02 Sep 2021 Parshas Nitzavim: The Eternity of Torah
In this week’s moving, emotional and poetic parsha, Parshas Nitzavim – the final parsha of 5781 – Moshe Rabbeinu urges the nation to cling to a life of Torah and mitzvos.
In one of the most stirring and powerful passages in the Torah, Moshe encourages the Bnei Yisrael to live a committed life and says:
כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא
For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away
לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַֽעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֨יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה
It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?”
וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵ֥בֶר לַיָּ֖ם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַֽעֲבָר־לָ֜נוּ אֶל־עֵ֤בֶר הַיָּם֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה
Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?”
כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִלְבָֽבְךָ֖ לַֽעֲשׂתֽוֹ
Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it
While some commentators (like the Ramban) explain that this unnamed mitzvah is the mitzvah of Teshuva, repentance, others explain that these verses refer to the mitzvah of limud and asi’as ha’Torah – learning, practicing and living Torah.
“For it is very close to you,” Rashi teaches: כי קרוב אליך. הַתּוֹרָה, (שֶׁ֛)נִתְּנָה לָכֶם בִּכְתָב וּבְעַל פֶּה – The Torah, (which) was given to you in writing and orally.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches, “We must formulate a fourteenth principle of faith, an ani ma’amin, which states that this Torah is given to be observed, realized and fully carried out in every place and at all times, within every social, economic and cultural framework, in every technological circumstance and every political condition. Actually, this ani ma’amin is intimated in the ninth of the thirteen principles of faith: That this Torah will never be changed.
“The Torah was given for realization in the simple society and homogenous economy of the ghetto as well as in modern, developed society with its scientifically planned technological economy. The Torah is given for realization both in galus (exile), where it relates to the private life of the individual, and to a Jewish State which must deal with communal issues. The Torah applies not only to those who eat manna and are protected by Clouds of Glory, but also those who enter the land, those who will have to organize society within the framework of independent statehood. This truism was formulated by Moshe during his last day on earth, when he took leave of the Children of Israel who were about to transition from a nomadic, desert existence into a government in Eretz Yisrael.
“This principle rejects all the efforts of those who would ‘improve’ religion, reformers who claim that the halacha is unsuitable for our social, scientific, industrial society, and that we must trim the branches in order to save the trunk. כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִלְבָֽבְךָ֖ לַֽעֲשׂתֽוֹ determines that the halacha is always actual and valid. We solemnly declare that the principle of eternity of Torah bestows upon us the promise that it is possible to study Torah and to observe it not only at home and in the ghetto, but everywhere in the world, be it the modern home, the laboratory, the campus or the industrial plant; in public as well as in private life” (Chumash Masores Ha’Rav, Devarim, p.243).
As we prepare to leave 5781 behind and enter into 5782, let us remember that the Torah is not over the seas, nor it is up in the heavens beyond our reach. Rather it is very, very close to us, attainable in the here and now, in every place and in every time. Let us recommit ourselves to living a Torah life and reaching ever higher heights in our avodas Hashem in the new year.
The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, d.1797) was an extremely devoted student of Torah and did not spend one unnecessary minute away from his Torah study. And if he had to be away from the Torah, he would mark down in his notebook when and for how long he had been away from Torah study.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement, he would calculate all the minutes that he was away from Torah study the entire year, and would cry and repent of his failure to study Torah during those times. It was said of him that when all the missed minutes were added up for a whole year, it never added up to more than three hours (Tales of the Righteous, p.180).
While we certainly are not the Vilna Gaon, the timeless words of Moshe Rabbeinu are a call to each and every one of us. No matter our current level of commitment to Torah and mitzvos, there are certainly areas in which we can all grow and improve. As for the closing words of our parsha:
רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע – See, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil… וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ – and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring… כִּ֣י ה֤וּא חַיֶּ֙יךָ֙ וְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמֶ֔יךָ – for He is your life and the length of your days (Devarim 30:15-20).
May we choose well and in that merit, may we all be inscribed in the book of life, for a shana tova u’mesuka – a year that is always good and only sweet.
בברכת כתיבה וחתימה טובה,