"Ki ha'mitzvah ha'zot" (For this mitzvah) that I command
you today - it is not hidden from you and it is not distant.
12 It is not in heaven, so that you could say, "Who can go
up to heaven and bring it for us, so that we can hear it and keep
13 Nor is it across the sea, so that you could say, "Who will
cross the sea and take it for us, so that we can hear it and keep
14 Rather, the matter is very close to you - in your mouth and in
your heart - so that you can keep it.
What is "ha'mitzvah
Which mitzvah exactly is the Torah referring to?
differ about the meaning of "ha'mitzvah
others interprets the words "ha'mitzvah
as a reference
only to the previous paragraph in the Torah, which refers
to the specific mitzvah of Teshuvah (repentance) and
returning to Hashem.
And the explanation
of the verses:
It is not hidden,
or difficult. It
is not distant. One should not say, "It is months till Yom
Kippur. I will wait to repent until then." Though the sacred
nature of that day makes our Teshuvah more acceptable, Teshuvah
can and must be performed throughout the year.
But rather it is "very
close to us." Within our potential and capacity. Easy for each
individual to carry out.
"In our mouths,"
so we can confess; "and in our hearts," so we can show
regret over the past. Sforno
adds: The heart recognizes where one has sinned and the mouth confesses
it. Both recognition and confession of sin are prime ingredients
"So that we can
keep it," - and make a firm resolution for better behavior
in the future.
(Baba Metzia 59b) explains, "it is not in heaven"
After the Torah
was given, it was no longer "in heaven." Hashem
does not make Torah decisions in Heaven. Halachic (Torah
law) decisions must be decided by human authorities following the
guidelines given to Moshe at Har (Mt.) Sinai. It is Hashem's
will that the Sages apply the laws of the Torah to the best
of their human understanding. Decisions must reflect the opinion
of the majority of a Bait Din (Jewish court), who are the
final authority in all cases of Torah law.
(ibid) brings this story to prove its point.
The Sages were debating
whether or not a certain type of oven could become tamay
(impure). The majority of the Sages ruled that it could. Rabbi Eliezer
ben (son of) Horkenos held that it could not.
Rabbi Eliezer ben
Horkenos, perhaps the most outstanding Sage of the generation, cited
many proofs in favor of his position, but the Sages, who were the
majority, would not accept these proofs.
Rabbi Eliezer ben
Horkenos declared: "This carob tree will demonstrate that the
Halachah (Torah law) follows my opinion."
A miracle occurred
whereby the carob tree uprooted itself and replanted itself 100
cubits away. (some say, four hundred amot).
The Sages replied:
"Halachah is not established on the basis of a carob
[*Since Rabbi Eliezer was a very righteous man,
the tree might have been uprooted at his command. This does not
prove, though, that his ruling was correct.]
Rabbi Eliezer ben
Horkenos declared: "This stream of water will demonstrate that
the Halachah follows my opinion." The stream of water
began to flow backwards against the current.
The Sages replied:
"Halachah is not established on the basis of a stream."
Rabbi Eliezer ben
Horkenos declared: "The walls of the Bait Hamidrash
(House of Study) will demonstrate that the Halachah follows
The walls of the Bait
Hamidrash began to tremble and fall, and the Sages feared that
any moment they would collapse.
Rabbi Yehoshua called
out to the walls: "Why are you interfering in a Halachic
debate among Sages?"
Immediately, out of
respect for Rabbi Yehoshua, the walls did not collapse, but out
of deference to Rabbi Eliezer, they did not return to their original
upright position either. They remained slanted.
Rabbi Eliezer ben
Horkenos declared: "The heavens will attest that the Halachah
follows my opinion."
A bat kol (heavenly
divine voice) proclaimed: "Why do you contest Rabbi Eliezer?
The halachah always follows Rabbi Eliezer's teachings."
Rabbi Yehoshua rose
"It is written:
'It is not in heaven." ' (Devarim ibid).
What is meant by;
'It is not in the heaven'? Rebbi Yirmiah said: It means that we
don't listen to a bat kol in matters of Halachah,
for the Torah was already given to man at Har Sinai.
Rabbi Yehoshua continued:
"We don't listen
to the bat kol because You (Hashem) already wrote
in the Torah at Har Sinai (Shmot, Exodus 23:2)
'According to the majority (the matter) shall be decided.'*
[*R' Yehoshua understood this to mean that Hashem
would never interfere with the judicial process through which the
law is decided. Accordingly he interpreted the Heavenly echo to
be merely a test of whether the Sages would hold their ground. And
the next story proved him correct.]
