(this was written exactly two years before 9/11)
"For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today, it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, to say, who will ascend to heaven for us and take it for us, and instruct it to us and we will fulfill it. And it is not across the ocean, to say, who will traverse the ocean and take it for us, and instruct it to us and we will fulfill it. For the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart to fulfill it."
What is the meaning of "it is not in heaven?" Rava said, it is not to be found in someone who raises himself through it like the heaven, and R' Yochanan said, it is not to be found in the arrogant.
Today, the world in which we live places great emphasis on the superficial; on buildings, on numbers. Success and development are defined by the popularity polls, by the ratings, by the whims and tastes of the masses. Someone affiliated with one of the very large and affluent Jewish institutions recently remarked that today, what is significant is no longer I.Q., intelligence, but E.Q., "effectiveness quotient." Meaning, that was goes today is flattery, glib talk, appeal to the ego; psychological tactics that soothe people's tensions.
In this context, the expression of lo bashomayim is reminiscent of the dor haflaga, who erroneously thought that they could succeed in ascending the heavens by building a tower, hava nivneh lanu ir umigdal v'rosho bashomayim. They looked for solutions to their mortal limitations through an enormous tower of bricks and mortar.
What a mix-up!
How does Yir'as Shomayim or mesirus nefesh or tikun hamidos figure in the E.Q.? Is Yahadus synonymous with big buildings? With large followings, great fame and broad popularity?? With psychological maneuverings?
Nowhere in the our sources do we find such conclusions; only to the contrary. We are the smallest of the nations, we were chosen not for our great numbers, we received the Torah in the desert, as a nation divested of any concrete home or building. Throughout the generations, our Gedolim always stood firm and uncompromising in their beliefs, fearless and unimpressed by any mortal. Chanifa, flattery, we are taught, is abhorred by G-d.
So, to the innocent Jew, looking to advance himself spiritually, in ruchnius, the scene can be very puzzling, frightening, intimidating. As he immerses himself in limud haTorah and kiyum hamitzvos in a sincere way, at best, he finds little applaud and attention and recognition; and often, he may find himself an object of disregard and derision and abuse in the community. His E.Q.??? Don't ask..
Lest this confusing state be chas veshalom a cause of despair, Moshe Rabbainu comes, in his parting words to Am Yisrael, and tells us, unequivocally,
Lo bashomayim he - You don't need to part of large enterprises, have great talent and fame and tall achievements to be an accomplished Jew!
Lo maiever layam he - You don't need extensive connections to get ahead in life's tasks!
Ki karov eilecha hadavar me'od bficha uvilvavcha laasoso - If you only try to utilize all the tools granted to you through your words, your thoughts and your deeds, then all your goals will be made attainable to you.
For before Hashem, the Ein Sof, the Infinite, the greatest height is insignificant. In His Eyes, the vastest distance is nil. However, if we truly humble ourselves, with complete surrender and acceptance of His Will, we make ourselves into instruments for the true refinement and advancement and building of ourselves and of our world. Not through compromising our values, not through diplomatic maneuvering our way through the powers that be, and not through watering down our ideals to make them pleasing and digestible to the opinion polls.
The great inspiration and example of this very profound theme, says R' Tzaddok miLublin, is Dovid HaMelech. Dovid Hamelech is the "stone despised by the builders who became the foundation of the building." Shmuel HaNavi was told that man sees only superficially when trying to determine who is fit to be Melech Yisrael. Dovid Hamelech, who is Moshiach, is the quintessence of utter nullification, of total surrender before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and His Torah. This bitul, submission to Hashem's Will, and taken nothing at all for granted is expressed primarily through tefillah, prayer.
Ki karov eilecha hadavar meod ..
It is accessible to all of us, especially now, in Chodesh Ellul.
The last Shabbos of the year, let us take advantage..
A gutten Erev Shabbos,
from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh
Picture courtesy of folk.uio.no.