can avoid greater yeridahs and enjoy an ultimate ascent. A father may allow his small son to make a mistake (which could be averted by the father's warning) secure in the knowledge that the very mistake becomes the child's best teacher for next time.
Just so is HaShem's Left Hand. The Left Hand of strict judgment introduces the yeridah, which as we have seen, is always only for the purpose of an ultimate aliyah.
As we see elsewhere, Jews enjoy HaShem's blessings in two ways. Some blessings are ours by way of being showered down from above. Some, on the other hand are pulled down by our activity "deserving" them from below. When a Jew prays and does mitzvos he pulls the blessings down. This activity must, however, be accompanied by emunah (faith, certainty, trust). There is a beautiful story of a tzaddik called upon by a community to come to pray for rain to relieve a terrible drought. Long after the appointed time for his arrival, he was found hiding in bushes outside the synagogue, unwilling to come in, because he had observed that no one had brought umbrellas...
In contrast, certain blessings are endowed to us flowing down from HaShem. The aliyah that comes from blessings earned from below, however, is always greater than that which is presented by gift. When the neshamah descends into the body which is to it a foreign and difficult environment, it encounters the difficulties of having physical needs. These difficulties are then multiplied by the body's environment, earning a living and coping with the push and pull of everyday life.
This descent is reversed into an ascent by bringing G-dliness into these very environments.
Later in the Torah, Moshe tells us; "See what I put before you today, life on the one hand which is good, and death on the other hand which is bad." Do we really need Moshe's assistance in revealing life to be good and death bad? When then told to choose, is there really a choice? Who would chose bad (and death)?
We learn a secret together. In Torah the word chaim, (life) and tov, (good), refer to spirituality. These have the by-product of endurance. Rah (bad) and moves (death) refer to the opposite and has as its by-product a lack of endurance. A fascinating test for good (and life) on the one hand and bad (and death) on the other is the capacity for something not to deteriorate. A man who understands Chassidus will see that misused drugs, for example, inducing as they do a "temporary state," are from the side of bad. Torah, being good, (life), is as eternal as death, being bad, ends life. It is therefore obvious, that the more that one plugs into "good" as defined, the more positive one's life becomes. The more one plugs into the opposite the closer death beckons. So regrettably, the more one accesses demanding, physically urgent and momentary pleasures, the less long-term benefit there can possibly be. For this reason the early Chassidim went to greater lengths not to be involved in any unnecessary physical pleasure. Fortunately this is not the test of this generation. Nevertheless it is as well to be aware of the Secret of Torah that misused physical pleasure is aligned with the Left Side, with gevurah and descent. Yet when one has accessed this Left Side and yet does teshuvah, changing direction to access, as it were, the Right Side, there is an enormous leap. It is a leap from a place so low, (physical), Left and death to the heights of good, Right and life.
So HaShem with the Left, gives us an environment which is fraught with enormous difficulties. These themselves are for the purpose of growth, descent for the purpose of ascent. One then makes a choice; one can sink into the yeridah, or one can overcome the physical and tune into the spiritual and by doing so fulfill the whole purpose of creation, bringing G-dliness into this lowest possible world.
This is the week in which we are shown the possibility of isolating the spiritual sides. We can identify the process structured from HaShem's "Left" and, through effort, access His "Right". By doing so, each man's descent is wrenched into an ascent, leaving aside the temporary in favor of the eternal.
- (Back to text) See The Ladder Up, Building Block No. 2.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Balak p. 73a; Sefer HaMaamarim 5706, p. 64.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaLikkutim - Tzemach Tzedek, Topic "Yamin" (footnote 3).
- (Back to text) Tanya, Ch. 39 (p. 51b), Ch. 47 (p. 69a).
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 66 and elsewhere.
- (Back to text) Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 45.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Tisa sec. 19; see also Yalkut Reuvani that the calf spoke and said, "I am the lord your god."
- (Back to text) See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 22 (p. 134a).
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 188, 216 and elsewhere.
- (Back to text) See Nitzavim 30:15; for the following explanation see at length Sefer HaMaamarim 5656 p. 254ff.
- (Back to text) See The Ladder Up, p. 60.
- (Back to text) Tanya, Ch. 36.