|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Rochel Bina Bas Yehudit Yeta
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
נִצָּבִים ● Nitzavim
● Is the Torah as easy as Moshe says it is? ●
“The Will vs. The Wall”
When encouraging the B’nei Yisrael to devote themselves to Hashem and His will, Moshe Rabbeinu proceeded to describe the clear accessibility and comprehensibility of the Torah. Moshe argues that, indeed, they have the means to successfully fulfill the Hashem’s will as it is described in the Torah, “Ki HaMitzvah HaZos…Lo Nifleis Hi Mimcha V’Lo Rechokah Hi…Lo BaShamayim Hi…V’Lo Mei’Eiver LaYam Hi… Ki Karov Eilecha HaDavar Me’od B’ficha U’V’Levovcha LaAsoso”-“For this commandment…it is not foreign from [beyond] you and it is not distant… It is not in heaven… And it is not over the sea… Rather the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and your hearts to perform it.”1
Now, from the simple reading of Moshe’s words, it seems that his point is that because the Torah is entirely within our reach, we should be able to fulfill it without problems; there is absolutely no excuse not to.
The Torah’s Accessibility – Is it that easy?
Now, while it may be true that the Torah is not literally in the heavens or over the sea, if we are being brutally honest, it does not seem as easy as Moshe Rabbeinu has described it to be, to perform the will of G-d and fulfill the Torah in its entirety. Hashem has bestowed upon us the conveniently poisonous combination of free choice and an Evil Inclination, both which make serving Him quite a challenging feat. With that in mind, what does Moshe Rabbeinu really mean when he states that that the Torah is “close” to us, that it is not “foreign”? If it is as close as Moshe said it is, why would anyone have such a difficult time succeeding to fulfill the Torah? Why or how could so many of us still transgress Hashem’s Torah?
We know that we’re not perfect and we know that we all struggle in some area of Torah. All of us certainly need to exert ourselves every single day to improve our Avodas Hashem. There is a reason why we have a series of days called the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, Ten Days of Repentance, designed so that we could all mend our relationships with Hashem and improve our Torah observance. The challenge of fulfilling the Torah is built into the system. If all of the above is true, it’s seems that Moshe’s statement is an exaggeration at best and not even true at all at worst.
Ramban: Teshuvah’s Accessibility
Furthermore, although most M’forshim2 interpret this passage as describing the availability of Hashem’s Torah overall, Ramban famously understood this passage as referring specifically to the accessibility of Teshuvah, repentance. In other words, it is not simply fulfilling, but returning to Hashem’s Torah that is within one’s reach, as the verse prior writes, “Ki Sishma B’Kol Hashem Elokecha…Ki Sashuv El Hashem Elokecha B’Chal Levov’cha U’V’Chal Nafsh’cha”-“For if you will listen to [lit., in] the voice of Hashem your G-d…then you will return to Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul.”3
In other words, it’s not merely that the Torah itself is apparently so readily accessible for us to both understand and perform its commandments, but even after we’ve somehow veered far away from Hashem and His Torah, have violated Hashem’s will, and feel completely distant from it—even then—Moshe reassures us, “Ki Karov Eilecha HaDavar Me’od”—that not only is it not distant, “but the matter is very close to you.” More specifically, Ramban explains, Teshuvah is “very close” to us, so that we should have no problems merely reaching out and taking it.
Now, for all of the same reasons, this assumption is difficult to accept, or at least understand on its face. From our own personal experiences, we know that it’s not that simple. If fulfilling Torah is as challenging as we know it is, then Teshuvah, coming back to the Torah after having failed would have to be all the more difficult. At that point, when we have already used our free choice and followed the counsel of our Evil Inclinations, would the idea of returning to the Torah way not seem to be most distant from us? The very fact that we have veered so quickly from the Torah in the first place should demonstrate, first of all, that the fulfillment of the Torah is certainly not so easy at all. Second of all, naturally, once we have allowed our Evil Inclinations and accustomed ourselves to transgressing the Torah, making a one hundred eighty degree turn and returning to the Torah is unquestionably a foreign, counterintuitive concept. How is it then that fulfilling Hashem’s Torah and even doing Teshuvah could possibly be considered feats that our close to us? In what sense, if at all, could Moshe’s reassurance possibly be true?
Digression – Rosh HaShannah as a “Yom Teshuvah”
As Rosh HaShannah approaches, the Am Yisrael turns its focus to the aforementioned topic and feat of Teshuvah, returning to Hashem. Indeed, Rosh HaShannah is the first of the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. What is strange though is that Rosh HaShannah does not seem to have anything at all to do with Teshuvah.
