18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Which Way is Up?    

Which Way is Up?

If Hashem is above us, how come we usually find Him at rock bottom? And even if rock bottom seems endless, if you go far enough, eventually you discover that you are actually… going up!


If the universe is infinite, which way is up? 

If Hashem is above us, how come we usually find Him at rock bottom?

Standing in my shul in the heart of Afula, Israel, looking at the sky points the direction of heaven. 

But what if I went down? What if I burrowed from my shul in northern Israel straight to the center of the earth? The floor of the Synagogue will be 4,000 miles towards heaven. 

What if I keep digging downward? Now, I am looking up. Four thousand miles above me is the Pacific Ocean. 

That may be why Hashem is so clear to us at rock bottom. It’s the one place where everywhere you look is up. 


Recalibrating our Bearings

The world G-d created reveals a lot about our every life situation. 


1. If you go down far enough, all you can see is up. 

Take any goal in life. You will never get there via the elevator. More like a mountain range with its ups and downs until you arrive at your finish line. Every goal in life requires massive self-sacrifice. Every journey worth embarking on means that there will be a point at which all that work and sacrifice seems like it was pointless. It can be a period of massive resistance to your goal. It can be a setback. 

It can be giving up on it completely. 

Since the center of the earth has the same temperature at the surface of the sun, while we are at the very bottom, the urgency is to take any step away. Fortunately, it’s at these times that the only direction is up.

But much like the worst days of a recession, the lowest point of a bout with lethargy, or the day after a significant setback . . . the horizon only gets better, even if the light at the end looks like it’s 4,000 miles away. 

Rabbi Nachman sums it up perfectly in saying When a person realizes that he is on a very low level and far from God, this itself is a reason to feel encouraged.


2. If you go down far enough, you stop going down and start to go up.

Nothing we ever do in our lives, especially in the service of Hashem, has a permanent downhill slope. There comes a time when the darkness becomes light, when the toil reaps its rewards. 

Even if it takes days, years, or decades, even if you see the real reward only in the World to Come, every effort we make leads to its eventual upward shift. To repent for our sins, we have to dig deep down. 

We have to return to the state of mind we were in when we sinned in the first place, be tempted with the very same act that we wanted before, and this time force ourselves in the G-dly direction. 

That requires going down. It requires taking steps back spiritually. 

But only in battling fiercely at this level do you pass the test. Only at the heart of the battle do you change the tides from going against you to pushing you forward. Only by fighting tooth and nail the Yetzer Hara as it forces you to Hell and beneath – can you realize that at the other end of the fire is a passageway to Paradise.


3. If you are going up, up, up, it’s temporary. In just half a day, the earth will rotate 180 degrees, and you will be going down, down, down. 

The Talmud warns us that if we do not encounter a tribulation in our lives for 40 days, we have to repent. That means there is no such thing as always going up. None of us have the luxury to become complacent in our day to day service to Hashem. 

We were created to be in a constant state of spiritual growth. Reaching one plateau is undoubtedly an up, but after a while, it becomes a down because you can reach even higher. 


4. At every moment, the earth is moving. 

No matter what we decide to do with ourselves, the earth is moving. We are aging. We always have to make decisions, or else they’re made for us. Like standing on a treadmill, indecision is a decision.

The world moves, and we will move along with it. Sometimes we move up, sometimes down, but always according to His will and in the direction He decrees is best for us. 

Whichever way we are going, we have to thank Hashem, have Emunah, and decide which way goes up. 


* * *


David Ben Horin lives in Israel with his wife and children. 


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