Later, one of the
Sages, Rabbi Natan met Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet).
He asked him: "What did Hashem say during this argument?"
to him: "He was laughing and saying (with satisfaction), 'My
sons won me in the discussion.' "*
[*The Heavenly Voice was meant as a test for the
Sages, whether or not they would follow the majority opinion, as
commanded by the Torah, and they passed the test.]
the continuation of this story, click here.
(Eruvin 55a) interprets the words, "
ha'zot" as a reference to the mitzvah of learning
The Torah is
on Earth and not "in Heaven." The Torah is close
and accessible to every Jew. Our Torah is not some doctrine
that is hidden away in the upper recesses of heaven, available only
to prophets and scholars. On the contrary, our Torah is readily
available and not hidden. We cannot hide behind our ignorance. We
all have equal access to the texts of the Torah.
When is Torah
close to us? When we place it "in our mouth," meaning
that we are constantly involved in its study, and "in our heart,"
as we attempt to refine our thoughts, with the intention "to
keep it," to apply it within our daily lives (Eruvin
"In your mouth"
- Torah study should be "in your mouth," spoken
out loud and not read quietly. The Talmud (Ibid 54a) interprets
the verse (Mishlei, Proverbs 4:22): "They (the words
of Torah) are life to those who find them" as "They
are life to those who express them out loud."
does not come with especially difficult demands to his creations."
(Talmud Avodah Zarah 3a) As long as we don't put a distance
between ourselves and the Torah, it will always be within
our grasp. Torah study does not require total spiritual refinement.
Even the Torah's mystical secrets can become accessible to
us if we apply ourselves.
In this context, Tana
d'Vai Eliyahu relates that Eliyahu Hanavi once met an
unlearned fisherman, who protested that he was never taught the
fundamentals of Torah study and therefore, would not even
attempt to learn Torah.
"Who taught you
the fundamental principles of your trade?" Eliyahu asked
granted me understanding," he replied.
granted you understanding in your trade, don't you think He would
help you in Torah study? As it is written: 'It is not in
Perhaps an old story
will help us better understand what the Torah is telling
us when it says.
is not in heaven, so that you could say, 'Who can go up to heaven
and bring it for us, so that we can hear it and keep it? '"
is not in heaven, but even if it were, you would be expected to
try and scale the heavens to study the Torah. (Talmud
The tale is told about
Reb Chaikel, a poor tailor from Lodz, who had the same recurring
dreams. Each night his father would appear to him and tell him about
a secret fortune. All Reb Chaikel had to do was travel to
Vienna and go to the royal palace. Exactly fifty yards from the
palace, his father said, was an old oak tree. Under that tree, his
father told him, lies a great treasure. All Reb Chaikel had
to do was dig under the tree, and all his financial problems would
At first, Reb
Chaikel ignored the dreams, but they recurred night after night.
And so, he decided to go to Vienna and seek his fortune.
He camped out near
the palace and waited for an opportune time to begin digging for
the fortune. At midnight on a moonless night, he stealthily crept
up to the tree and began to dig. His shovel had not even had a chance
to strike dirt when he felt a rough hand squeeze the back of his
the palace guard. "What on earth are you doing at midnight,
fifty yards from the palace gates, shoveling dirt?"
had no choice but to tell the story of his dreams about the great
fortune that lay beneath the oak tree that he was about to dig up.
He even offered to split the booty if the guard would let him go.
laughed the guard. "Everyone has dreams. In fact, I myself
dreamed that if I were to go to the city of Lodz in Poland and dig
in the basement of some Jewish tailor named Chaikel, I, too, would
find a fortune! Hah! Now get lost!"
Legend has it that
Reb Chaikel returned to Lodz and, after a little digging
in the basement of his own home, became a very wealthy man.
Sometimes we look
at the Torah's values and precepts and regard them as being
way up in space, beyond our reach. We look at the Torah's
expectations of us as impossible tasks that are as difficult to
achieve as landing on the moon was. We view them as hurdles that
are impossible to overcome, as if we were being asked to travel
to distant lands to perform difficult tasks.
The Torah assures
us twice that what it teaches us is within our reach. Even if a
Jewish soul is lost in space, coming home to Judaism is always possible.
And, we are told, the Torah, our manual of instruction, is
more accessible than we may think.
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