Everything Has A Price
At the beginning of my marriage, one evening my husband came home with a shopping bag from a local New York City market. We lived in a beautiful neighborhood, but there were no kosher stores nearby.
I opened the bag, pulled out some grapes, and scanned the receipt to see almost twenty dollars written on the bottom line. I looked in the bag for more items, but there was only the one bag of grapes. Coming from a small town, I could not believe one tiny bag of grapes sold for $20.00! Considering that this took place more than 13 years ago, you can just imagine what the total would be today.
These grapes were not exactly in our budget.
“Twenty dollars for a bag of grapes!” was my eloquent response. This became a running joke between us, but it took some time before we started laughing instead of sighing about it.
The grape incident reinforced my opinion that the Manhattan “air” was too expensive for me.
Later, I learned the air in Manhattan is actually quite pricey. “Air rights” is a term used in real estate to describe “the interest in the ‘space’ above the Earth’s surface. Generally speaking, owning, or renting, land or a building includes the right to use and develop the space above the land without interference by others.” In Manhattan, air rights are being sold to neighboring buildings, and the value is literally skyrocketing.
There is a limit on how tall a building in Manhattan can be. To circumvent this barrier, a building can purchase the air rights of a neighboring building in order to build taller than normally allowed.
Such air rights are being sold for hefty sums, providing investors and owners with a significant profit. “Finding money out of thin air” is a new reality for those living in Manhattan—and a few other select cities, too.
It’s amazing that the sky above buildings, which has no real boundary, physicality, or line of demarcation, has such tremendous value.
When it comes to real estate, we accept the value of the intangible. Spirituality, however, is a much harder sell when trying to understand its infinite worth.
We can’t see, feel, or touch air, but it’s there. It keeps us going, and it’s invaluable. Similarly, we can’t see spirituality, but its effect on our lives spans generations. When the wind blows, we can’t see the actual air moving. We see only the effects of wind—trees blowing, leaves shaking, or the cool breeze on our face on a sunny day.
The concept is the same with spirituality. We can’t see spirituality and we can’t touch it, but we can experience its power. A smile, warmth in one’s heart, and the energy to overcome obstacles are all effects of spirituality. When we “feel” the ethereal, it is a pleasure that is indescribable.
My son was away this summer for sleep-away camp. We counted down the days in anticipation of his return back home, and wanted that first Shabbos together to be special. At the table, all the children sat peacefully while we sang zmirot, exchanged stories, and bentched out loud. I could feel an energy in the air, but couldn’t name it. The feeling of love as a family reunites is not something tangible, but it is very real. (If only this could happen every Shabbos!)
This leaves me wondering, if spirituality has so much power and a positive effect on the world, then why doesn’t Hashem reveal Himself to us in a more obvious way? Why doesn’t He allow us to “see” His presence?
This Mashal explained by Rabbi Shalom Arush described this concept beautifully.
Imagine the electric company wanted to save money, so they closed down their transformers and relay stations, and sent a direct cable from their main generator to your house. If you switched on your 100-watt bulb in the living room, 50,000 watts of power would come through the cable. The bulb would burst into smithereens in a split second. Even worse, the cables in your walls would explode, and the whole house could catch fire. For that reason, the electricity can’t reach your home without a series of transformers, circuit breakers, and relays that reduce the core power of the generated electricity to a measure that you can safely use.
By the same token, Hashem’s Divine light is infinite. Hashem doesn’t give us an illumination that is too strong for our souls to handle; otherwise, we’d burn out, die, become insane, or lose our faith altogether Heaven forbid. Consequently, Hashem—like a good coach—gives us opportunities to strengthen our spiritual selves to become sturdy vessels to receive more divine light.
Our bodies are receptors of spirituality. We are like outlets that can connect to our own higher power, Hashem. But too much revelation of spirituality would be too intense to bear. Perhaps this explains why when Hashem revealed Himself to us on Har Sinai, we were unable to handle the intensity of the moment, and asked Moshe to step in.
Spirituality, like air rights, has an incredible value. Our job is to learn how to tap into it and receive the maximum benefit.
The taller the building, the deeper the foundation must be; similarly, in order to tap into Hashem’s light, our vessels must be very strong. Rabbi Arush notes that we can strengthen our vessels through Torah learning, tefilah, chesed, mitzvot, and even suffering. All of these help our physical bodies bring more divine light into the world.
Whether we are caring for children, immersing in the mikvah, or praying, we are strengthening our vessel to reflect Hashem’s light. Just like the unconventional concept of air rights, whether we feel it or not, believe it or not, or even agree with it, something of value is taking place all around us.
We are all heirs of an incredible yerusha, the Torah we received on Har Sinai. Spirituality, in all its power, is not actually meant to be seen, and although we can’t experience Hashem with any of our senses, the power has an exponential value—much more than some expensive fruit! With this in mind, we must protect the investment of our “heir rights.” Little by little, our outlets and vessels to connect to Hashem can strengthen to reflect more light in our lives. As we improve ourselves, we can reach higher into our personal air rights and constantly grow stronger.
 Shalom Arush, The Garden Of Emuna, pg. 170