Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – All the Way Up


Operation Inspiration

Well, my friends, we’ve come to another exciting episode of “What’s Going on in My Brain?” Each week you get a glimpse inside the workings of my mind for your entertainment and possible edification. By sharing my unique and interesting perspectives, I hope to enlighten and offer new vistas for others to cogitate on.

This week, what caught my fancy was a helium balloon. It was a large, smiling, sunshiny thing, complete with rays and glittering shimmeriness. I won’t go into whether it’s an issue of having a form of the sun in terms of Avoda Zara, we’ll leave that for another time. For now, let’s focus on the inferences I made from this toy.

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Of course, balloons are a sort of magical thing. We love to see them bobbing gleefully at the end of a taut ribbon, bouncing in the hands of giggling children, or floating bravely above the head of a sick person. They are literally uplifting.

Well, here’s what happened with my balloon, and the observations and imaginings I had. After a few days of standing tall and proud at the end of its shimmering leash, someone decided to play with it. Somehow, the ribbon detached and the balloon floated to the top of our vaulted ceiling. At about sixteen feet up, I don’t have a ladder that will reach it.

But never fear! I am resourceful! You know how sometimes people say, “I wouldn’t touch that thing with a ten-foot pole”? Well, I happen to have one. Actually, it extends to twelve feet, and is used to close the shades in my skylights. So, I got out the pole, gently began pushing the balloon down the sloped ceiling, and managed to get it low enough for me to grab.

Not having the ribbon close at hand, I took a garbage bag (clean and empty, of course) and gingerly slid the balloon inside. The extra weight was sufficient to keep the balloon weighted down so it didn’t take off to otherworldly heights. At this point, my observations have been completed, and now I’m ready to show you the things that were going on in my brain.

I imagined the helium balloon as a human soul, the Neshama, that spark of G-dliness we each have inside us. When ensconced in the body, the soul is tethered to the earth as the balloon is by its ribbon. And wherein lies the beauty? Seeing the soul rise against its tether and seek to rise heavenward.

Isn’t that when we all marvel the most at people, when they seem to be above this sphere, doing things no human should be able to do? When people care about others in the most amazing and sensitive ways; or when they devote themselves to some mitzvah or course of Torah study with superhuman dedication; these are the things that buoy our own souls and make us want to float along with them.

And yet, that sliver of fabric must keep them grounded, for if they are left to rise completely unattached, they simply float off into the atmosphere, pushed side to side by gusts of wind, until they vanish out of sight and have no more impact on the world down here. The very greatest people must remain human, or else we can’t relate to them and they can’t fulfill their inspiring missions.

I thought, as well, of the unmissed irony that the way I’d gotten the balloon to cease rising was to encase it in a garbage bag. Suddenly, the majesty of the helium-filled balloon pushing its limits to float skyward was dampened and dulled by the extra weight that kept it from rising.

So, too, do our souls get bogged down by the trash and worthless junk of this world, things that claim to be important but merely detract from our lofty ambitions. It doesn’t take much for us to lose the upward pull and run out of strength. And that’s really the message I took from my observations this time.

We should be helium balloons. We have a body that’s constructed precisely to harness the soul, and enable it to lift the body to heights even angels don’t know. We have guidelines which act as the connection to this world and its inhabitants, making sure we are making our proper impact. And just as when you pull down on a helium balloon you can feel the resistance, that’s how resilient we must be, constantly pulling up and away from the forces that try to drag us down, never giving in to gravity’s demands.

And when you think of yourself that way, as a proud balloon reaching for the stars, you, like any child or anyone with childlike wonder and imagination,  will have no choice but to smile in appreciation and awe of all it represents. If you do that, you can certainly go all the way up.


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