Diving Down to Earth

By Yonatan Gordon

What happens when our freefalls go supersonic? Space exploration used to be about people on Earth, exploring the planets, solar system and galaxies around us. Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting jump reminds us that while our ambitions may be far-reaching, they need to properly landed back down on Earth. 

From 128,000 feet high, the world looks very different. Indeed, before jumping from the edge of space, Felix said “I wish the whole world could see what I see.” Four records were broken during the freefall, but perhaps the element that has most captured the public is potential. The ability to break the preconceived limits of human potential.

EARTH BEFORE HEAVEN

In most instances, when appearing together in a verse, the heavens are mentioned before the earth. But in certain telling instances, the order is versed. The Masters of Jewish Tradition (בעלי המסורה) specifically cite the following verse: יהללו את שם הוי` כי נשגב שמו לבדו הודו על ארץ ושמים. The verse is saying that we need to, “Exalt the Name Havayah (יהללו את שם הוי) for his Name has risen above alone. His splendor is (over) earth and heavens.” This entire verse reflects a reality in which the earth is above the heavens. What does this verse teach us?

FREE FALLING TO EARTH

The beloved tzaddik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev explains the order as follows: In this world the angels are spiritual while the souls are enclothed in physical matter. Matter receives from the spiritual. So in this world, our present reality, the angels are higher than the souls. But actually the souls are much higher and this will be revealed with the coming of Mashiach.

The task of tzaddikim (and all Jews are tzadikim as will be revealed with the coming of Mashiach) is to imbue nullification (מה), the sense that everything in reality is part of God. This is the job of the Jewish people. While the angels are only messengers to build God a palace as it were, the souls actually reveal God’s omnipresence in our lower reality. Our first lesson to be learned from Felix’s jump then is that our souls “free fall” from a very high source.

DECIDING TO BUILD

Rabbi Aharon of Streshela, close disciple of the Alter Rebbe, says that the relationship between the heavens and earth is the relationship between the Torah and the Jewish people. If the heavens come first, that implies that there are no Jewish people without the Torah. But as we said, twice the earth precedes the heavens. This echoes the question of the sages about who precedes whom: the Jewish people or the Torah. The sages answer that the thought of Israel came before everything; even the primordial Torah.

Regarding both the Torah and the Jewish people, the sages say that they are the source of creation. We can connect this with what the sages say that God first looked into the Torah and then created the world. Like a blueprint used by an architect. But in another saying the sages say that when God deliberated about whether or not to create the world, who did he consult with? He consulted with the souls of the tzadikim, with the Jewish people who are all tzadikim. First you have to decide about whether to actually create the world. Like a person who is deciding upon whether to build a building or not. Once you decide, you can draw out plans about what and how to build. God first consulted with the Jewish people about whether to create world, and since we said that He should, we are responsible for the reality that came about.

“I wish the whole world could see what I see.”


To relate these concepts back to the context of our discussion, there are several reasons why it’s significant to be lifted above the earth. The first lesson we mentioned was to foster a sense of nothingness. That all of reality, including the earth I see below me, is both nullified and included within the Creator. The wonder in this instance is that as much as has been created, it is all nothing, because there is nothing but Him (אין עוד מלבדו).

The second lesson is that even before the world was created, God showed it to the Jewish people. To see the world in its entirety, is to see a reality that was verified even prior to the act of creation. By placing earth before heaven we learn an important principle: In some ways earth is more primary (above) than the heavens. So too Felix’s rise above earth reminds us of the Jewish people’s rise above reality. That before our souls descended down into the world, we were once shown the world from above. This act of primordial verification enabled the Jewish people to become active partners, and responsible for, the caretaking of the world that later was created. This was also one of the primary motivations for the jump. That the millions of data points that was gathered by sensors on Felix be used for the betterment of humankind.

OUT OF THIS WORLD

We’d like to conclude by discussing the first person that went out of this world.

God took Abraham above the stars to show him that he could rise above them. Before then, the stars said that Abram could not have children, but God added a letter hei to his name, making him Abraham, and making him fertile. From that moment on we find that the tzadik can make a decree and God performs it. God from the moment of creation set the stage for a man to reach this level of nullification, greater than the nullification of the stars, and this tzaddik is then given the power to make decrees. It is not the stars that perform it, but God Himself who then changes the stars and what they say. How is this connected with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s teaching? When we reach a state of nullification, we reveal that Israel has no mazal. That is, that they are not controlled by the mazal, the stars. On the contrary, we control nature and nature does not control us. By becoming strong in his acts of loving-kindness, Abraham ascends higher than the stars and is able to change them.

BREAKING THE RULES

We can say then this was another underlying motivation behind Felix’s jump (and perhaps the most commercial one): to break the rules of nature and world records. Although it was decreed in the stars (nature) that Abram was to be childless, a tzaddik by virtue of his nullification to God, can change reality. Built into rules is also the potential to uncover the exception to the rule. Aside from the first two lessons mentioned, the motivation to “break rules” was also central to this event. To be lifted into space and change (and hopefully improve) reality and bypass the perceived “rules of the game.”

The purpose of it all is to reveal that God is the world’s space, that this is all Divinity, all one and there is nothing here but God.

Please Note: This article does not serve as an endorsement for the jump but was written for educational purposes. 

Photo Credit: AP

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