Indeed, the themes of repentance and atonement appear nowhere in the Torah’s description of Rosh HaShannah or even in our Rosh HaShannah’s liturgy. In the Torah, Rosh HaShannah is merely referred to as a day of “Zichron Teruah”-“Remembrance of Shofar blasts.”4 The prayers of Rosh HaShannah hone in on these themes, highlighting G-d’s kingship, His memory of all affairs, and the symbolism of the Shofar—known collectively as Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros.
But, how then is Rosh HaShannah considered a “Yom Teshuvah,” being the first of the Ten Days of Repentance? What do Rosh HaShannah’s unique themes have to do with the process of Teshuvah?
The “Proximity” of Torah/Teshuvah
As was said, we can all attest that, in general, Torah observance is not particularly easy. The process of Teshuvah, no less, is one of the most challenging parts of Avodas Hashem. To suggest that these lofty goals are simple seems to be disingenuous. But, perhaps if we put things into perspective, we will find the hidden truth of the Torah and Teshuvah’s proximity.
We struggle to accept Moshe’s words describing the Torah’s “easy access” due to the simple notion that we find difficulty “accessing” the demands of the Torah. Relatively, it does not seem that easy. But, if we think about it, life itself isn’t easy. Indeed, most of the things that are worth having in life are not easily attainable. In fact, everything worth having in life requires some measure of efforts, no matter how much effort we have to put in to get it. It requires something. Accordingly, we cannot assume that Moshe Rabbeinu meant to intimate that Torah and Teshuvah are easy things to accomplish. In his own words, he said that “the matter is very close to us,” that it is “in our mouths and hearts.” Perhaps that is not to suggest that the goal is particularly easy. They are “close” and “within” us, within our reach. Surely, in life, there are certain things that are more within our reach than others. Certain things are more accessible than others. Somehow, Torah or perhaps Teshuvah to the Torah is among those things. It is closer.
Behind the Wall – So Close, Yet So Far Away
The question is what that helps? Earlier, we assumed that Moshe’s words were intimating that Torah and Teshuvah at least should be relatively easy for us. Our problem is that we attest that they are not. Again, we are challenged every day, perhaps every moment with the test of free choice while under the influence of an Evil Inclination. If that is the case, of what benefit is it to us that Torah or Teshuvah is “very close to us” and “in our mouths and in our hearts” if we are still going to struggle more for Torah and Teshuvah than for other things? What good is proximity if there is a glass wall in between us and the goal? It is so close, yet so far away.
The Things We Work For
To rephrase the challenge: Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that everything in life is equally attainable, so that the only real difference between that which you attain and that which you do not is your choice in the matter. Would one choose to exert himself to attain what is in front of him or not? That remains a matter of choice. Now, many things might influence the choices we make. The challenge, as we keep on arguing, is making the correct choices. Because of our inclinations, it’s not easy. The result is that even if we’ve developed slight interest in fulfilling the Torah and doing Teshuvah, we’re still feeling blocked from doing so. How then, can we succeed?
Before we can answer this question, we have to consider how it is that we succeed and achieve any of the things we want to in life, despite the obstacles. Certain things in life, we have particular affinity for—it is our passion to attain them. Disregarding the “Evil Inclination” to sin, we have other kinds of inclinations that are not so evil. We might be inclined to put food on our tables so that we can eat and survive. We might be inclined to have clothing and shelter, etc. We may even have our own specialized aspirations beyond our simple needs for survival as well. For example, we might want to excel in a sport, hone and perfect a life skill or talent, amass and spread wisdom to the world, invent, or discover.
Many of these endeavors are tasking, but if you just look around, many of us either know people who have accomplished these physically and intellectually challenging feats, or are, perhaps, proceeding without hesitation to engage in such feats ourselves. Yes, each one can be challenging and possibly “distant” from us. Our efforts may be working against the odds. Nonetheless, we are exert ourselves and do our best to accomplish what we think is meaningful and fulfilling for us to accomplish. Even if the matter is not necessarily “close” to us, if we are invested in the given goal and have the will to accomplish it, despite the inclinations which stand counter to that goal, the goal will become a step easier.
The Will vs. The Wall
With this understanding, the difference between accomplishing goals becomes a matter of what we actually care about in life. What are our goals? Where do our passions lie? Where will we decide to exert myself so that nothing in the world will stop me? In order to attain the fulfillment of Torah and engage in successful Teshuvah, we have to get over that hurdle and make the first move. Once we have gotten over that hurdle though, “Karov Eilecha HaDavar Me’od”—the matter really is close. In fact, it is right there and more attainable than any other life pursuit, because it depends on one’s iron will from within. That is what shatters the glass wall between us and the goal. But again, until we’ve been stirred to make that fateful choice, until it becomes our passion so that we will reach that goal no matter what, of course we will not exert ourselves and reach out hand to take it.
