Friday, September 10, 2004

Nitzavim - Vayelech #2:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא.
לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה.
וְלֹא-מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲבָר-לָנוּ אֶל-עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה.
כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
"For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it."
The pshat meaning of the above section might be that the Torah is accessible to the people. Moshe already did the hard work of going up to Heaven and bringing it down for the people. Also, it is not far off generally - not all the way up in heaven or across the sea. Further, it now resides much closer to them - they speak it, and it occupies their thought processes. (The heart as the seat of thought.)

The midrash takes off on the phrase לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא, "It is not in heaven," as referring to Moshe's taking of the Torah from Heaven:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה וגו' לא לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: אמר להן משה שלא תאמרו משה אחר עומד ומביא לנו תורה אחרת מן השמים כבר אני מודיע אתכם לא בשמים היא שלא נשתייר הימנה בשמים.
"For this commandment ... It is not in heaven..." - Moshe said to them, "that you should not say that another Moshe will stand and bring us another Torah from heaven, I therefore preempt this by informing you that there is not left of it in heaven."
Perhaps this midrash was a response to Christianity's New Testament - that no later figure can give a new Torah. The Torah we have is final, and Hashem is not holding something back that He will later give.

It could also be a response to later attempts at reforming the religion - say, false prophets who claim they have new halachot to teach. We can see this line of thought earlier, in Devarim 13, where we learned of the prohibition of adding to mitzvot, immediately before a discussion of a false prophet.

Perhaps part of what influences this interpretation is the peshitta, or "of course!" factor. Moshe tells them that the Torah is not in Heaven that they need to get it. Of course! Moshe went up to Har Sinai and brought it down. Everyone in the audience knows this. Moshe would not have to specify something so obvious. The answer this particular midrash gives it that not only did Moshe bring it down, but none is left above, so this Torah is complete.

Thus, the midrash continues:
ד"א אמר רבי חנינא היא וכל כלי אומנותה ניתנה ענותנותה צדקה וישרותה ומתן שכרה.
"Another explanation: Rabbi Chanina said: "it" and all the crafts of its trade were given: Its humility, righteousness, and uprightness, and the giving of its reward."
This also seems based on the idea that the pasuk must be telling us something more than just that the Torah was brought from Heaven. Rather, it was completely brought down from heaven.

One final takeoff, which seems like a commentary of Tora UMadda! And a somewhat negative one at that!

ד"א מהו לא בשמים היא שמואל אמר אין התורה מצויה באיסטרולוגין שאומנותן בשמים אמרו לשמואל הרי אתה איסטרולוגין וגדול בתורה אמר להן לא הייתי מביט באיסטרולוגים אלא בשעה שהייתי פנוי מן התורה אימתי כשהייתי נכנס לבית המים.
Another explanation: It is not in heaven..." - Shmuel said, "the Torah is not to be found in astrologers, whose craft is in the heaven." They said {protested} to Shmuel - "But you are an astrologer and are great in Torah!" He said to them, I only look at astrology at the time I am free from {the obligation/ability to learn} Torah. When is that? When I enter into the house of water. {Presumably the bathhouse}
It is actually a pretty good strategy - I'm learning through yerushalmi, but also have to read through various papers, or work on programs, for courses. By shifting some of the course reading to the bathroom (instead of reading, e.g. a newspaper or novel), I create more time that I can learn torah. I still read secular subjects outside of the bathroom. but this creates a bit more time.

Note Shmuel is not against astrology, or secular subject matter. It seems to me to be more of an observation that you cannot be truly great in Torah if your attention is divided, and are focusing a lot of intellectual energy in another direction.

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