by Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, Rabbi of the Religious Union for Progressive Judaism in the Republic of Belarus
Perhaps one of the tasks of our weekly Parasha – Nitzavim-Vayelech – is to show the accessibility of the Torah. At the beginning of the chapter we read that everyone, including Jews of different classes and occupations, women and children, stand before the Lord to make the covenant. Next we are told the covenant is made for the future generations as well as for those whose hearts are not fully ready to accept the commandments. By the end of the Parasha, we learn that the teaching of the Torah and the commandments are very close ”
in your mouth and in your heart to perform
Our Parasha uses language and style that will be understood by all: adults and children, intellectuals and commoners. Such questions as ”
who would go to heaven and the sea to bring us the Torah
?” and answers as “
the Torah is not in heaven and not over the sea
” do not just talk about where to actually look for the Torah. Rather, our Parasha teaches us that all Israel, regardless of status, sex, age, or geographical position were given a fairly simple answer: the Torah is never far from us and it is not difficult to comprehend.
Nevertheless, one should not be confused: the Parasha does not claim that everything in the Torah and in our lives are simple and easily understandable, as there are limits to human knowledge and understanding. It says “
the hidden acts concern the Lord our God, but with overt acts, it is for us and our children
…” – there are things that we do not understand or that are not close to us such as the previous generation’s instruction, or terrible events that occurred in this world. In the Plaut Modern Commentary we read that this section could be a later interpolation, and possibly was the congregational response as the question of accessibility of the Torah was raised.
In today’s world, information has become more understandable and accessible, thanks to the knowledge derived from ancestors, acquired through learning, and found on the Internet. And yet there are still things that remain hidden and are impossible to explain. This year, the Minsk Center for Progressive Judaism “Beit Simcha”– in memory of Sandra Breslauer z”l – was opened [see also
]. Most of what took place during the dedication ceremony was close, understandable and accessible to the Jewish Reform community. But some interesting surprises that materialized during the Beit Simcha dedication could not be easily explained – not by the World Union leadership, the organizers of the event, nor the honored guests. The WUPJ as well as the Religious Union of Progressive Judaism in Belarus are in constant dialogue with other religious groups and communities, as well as with representatives from the UN, embassies and different countries. Therefore, it would not have been out of the question to see the ambassadors and representatives from the USA, Israel and the UK, the UN representative in Belarus, representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic communities, and representatives of the Minsk authorities at the dedication. And our parasha would describe this as “
it is in your heart
” to share the Simcha of opening the Jewish Reform Center in Minsk, on a street that was formerly called “Jew Street”. However, the arrival to the dedication of Chabad leaders, despite all the differences between them and Reform Judaism, as well as the presence of large numbers of Jewish students who participated in the ceremony (despite it being the middle of their exams period) may suggest that there is always something hidden in our lives; something that may be not close to us, but – as in this case – can bring pleasant surprises.
Life often brings us events that are concealed, out of reach, or that require clarification from our sages. However Nahmanides (the Ramban), commenting on our passage of accessibility of the Torah, argues that in order to start to understand the essence of the commandments, one does not need to go to the great sages, but rather he stresses the importance of finding Torah in everyday life. Torah is close by and not heavenly inaccessible or uncomprehendable
God’s word is in our hearts. And even if occasionally the word is unclear it is still near. And may be this particular statement of the Torah accessibility has been supporting both Jewish continuity and interest to learn Torah.