Torah Fax 

Friday, August 22, 2008 - 21 Menachem Av, 5768


Torah Reading: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)
Candle Lighting: 7:25 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:25 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 4


Vertical Horizons


There is a dispute among the authorities as to the proper way of affixing the Mezuzah, the scroll discussed in this week's Parshah which we place on the doorposts of our homes. According to Rashi, the Mezuzah must be affixed vertically, standing upright. Sephardic Jews have generally adopted this opinion. Other authorities maintain that the Mezuzah should be placed horizontally on the doorpost. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, the foremost Ashkenazic authority of Jewish law, proposed a compromise: The Mezuzah should be placed on a slant - with the top portion of the Mezuzah facing inward and the bottom part of the Mezuzah pointing outward. This is the prevalent custom among Ashkenazic Jews.


This compromise is unusual, because it seems to satisfy neither opinion. Rashi's opinion that the Mezuzah should be placed vertically is not fulfilled since something that lies diagonally is not vertical. Similarly, the diagonal Mezuzah - though closer to be being horizontal than if it was entirely upright - is still not in the horizontal position, so the opinions that require the Mezuzah to lie horizontally are not satisfied either! A more logical compromise would possibly have been to require two Mezuzot, one placed vertically and the other horizontally!
Whatever the legal resolution of this issue may be, there is an important lesson, however, inherent in this compromise. The very first word of the Mezuzah is Shema. Our Sages say that the word Shema is an acronym for three Biblical words: Se'u Marom Einichem-Lift your eyes heaven ward. The Mezuzah thus begins with a focus on heaven, that which is above us. By contrast, the last word of the Mezuzah is the word: HaAretz-the earth.


There are two ways one can view the relationship between heaven and earth: vertically and horizontally. A vertical line has a high point and a low point, with the high point representing heaven and the low point representing earth. A person who views life "vertically" understands that there is a distinction between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the physical aspects of life. This person sees the superiority of the spiritual over the physical. Such a person is totally spiritual, and his spiritual activities dominate his day. 


However, not everyone can attain this level of spiritual dominance. The Torah therefore provides for a second "horizontal" approach. The horizontal line - which has both of its ends, heaven and earth, on an equal par -  teaches that our task in life is to infuse the physical with spiritual energy. Thus, the "horizontal person" might devote as much energy to routine activities that we associate with the earth such as eating and sleeping, as he does with Mitzvot. Yet, since he conducts these routine activities with the intent to strengthen his connection with G‑d, these seemingly "earthly" activities can be just as heavenly as Torah study.
But even this individual - the "horizontal man" - who justifiably devotes as much time and energy to the material aspects of life while infusing them with meaning and purpose must recognize that the spiritual is truly closer to his/her heart and soul and defines his/her true essence. Thus, at the end of the day, he must give a slight edge to the spiritual world. This world is represented by the top of the Mezuzah, where the word Shema - signifying heaven, as mentioned before - is inscribed. The top of the Mezuzah is thus slanted inward, toward the inside of the house, while the bottom of the Mezuzah - signifying the material world, HaAretz, is pointed closer to the outside. Our home is where we live, where our natural selves our revealed. The fact that the Shema points inward, is a proof that we are essentially defined by our heavenly attributes. The earthly, no matter how much we've refined it, remains as something that we associate with the outside.


The compromise actually synthesizes the advantages of both approaches. On the one hand, the Shema-the focus on heaven - is actually higher than the word for earth. While the slant does not place the spiritual that much higher than the physical as in the vertical approach, it nevertheless still gives pre-eminence to the spiritual. Simultaneously, the fact that the Shema is tilted towards the inside leaves no room for error concerning what is our essence.

As we regress in times of exile, we may not be able to maintain the sophistication of the vertical approach because we cannot maintain such an overtly spiritual demeanor at all times. However, because we are closer to Moshiach we can still maintain the proper balance always giving precedence to our spiritual endeavors while also making it clear where our loyalties really lie. This means that to the extent that we might have to emphasize our involvement in the physical arena, we still make it very clear perhaps even more than in the olden days that our heart, soul and essence are in the right place.

Moshiach Matters 

The opening words of our Parshah are "Eikev Tishma'un - when you will listen." On a deeper level, translating Eikev in its literal sense of "heel," the verse refers to the generation which immediately precedes - "on the heels of" - Moshiach. The Torah is promising us that at that time - "Tishma'un" - all Jews will surely listen to, and fulfill all the precepts of, the Torah. (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 9, p. 71)

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