Shaya Cohen -


Why “Heaven and Earth”?

I like to read the text of the Torah carefully: why are certain words or phrases used instead of others?

Take for example, the beginning of the poem near the end of the Torah:

Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!

Why is it written this way, instead of, perhaps, “Listen, heaven and earth!” Indeed, why are heaven and earth invoked at all?

An answer is found, as it invariably is, by looking at how the text uses these same words in other places. Most famously is the first verse of the Torah, “In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth.” And if we go re-read the creation story, we’ll see that G-d created the physical world. Yes, He did it using words and divine power, but the creations themselves (from sea to stars) are composed of tangible matter. There is a clear separation between the physical stuff of creation, and the heavens themselves. The product is spiritually sterile: Man says nothing, invests in no relationships beyond naming animals, and nothing in the natural world shows any inclination toward connecting with the divine or even connecting with each other – beyond the act of mere procreation.

But while this is where the Torah starts, it is not at all where it ends up. The rest of the Torah between Genesis and Deuteronomy, is all about how people learn (or are taught) how to build relationships between themselves and between man and G-d. The Torah is all about finding ways to infuse spiritual energy into the physical plane, elevating our world far above and beyond its base, physical origins. This is necessary because, as we saw from the pre-Flood world, mankind, without divine guidance, establishes “might makes right” as the ideal: man as apex predator, king of the animal kingdom.

Hence, we read the rest of the text and the journey from Noach through the forefathers, slavery in Egypt, and the existence in the desert, all to reach a jumping-off point for mankind going forward.

Which is why, when we reach the end of Moshe’s life, he uses these two lines of the text to summarize man’s mission on earth: we are to take the spiritual and divine energies that are ensouled within us, and spiritually infuse the earth, the physical world, in order to complement G-d’s initial act of creation. Here it is again:

Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!

The power of speech is gifted from the divine – our speech is the breath of G-d being exhaled, which is why speech can be such a powerful constructive – and destructive – force.  So when the heavens let us speak, it is a reminder that our power to speak is gifted from the spiritual realm, from G-d Himself.

And the earth, the physical world, is the target of our positive and constructive and even holy speech. This is why the Hebrew for this verse is so evocative. It is not merely “Let the earth hear the words I utter.” The Hebrew refers to “fee,” the word for mouth or nostrils. And this word also first appears very early in the text: when Adam is created!

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils (fee) the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

See how the text makes a whole circle out of just these few words? The breath of life that ensouls us in the beginning of the Torah has become, by the end of the text, the very force that mankind uses to spiritually elevate the physical plane, the entire earth.

The power of speech is from the heavens, from our Creator. But the purpose of our lives is to use that gift to elevate the physical plane and seek to reconnect heaven and earth. The heavens and the earth in the Torah are not independent actors; man is the change agent, charged by G-d Himself to finish what G-d started. The Torah begins with physical creation and growth (“be fruitful and multiply”), but ends with the commandment that what G-d expects from us is to spiritually invest our powers into the physical plane.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, and @eliyahumasinter work]

Comments are welcome!

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