Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim| 5765
“It is Not in the Heaven”Harav Yosef Carmel
The Torahinforms us that the goal of dedicating oneself to a Torah lifestyle is “not in the heaven, that one would say: ‘who will go up to the heaven and take it for us that we should hear it and follow it?’ nor is it on the other side of the sea … for it is very close to you …” (Devarim 30: 11-14). We will concentrate on different meanings and insights of the phrase, “it is not in the heaven (lo vashamayim hee).”
Rashi (ad loc.) comments that the Torah is not in the heaven, but if it were there, it would behoove us to go up there to get it. This is in line with Rashi’s common practice to stress the Torah’s educational messages. In this case, we learn that no effort should be spared to gain access to Torah study (see also Eruvin 45a). Chazal learn another moral lesson from the pasuk. “It is not in the heaven- you will not find Torah in those who ‘raise their thoughts’ (=are haughty)” (Kalah Rabbati, 5,5; Eruvin, ibid.). In other words, to learn Torah properly one must be humble. For this reason, the Torah is compared to water, which always flows down to the lowest elevation.
Another aspect of the phrase is highlighted in the famous story of “Tanur Shel Achana’i.” The gemara (Bava Metzia 59b) tells of a halachic dispute between R. Eliezer and the Chachamim on a question of purity. Despite R. Eliezer’s strong arguments, the majority ruled against him. R. Eliezer invoked heavenly miracles to support his position, causing a carob tree to move, a pool of water to backtrack, and a wall to lean. Finally a heavenly voice explicitly supported R. Eliezer’s position. Yet R. Yehoshua got up and pronounced: “It is not in the heaven!” The gemara explains that once the Torah was given at Sinai, we no longer rule based on heavenly voices. According to this understanding of the pasuk,we no longer follow heavenly voices or even prophecy in deciding halachic disputes, which are determined by the standing rules of determining halacha. We also learn that a navi does not have the authority to alter (in a permanent manner) one iota of the Torah as given to Moshe.
One can suggest another explanation of the phrase in question. The Torah was not meant to stay in the heaven, to be followed by those removed from normal, earthly existence. It was given to human beings who live “in this world.” The Torah does not demand people to act in an unnatural manner, to live as ascetics or in isolation, just to sanctify themselves within this world. The Ralbag (on Mishlei 3:17) writes powerfully on the thesis that the Torah is designed to make one’s life pleasant and bring health to both body and soul. Indeed the Torah is a Torah of life for those who live on the face of the earth, not in the heaven.
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