11/12 Sept: Nitzavim-Vayelech :Shabbat comes in 7:10 pm, ends 8:10 pm
Parashat Nitzavim: Lo BaShamayim Hi
This week’s parashah includes one of my all-time favourite quotes (Deuteronomy 30:12-14): ‘It [the Law] 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?” And it is not 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?” Rather, it is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.’
According to this beautiful passage, we do not need to wait for someone else to bring the Torah to us. The Torah already belongs to each of us. The Torah belongs to the ultra-orthodox and the completely secular, the rabbi and the Jew-in-the-pew, completely equally. While we can choose to learn from one another, we should never see anyone as owning Torah more than ourselves as individual Jews.
Sforno, a medieval biblical commentator, sees this passage as having special relevance to t’shuvah (repentance) due to its connection with the preceding verses. T’shuvah, he writes, does not require us to seek out prophets, rabbis, or scholars; rather, we are each capable of looking within ourselves and healing our relationships with one another and with the Holy Blessed One. His is a particularly fitting lesson to shepherd us into Rosh Hashanah.
Shabbat shalom, and shanah tovah,
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman