At the end of this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, Hashem tells Moshe to “Come up to the LORD, with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and bow low from afar. Moshe alone shall come near the LORD; but the others shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” (Shemos 24:1-2) What does it mean to be “far” from Hashem? What does it mean to be “near” to Him?
As R Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains in the Kedushas Levi, there are two aspects of Hashem- the distant and the near. He surrounds all worlds but He also fills all worlds. There is no geographic location that is actually far away from Him because מלא כל הארץ כבודו. Even the angels feel this distance though they are “closer” geographically, because they know that they are not privy to complete closeness.
We feel far from Hashem sometimes because we cannot grasp Him to the extent that we would like to. We feel this distance because Hashem is beyond us and above us. This can actually be a reassuring thought. Would we want to fully understand and grasp G-d? That would limit Him. That would put Him on our level somehow, chas v’shalom. The fact that He is beyond our knowing fills us with confidence that even when we don’t understand what is happening in our world or our relationships, He does. The magnificent mountains that we see are so much bigger than us and yet they are miniscule in comparison to Hashem and His abilities. So the “mountains” in our own lives can also be conquered when we know Who put them there and Who helps us face them.
But there are also moments of closeness. Moments when we feel His love for us. How can finite beings feel a closeness to the Infinite? We can only do it because He gave us ways. By learning His Torah and doing His mitzvos we can enter into a unity with Him and our hearts can be filled with this closeness. We need these precious gifts as inspiration, as energy and as encouragement to keep pushing forward in our individual pursuits and growth.
In the passuk, it says that the elders “bowed” to Hashem. R Levi Yitzchak explains, using the words of the Arizal, that this bowing draws down a flow of Divine closeness into the world. Specifically when we bow during the Aleinu, we are enacting this drawing down of the shefa of Hashem. Why? Because when we bow, we are expressing the idea of humility. When we bow, we acknowledge that Hashem is above us. When we bow we pull ourselves back and make room for Him. And when we create a vacuum for Him, He fills it.
We need both of these aspects of Hashem in our lives. We need His overwhelming might and power to feel safe in His world but we also need the specific pull of connection to feel our individual place in His world. I bless us to acknowledge both of these aspects of Hashem in our lives because in the acknowledgment we enable ourselves to really feel this relationship.