A few days ago I talked with a friend about the difference between the days of Pesach and the Days of Awe. When spring arrives and Pesach comes, we all want to link up with the earth, to go out into nature, to hike, to go on picnics etc.
In contrast, when fall arrives and Rosh Hashanah comes, we all want to link up with the heavens.
These are days of increased spirituality, and this is good for us. We need these days at least once in twelve months in order to cleanse ourselves from the "pollution" that we have absorbed during the year. The high point of spirituality and the knock on the door of heaven comes on Yom Kippur, the day that every Jew becomes an angel and cuts himself off from the material world.
There is a well known idiom in Hebrew “Yeridah Letzorech Aliyah” ("Descent for the sake of ascent"). The source of this idiom lies in the world of Hasidism. Descent, in any possible form, is sometimes essential for ascent.
Slavery in Egypt, for example, was descent for the sake of ascent. We descended to the lowest possible depths in order to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai and to rise to a new dimension. In any case, descent is sometimes dangerous. For example, a man who falls spiritually may totally forget the desire to rise.
However, ascent is also dangerous, perhaps more so. A person in continual spiritual ascent may completely forget the material world. Thus I would describe the "Ten Days of Awe" with the similar but opposite idiom: “Aliyah Letzorech Yeridah” ("Ascent for the sake of Descent").
Perhaps during these days we will reach the gates of the heavens. But the intention is to arrive there in order to be able to return to the earth with greater intensity.
We read in Parashat Nizzavim "It is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12). “Don't remain in the heavens!”, says the Torah. The heavens are only a temporary dwelling place. Arrive there only to descend…
At the beginning of Parashat Vayetze the famous dream of Ya'akov appears.
"And he dreamt and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it" (Genesis 28:12).
Our rabbis already took note of this strange expression. We would expect the Torah to say "descending and ascending" and not "ascending and descending"! The angels live in the heavens, not on earth!
Perhaps the Torah wants to teach us that is the correct way during these Days of Awe when we try to don the garb of angels: "To ascend and to descend”.
Avraham Avinu, who is the main character in the Torah readings of the High Holidays, is the perfect bridge between heaven and earth. He knows how to obey the commands of heaven, without forgetting the earth.
To say "Lech-Lecha is to say "Avraham Avinu". His first trial began with a “Lech Lecha” ("Get thee out of thy country") and his last trail began with another “Lech Lecha” ("Get thee into the land of Moriah).
The idiom "Lech Lecha" is composed of two letters (in Hebrew): the “Lamed” whose long neck reaches heaven and the final “Kaph” whose long leg stands on the earth. Avraham is the bridge between these two extremes "ascent for the sake of descent".
An old joke tells that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the famous detective team, went out into nature. They lit a campfire, drank coffee and had a great time. When darkness fell, they went into their tent and fell asleep.
Sherlock Holmes awoke up before dawn very alarmed and woke up Dr. Watson.
“Lift your head to the heavens and tell me what you see”, he said.
“I see millions of stars”, answered Dr. Watson.
“And what is their significance?”, asked Sherlock Holmes.
After deep thought, Dr. Watson answered: “From an astrological standpoint, the significance is that each man has different luck according to his star, from an astronomical standpoint, the significance is that the universe is enormous, from a statistical standpoint, it is reasonable to think that there are other worlds in this universe, and from a meteorological standpoint I say that it will rain here tomorrow".
“And what do you see?”, asked Dr. Watson.
Sherlock Holmes made a face and said, "I see only one thing: from a practical standpoint, someone stole our tent".
The Torah warns us: "It is not in the heavens". The heavens are a temporary dwelling place and not a permanent home. Here, on earth, our attention is required.
May G-d grant that our ascent will indeed be for the sake of descent so that we may have a fruitful year and a year full of deeds.
May we be inscribed and sealed for a good year.