THE OTHER SIDE
Rabbi David Walk
We really don't know very much about the place where God lives. There are many stories in Jewish tradition about the wonderful Garden of Eden where we go after death, or the marvelous heaven where souls dwell. Some describe the righteous sitting at a grand and eternal banquet, while others discuss the spiritually great sitting around with crowns basking in the Divine Presence. But it's hard to take these descriptions too literally, because they seem to be written to teach us some moral lesson rather than to describe celestial geography. Plus, there are no Google maps. So, do we know anything at all about where God resides? I think the answer is a definite maybe. I say this because there are two places in Tanach where we seem to get some hints about God's neighborhood. One of these is the first chapter of Ezekiel, and the other is the opening scene of this week's Torah reading.
What is going on in Ezekiel's initial prophetic vision? Easier asked than answered. Ezekiel is standing by the
But what's going on in the beginning of this week's parsha? After Ya'akov has stopped for the night during his flight from
The image of the Divine chariot cruising through space to supervise the Jews no matter where they may be is a very powerful picture, and I assume gave great hope to the exiles in Babylon. It almost presents the idea that God makes deliveries. We can still get into contact with God in our prayers or maybe in our actions because God's presence is hovering above our heads like some sort of blimp above a major sporting event. I wonder about the logo on its side, perhaps a giant 'G' or the Tetragrammaton. The ladder, on the other hand, suggests a very stable object, not prone to much movement. The ladder cries out for us to ascend rung by rung to a higher plane. The Chariot presents us with solace and comfort when we feel so very distant. The ladder portrays a challenge to those with the temerity to accept. Climb my rungs and find yourself higher than you ever dreamed.
The Diaspora often looks more appealing than
However, the most important aspect of both of these amazing images is that God is atop both contraptions. Whether God hovers into our sphere on a floating throne or we must climb to attain God's presence, it's most essential that we realize that our spiritual goal is always to achieve proximity to God. Our only glimpse through the veil to the Other Side informs us that God's presence dominates the landscape over there. We can't make out the scenery or the structures but we are informed that Divinity abounds. I guess that's all we need to know. What we aim for and strive to achieve is this immediacy with the Divine. Maimonides promises us that this propinquity to God is the greatest of possible pleasures. Unlike earthly bliss, this heavenly joy has neither limit nor fatigue. It is eternal and satisfying.
The visions of both Ya'akov and Ezekiel teach us that we can gain God's presence in this world, either the more passive Diaspora version or the more active