Certainly prayers hold significance in the Jewish tradition, but in Midrash Raba for the Book of Exodus, Parshah 21, God pre-empted Moses’ prayer, asking, “Why do you cry out to me?” because the prayers of B’nai Yisrael had already been answered. In time, B’nai Yisrael would transform into B’nai Horin. They would understand that the long-desired freedom from slavery was upon them. However, it would not resemble the freedom enjoyed by those who enslaved. Rather, this type of freedom would assure that the joys and responsibilities of freedom were possible for all. In time, B’nai Horin would demonstrate for the world what freedom really means, influencing thousands of years of human history, including the Declaration of Independence of these United States. The striving for freedom, the possibility of freedom, the presence of freedom became fuel to make the world a better place, toward creating Heaven on Earth.
This year, March 7 was the first Global Heaven on Earth Day. Author and international management consultant, Martin Rutte (“Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work” and Project Heaven on Earth) reached out to his friends and shared that he would like his 75th birthday to have special meaning. So, he called for action around creating “Heaven on Earth.” People responded in many ways, such as: making charitable contributions, sharing love with family, composing new music in honor of the day. At Sun Health, we continued our conversations about Heaven on Earth during our Spiritual Cafes, exploring what it means for our community members, while working toward innovations of our own.
Considering what is going on in the world, not the least of which is the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, this idea of creating Heaven on Earth is, at once, timely and audacious. You may be wondering, “How can we even begin to imagine creating Heaven on Earth?” as you list all the possible obstacles. Yet, Rutte will push back on any barrier and remind us that Heaven on Earth can begin with a smile, a simple act of kindness, or the recognition of something beautiful.
As spring unfolds before us, we notice warmth and sunshine, gentle showers that enable plants to thrive, breezes that lift birds and kites and butterflies. Our senses are enlivened by a garden of delights when we are paying attention to what surrounds us. But wait: a world away, we see colorless, demolished cities cloaked in gray ash, lifeless bodies, injured children; sounds of bombs replacing sounds of music; safety and security turned inside out, producing a rush for survival. In this place, our Earth looks more like Hell than Heaven.
Balancing the scales, is the outpouring of care and resources, the finest expressions of humanity in the forms of lovingkindness. Heaven on Earth prevails where lovingkindness remains robust and tenacious. Under these conditions, evil acts suffer from lack of oxygen, gasping until they are no more.
During the annual Festival of Passover (Pesach), we understand that in every age, a Pharaoh appears. We are tasked with breaking bonds of all types of enslavement, taking responsibility for the precious value of freedom and assuring those democratic ideals are accessible and achievable for every person. However, freedom and democracy are not understood in the same way, among all people, all the time. Therefore, when confronted with our modern-day Pharaoh, courage, clarity, generosity and resilience become essential elements of our journey. The story of The Exodus remains as relevant today as in ancient times.
The famous Yom HaShoah cry of “Never Again!” echoes in our ears, too. Ukranian President Zelensky pleads with Western allies to help him close the sky so that more death and destruction are prevented. But every minute, it is happening, again. Innocents are being killed. Freedom and democracy are being tested. “Close the sky!” he, and others continue to exclaim. Bombs continue to fall. People ask, “Where is God?” Unlike the dialogue between Moses and God, we ask “Why have prayers not been answered?”
Spring not only brings forth the flowering of our natural world, it holds numerous holidays that track with hope, renewal, creation, redemption and the primacy of life itself. It maintains a tenacious grip on the good, revealing a beautiful, blue sky painted with clouds, teaming with birds. The Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the mountains.” Then, he asks, “From where shall my help come?” Connecting with his yearnings, we look up, surveying the vast expanse of sky, with all the hope inherent in spring. We imagine freedom as a wide open sky. We can see the mountains piercing it, leading us heavenward. In contrast, the President of Ukraine wants to “close the sky.” I wondered, is God the God of an open or a closed sky?
Psalm 121 presents an idiomatic reference to prayer. But it is also very possible that the Psalmist was on a journey and this was a form of T’fillat ha Derekh (prayer for the traveler), referencing dangers of the road, immediate needs, pressing threats. With this understanding, The Holy One is our Guide and Guardian, even more importantly, our Protector. Interestingly, both the Psalmist and President Zelensky are reflecting upon the need for God’s protection. Whether the sky is open or closed, this request for protection connects Heaven to Earth. Moreover, in times of war and fear, the manifestation of protection can feel like Heaven on Earth.
Fundamentally, we cannot protect if we do not care. We cannot care if we lose hope and faith. We cannot have hope and faith if we don’t look upward; and we cannot have positive change or peace in our day if we don’t act. Sharing this holy time together, we can imagine Heaven on Earth and as B’nai Horin, with God’s help, bring it into existence. JN
Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.