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The Accessibility of Torah - Parshat Nitzavim

By: Reb Norman Meskin

Devorim Chapter 30
For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off. 12.  It is not in heaven so that you will say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us, and allow us to hear it so that we may do it?' 13.  Nor is it beyond the sea so that you will say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, and allow us to hear it that we may do it? 14.  But the word is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.                

The above verses from our parsha are among the most frequently quoted in all of Chumash. It is no wonder: The concept is fundamental to our belief system and the poetry and imagery are delectable! In this short Dvar Torah, however, I wish to focus solely on the message and not the medium.
What important message about Torah and the Torah way of life is Moshe emphasizing in these verses?

Let’s summarize: We are told emphatically that the Torah is not “HARD,” not “FAR OFF,” not “IN HEAVEN” and not “BEYOND THE SEA.” But what is it? CLOSE TO YOU!

These metaphors articulate a fundamental tenet of Judaism. Judaism is not for the intelligentsia alone nor for the philosophers who characteristically reach up to heaven and to faraway, hidden and obscure places for understanding and comprehension. Judaism is for those who learn Torah; accept the obligation to do mitzvot into their hearts; and proceed to fulfill their obligations. Yes, understanding and appreciating the philosophical underpinnings of our faith can be very rewarding, but it is NOT a prerequisite for living an authentic Jewish life. This message is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah. The essence of Rosh Hashanah is the acceptance of the “Malchut” (Kingship) of Hashem in the world -קבלת עול מלכות שמים .

Acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship and authority mandates the fulfilling of our religious obligations (mitzvot) without hesitation and without reservation –
קבלת עול מצוות - without first seeking some rationale or justification for any particular mitzvah.

As the Rambam says regarding the mitzvah of Blowing the Shofar (and I paraphrase):  “We do it solely because God commanded us to do it; and, by the way, there is also a meaningful message contained therein.” I wish the entire Amit family – students, faculty, and administration – a shana tova umetuka – a year of Happiness, Good Health, Success and, above all, Peace.

A YU graduate, Norman Meskin has been a Jewish educator for over thirty years. He has given shiurim, divrei Torah, and Torah-oriented lectures in many different venues. In 2005, he edited and annotated a volume for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) entitled The Importance of Jewish Education and Jewish Educators, that uses classical Torah texts to advocate on behalf of Chinuch and its practitioners. Reb Norman is dedicated to enriching the seminary educational experience of our students by encouraging their commitment and interest in Torah learning.