Parsha and religious interpretation brought to you by Shelbi Karlebach, JSO’s Religious Chair.
In last weeks Parsha, Nitzavim, the Jewish people came to the border of Israel, to the end of their journey in the desert and the end of the Torah. Moses gathered all the people and gave them the complete Torah, warning them that those who did not follow the laws laid out by G-d would be punished. However, G-d does not turn His back on those who truly repent and strive to walk in the ways of the Torah.
There is a very famous verse from the end of this parsha that reads “It is not in the Heavens” There are many ways to understand these words. In Rashi’s commentary he notes that “it” is speaking of the torah and that it is not something must rise to great heights to learn and live. Rather it was given to us so that it is here, at our fingertips, ours to follow and learn, not something unattainable. This explanation is more than satisfactory.
However, when thinking about this phrase and thinking about the placement of this lesson, the time of year that it fell and the lessons that follow, I felt the need to explore more possible answers. So, I called my High School Gemara Teacher. We began talking about the meaning of theses words in relation to our own lives
In this time of the year, these days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, our minds are focused on a new year, a clean slate if you will. But in order to achieve this we must first confront and absolve our hearts and minds of the past years transgressions. We must take account of the ones we hurt and ask forgiveness. But the hardest part of this journey called “Teshuva” meaning “Return”) is just that, to return our attentions to ourselves and to learn and grow from the past year. If we look at that verse again, “It is not in the heavens” it becomes clear to that perhaps he is speaking of Teshuva itself, not just the Torah.
God cannot do Teshuva for you. It is within each of us to take those steps.
Here in our conversation, we both commented on this concept that “it is within us.” This wording reminded me of the concept that there is a part of God within each of us; that we are all created in Gods image. This being in the creation story, this weeks parsha, it would make sense that perhaps the two Parshas, back to back could have lessons that play in together. So, “not in the heavens,” could that mean Hashem is not in the heavens because in fact he is here, within us all, around us all. If we take it to mean that then we should now look at the Torah as a guide in how to treat the people around us, how to ask forgiveness of the people we hurt and of ourselves. To me that really all I could ask for in a my life, a way to learn, understand, and live with the interest of not only myself but with the well being of those around me. This year I am finding that the Torah is in fact, not in the heavens. It is here, it is humbling, uplifting and mostly grounding.