Parshat Yitro contains the most defining experience for the Jewish people – the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai. As the people achieve their new status as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6), they are commanded, “With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold” (Ibid., 20:20). The language, “With Me,” may appear strange. What does God mean when He tells the people they may not construct idols of silver and gold “With Me”? To help answer this question, we should turn to the words of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who explains that the language, “With Me” is particularly instructive because it speaks to a real spiritual need the Jew has to come closer to God, and also, how that spiritual need is to be met. According to Rav Hirsch, “With Me” means “You shall not fashion what is with Me; rather, I command you to fashion what is with you. Your task is not to bring what is in heaven down to you on earth, but to elevate everything on earth to Me. When you come before Me, do not represent to yourselves images that you imagine are with Me in heaven; rather, ponder on how I wish things to be shaped by you on earth. When you come before Me, what should concern you is not heaven, but the earth” (Commentary on Shemot 20:21).
Every Jew has a deep and profound desire, a desperate need to connect with their Creator. However, the way to make that connection is not to by getting lost in imaginings of heaven, cosmic forces and otherworldly happenings – wondering how we can usher the divine down to earth. Rather, the way to connect to God is by both embracing and struggling with the world we live in – the world we create for ourselves, the world we enhance and repair – and elevate all of our efforts, our passions, hopes, fears and dreams up to heaven. We can only come close to God if we bring ourselves, all that we have, all that we are, before Him. It seems that God is more interested in how we live here on earth than He is in how we think He lives in heaven. Indeed, Judaism requires the individual to work to sanctify the world, not to negate it in favor of that which is beyond. The most effective and meaningful way to narrow the gap between God and the human is to take the first step ourselves, present ourselves, give ourselves, and show that we have done all we could with the life given to us to help make this world a better place – spiritually through our observance of the Torah and materially through the work of our hands. As Heschel writes, “there is heaven and everything else…The world this side of heaven is worth working in…” (The Sabbath, p 47).
This Shabbat, let us reflect on the idea that in order to make a spiritual connection with our Maker, we need to first focus on what we do in this world – how we use our time and resources, how we create lasting relationships with others and how we devote ourselves to living lives of meaning and spiritual value. Only by knowing who we are and what we do, only by taking all that we have and sanctify it for a higher purpose, can we then aspire to touch the boundaries of heaven. Our spiritual connections with God do not come from our imagination, they come from our action, so let us act today to bridge the gap, and “perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty” (Aleinu Prayer).