“For it is Your Life…Choose Life!”5
The next question is: How do we get there? Naturally, we have passions for so many things. What if Torah isn’t one of them? We set goals for ourselves all the time, but, how are we supposed to be motivated to take that first step in the direction of Hashem’s Torah?
To answer this question, we have to look a little further into Moshe’s speech. Thus far, Moshe had been telling the B’nei Yisrael that the Torah or Teshuvah is within one’s reach—that it’s not in the heavens, but right there in one’s mouth and heart. But, as we’ve argued, the goal still seems out of reach—that there is wall standing in between us and the goal. However, as Moshe continued his speech, he proceeded to reveal the secret to getting through the wall and attaining the goal.
“Re’eih Nasati Lifanecha HaYom Es HaChaim V’Es HaTov V’Es HaMoves V’Es HaRa…U’Vacharta VaChaim L’ma’an Tichyeh…L’Ahavah Es Hashem Elokecha Lishmo’a B’Kolo U’L’Davka Vo Ki Hu Chayecha V’Orech Yamecha…”-“See I have placed before you today, life and goodness, and death and evil…and you shall choose life so that you shall live…to love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His voice, and to cleave with Him, for He is your life and your length of days…”5
Moshe Rabbeinu’s words enlighten us, waking us to the reality that it is a matter of life and death. This message does not mean necessarily that Hashem will kill a person for violating the Torah, but it means that if we respect anything meaningful in life—if we value true life itself—which all of us do, then we have to realize that life itself is meaningful only because Hashem put us here with a mission, to fulfill His Torah! Moreover, our true lives will only be perpetuated for eternality if we make a mission of clinging to the Torah. And without that mission, we are as good as not living at all. Yes, there are a bunch of other wonderful activities to engage in while we’re here in this world, but our main goal is the fulfillment of Torah. We make the effort for our physical survival against all odds, and if we took Moshe’s words seriously, we would pursue our spiritual survival with the same vigor. We would go the distance and overcome the obstacles.
The kicker though is that Moshe Rabbeinu has told us that in reality, the matter is “so close,” in our mouths and hearts. That is because the Torah and the destiny of Teshuvah is part of our essence, “our life and length of days!” We merely have to realize it and resolve to pursue it as our life goal and, then, we will plow through the imaginary obstacles. Thus, Moshe says, “U’Vacharta VaChaim”-“and you shall choose life,” not merely as a commandment, but as a statement of certainty—because, we are naturally inclined to choose life. Of course, we should choose life. Living life is our most natural inclination. When we realize what meaning in life truly is and value it, our passions will follow that value, and of course we will reach out and grasp the Torah.
The Wake-Up Call & the Tumbling Wall
Indeed, awakening ourselves, realizing the true meaning of life and developing the passion for Torah and Teshuvah is the precise role which Rosh HaShannah plays in the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah. We do not engage in Teshuvah per se on Rosh HaShannah because we have no concept of what Teshuvah means until we recognize, through Rosh HaShannah, what our life goals should be. Thus, we spend hours crowning G-d through our prayers and inspiring ourselves to the truth of life’s purpose, so that Torah fulfillment and Teshuvah becomes the obvious next step. As Rambam famously explains6, we awaken ourselves from our slumber with the sound of the Shofar and begin to engage in the much needed introspection. That is the meaning of “Zichron Teruah,” that through the medium of the Shofar blasts, we stimulate ourselves to remember our essence, to remind ourselves what is truly important in our lives. The essence of life itself is none other than our relationship with Hashem. In that vein, being inscribed into the Book of Life means being inscribed for connection to life in its truest essence, our relationship with Hashem.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the first step of the Teshuvah process necessarily requires the Shofar on Rosh HaShannah. The Shofar, like Yehoshua’s Shofaros against Yericho7, breaches the wall which separates us and our passions from Hashem’s Torah, the barrier which keeps us from setting our goals in the first place. Once we stop what we’re doing—whatever pursuits we may be involved in—and merely listen, not just to the Shofar, but the voice of G-d that is telling us what is truly important, we will be able to overcome all challenges because we will value our relationship to Hashem’s Torah and choose life, for it is the single closest matter to us; it is our life and length of days.
May we all be Zocheh to recognize that Hashem and His Torah are our life and essence, develop the will that will shatter the wall which separates us from our them, return to Him and His Torah in complete Teshuvah, and see the coming of Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! L’Shannah Tovah Tichaseiv V’Seichaseim! Have a Great Shabbos, a Chag Samei’ach/Gut Yom Tov and a Shannah Tovah U’Mesukah!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 30:11-14
- Among them, Rashi, Sforno, Maharsha to Eruvin 55A, and Sforno
- Devarim 30:10
- Vayikra 23:24
- Devarim 30:11-19
- Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4
- Yehoshua 6:20