Parashas Nitzavim

In this week’s parashah, it is written (Devarim 30:11-14): “For this commandment that I command you this day is not beyond you, nor is it far from you. … The word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may fulfill it.” This passage teaches that Hashem has made the Torah readily available to us, so that fulfilling it is not hard for us. The Maggid links the passage to the following verse (Tehillim 147:15): “The One who sends His word down to the earth; most swiftly His word runs.” He interprets this verse as referring to the Giving of the Torah. He brings out the idea with an analogy. If people in a certain city wish to obtain a certain commodity which is available only in a distant province, then they must a make a great effort to obtain it. But suppose the city’s mayor sends wagons to the distant province to bring back a large amount of this commodity, and puts the goods in a large store from which everyone in the city can buy. The people can then obtain the commodity without great effort. Similarly, Hashem brought the Torah down to us so that we can easily access it.
The Maggid continues by saying that if a person is exerting himself strenuously in an attempt to observe the Torah, then it must be that what he is attempting to observe is not the true Torah. This idea is reflected in Yeshayah 43:22: “It is not I whom you have called, Yaakov, for you have wearied yourself for Me, Yisrael.” The Maggid brings out the idea in one of his most famous parables. A person arrives home from a trip very late on erev Shabbos. He rushes toward the front door of his house, leaving his suitcase in the wagon, and telling the wagon driver: “I’m going into my house, and I’ll send someone out to get my suitcase.” He sends a boy out to get the suitcase. The boy goes out and returns shortly afterward. He approaches the master of the house, who is in an inner room, and says: “I’ve brought in your suitcase.” The master of the house notices that the boy is wiping sweat off his face with his sleeve, and is short of breath as he talks. He asks the boy where his suitcase is, and the boy replies that it is in the outer room. He responds: “What you brought into the house is not mine. Who knows whose it is?” The boy says: “Go into the outer room and take a look – surely it is yours.” The master of the house replies: “I don’t need to go and look. I see all the sweat on your face and I know you took the wrong suitcase. My suitcase is small and light, and carrying it would not make you sweat.” Similarly, if a person is sweating and worn out from trying to observe the Torah, he is following the wrong set of directives, for Torah observance does not require excessive exertion. As the parashah states, the Torah is very close to us, that we may fulfill it.
The Midrash states (Devarim Rabbah 8:7):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to the Jewish People: “See how dear you are to Me. No one in My palace is acquainted with the Torah, but I have given it to you. The Torah is, in the words of Iyov 28:21, ‘hidden from all living beings.’ But for you, it is ‘not beyond you … the word is very close to you.’”
The Maggid sets out to explain why the Torah is beyond the grasp of the angels but very close to us. He brings out the idea with another parable. A man had several sons who lived far off. He wrote to them asking them to come in for their youngest brother’s wedding. He asked each one to bring a fine suit to wear, in order to enhance the affair. One of the sons wrote back, saying: “Dear father, let me know what color suit you want me to wear, and to make you happy I’ll bring a suit of that color.” The father figured that this son must be very rich, that he could bring whatever color suit he asked for. But in fact it was just the opposite. This son was the poorest of them all, and he had no decent suit of his own. He was going to borrow a suit from one of his neighbors. This being so, he could pick whatever color he wanted. His brothers, on the other hand, were limited to what they were able to buy, based on the measure of wealth that Hashem had granted to each one.
The parallel is as follows. Each angel is granted from the outset its designated level of comprehension. The angel receives a fixed portion which cannot be added to. With man, the situation is different. Man is a being created from the earth, and when a person is born, he has almost no comprehension. A person gains Torah wisdom only by pursuing it diligently and pleading to Hashem, the One who graciously grants man knowledge, to instill it in him. Hashem, in His kindness, grants a person Torah wisdom, and He can do so in whatever measure He decides, with no limit. When a person seeks Torah wisdom and gains Hashem’s favor, Hashem grants him Torah wisdom in generous measure.
The Maggid stresses that a person is not granted Torah wisdom automatically, in the way he is given life regardless of whether or not he seeks it – as indicated in Avos 4:29, which states that life is forced upon a person. A person’s level of Torah wisdom depends on his own choice. As our tradition teaches, the crown of Torah is set down in a corner, and whoever wishes can come and take it. If a person seeks Torah, the Torah will be close to him; if not, it will be far from him.
Shlomo HaMelech states (Mishlei 4:1-2): “Hear, O children, a father’s discipline, and be attentive to know understanding. ‘For I give you good doctrine (לקח); do not forsake My Torah.’” A person cannot assume that the Torah will just come to him; he must direct his attention toward it. The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 33:1, discussing the second of the two verses we just quoted, describes the Torah as a commodity that Hashem has set before us, urging us to make it our acquisition (לקיחה) and not leave it sit. As in the analogy of the commodity in a distant province, when the commodity is brought into the city, anyone can get it easily, but to do so, a person must come to buy.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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