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Parshas Nitzavim

Close Encounters
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

In this week's parsha, The Torah states: "For this mitzva that I command you today… is not distant ... rather the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and heart, to fulfil it." (Devarim 30:11-14). The Rambam explains that the passuk is referring to the mitzva of teshuva, repentance. Even if you are living in the farthest corners of the earth amongst the nations of the world, you can still repent. It is not too difficult or distant, rather, it is very close whatever time or place. Teshuva is in your mouth and in your heart. All that is necessary is to verbally confess your sins and return in your heart to Hashem and to accept upon yourself to observe the Torah. This passuk can also be understood as a reference to tefilla - it is in your mouth - through tefilla we are able to return to Hashem. This was discussed last year (see Tefilla - the "Rite of Return").

Rashi, however, explains that the passuk refers to limud HaTorah, Torah study. In this vein, Rashi writes that the Torah is not in heavens, that you can say who can ascend to the heavens - for if it were in the heavens, we would have to go up to learn it. Rashi continues, "Rather the Torah is very close… it is in your mouth and in your heart" - the Torah was given to us in writing, Torah Sheb'Kasav, and orally, Torah Sheba'al Peh.

Yet how can man ever hope to understand the Torah, which is the Davar Hashem, the Word of G-d and is therefore beyond the scope of human comprehension? And why don't we have to ascend to the heavens to learn it?

Reb Yerucham writes that before the Giving of the Torah, it was truly in Shamayim and no human could relate to it (with the exception of a few select individuals such as Avraham Avinu upon whom Hashem bestowed His knowledge). However, Moshe ascended to Shamayim, staying there forty days and nights and afterwards he brought it Torah down to us. Now it is within our ability to learn. Furthermore, the Torah is actually part of our very essence. The Gra writes that the phrase "v'chayei olam nata b'socheinu", and He implanted within us eternity (Birchas HaTorah and U'va L'Tzion), refers to Torah Sheba'al Peh. When we learn, we are not acquiring new knowledge, but rather, we draw out the Torah knowledge that is implanted within each Jew. We are all living Sifrei Torah. When we apply ourselves, we bring forth this dormant inner wealth.

Today, every section of Torah is available in print, and a wealth of Torah is available in the vernacular. This provides a tremendous opportunity for all Jews, no matter where they live and regardless of their background to open a Jewish book and experience Torah learning Even a non-Jew could do so, however, Torah remains the possession of the Jewish people. Reb Yerucham relates that the Czar of Russia was once taught a certain section from the Talmud. And although he reviewed it many times, he said afterwards that he could not understand the Gemara.

The Shela Hakodesh also maintains that this passuk refers to limud HaTorah. He writes that each of the 248 positive mitzvos corresponds to one of the 248 limbs of the body and each of the 365 negative commandments corresponds to one of the 365 veins and arteries of the body. Each positive mitzvah that one fulfils and each negative commandment that one is careful not to transgress nourishes its corresponding limb or vein. However, if one neglects one of the mitzvos or commits a sin, he blemishes the parallel limb or vein of his neshama. The Shela then notes that it is impossible for any one individual to observe all 613 mitzvos. Some mitzvos apply only to kohanim; others, only in Eretz Yisrael or when the Beis Hamikdash stood. Still, others apply only in rare circumstances, e.g., if one's brother dies without children and there is a mitzvah for him to marry his brother's widow (yibum). If that is the case, how can one properly prepare his neshama for the Next World and prevent his neshama from being a ba'al mum (blemished)?

The Shela answers that if one fulfils those mitzvos that he is capable of performing and learns the sections of the Torah related to all the mitzvos, it is considered as if he fulfilled the entire Torah. This is alluded to in the passage here. "For this commandment that I command you today is not hidden from you...". This refers to those mitzvos that are hidden from one and are impossible to fulfil, e.g., mitzvos that apply to kohanim. "...And it is not distant...". This refers to mitzvos that are possible to fulfil but circumstances are rare, e.g., Yibum. "...Nor is it across the sea...". This refers to mitzvos that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael thereby exempting one who lives across the sea. The Torah says that one should not say that it is hidden, far, in the heavens or across the sea. Rather, it is very near to you, in your mouths and in your hearts to learn and delve into it. The passuk ends with the words "to perform it". All that precedes these final words is given on condition that one performs those mitzvos that he can fulfil.

Let us appreciate the Torah that Hashem has given us. Although it is heavenly and beyond man, not only did Hashem give us the Torah, but He also placed it in our souls. It is our essence. If one knew there was a treasure buried under his house, he would do all he could to retrieve it. We must realise that we possess that treasure and it is not under our houses, but part of our very being, so let us access this wealth. Ashreinu, ma tov chelkeinu - How fortunate are we, how good is our lot!

Please daven and learn for Chizkiyahu ben Devorah Mindel for a refua sheleima.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

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