The day is almost here and one can feel the anticipation. Many of us felt the same last week as the first day of school approached and a new school year lay ahead, but now there is another first day coming. Rosh HaShanah begins next week and again a new year is about to begin with opportunities waiting for us.
This week we read the final parsha of 5777, Nitzavim/VaYelech. In all of these parshiyot in the Book of Devarim the Jewish people have been standing on the edge of the Jordan River listening to Moshe give his final speech before they enter the Land of Israel. For the past eight weeks Moshe has been laying out a vision for the people for life in the Land; the type of society they can create through their continual connection to the Torah and Jewish tradition.
There is passage in the Talmud where the rabbis are debating whether an oven, made from clay, was ritually impure and therefore not able to be used. Rabbi Eliezer argued in favor of its use while the other rabbis were against it. Rabbi Eliezer tried using various proofs that his opinion was correct, calling upon nature to side with him. “If I am correct, let the carob tree prove it” he proclaimed and the carob tree uprooted itself several hundred feet. The rabbis did not accept the proof. Rabbi Eliezer tried again. “If I am correct, let the canal water prove it,” he called out and the canal water began to flow backward. However, yet again, the rabbis did not accept the carob tree as proof. Finally Rabbi Yirmiyah declared, quoting from this week’s parsha, “It is not in Heaven!”
What did Rabbi Yirmiyah mean? The Torah was already given to human beings and Rabbi Yirmiyah was telling Rabbi Eliezer, who was using Divine acts to demonstrate the correctness of his point, that it was up to human understanding of the Torah that would decide whether or not the oven could be used. The Torah was Divinely given to humans to apply their wisdom through study to render decisions for the society. Human beings were to be HaShem’s partner in the creation of a community.
In the Jewish people parsha, the Jewish people are standing at the threshold of a new era, in the same way we are standing on the threshold of a new school year, and a new year, all with incredible opportunities waiting for us. Our connection to Jewish tradition partners us with the Divine; to widen the circle of opportunity, to deepen the meaning of our Judaism, for form that more perfect community.
Just like the Israelites, our best days lies ahead.
With blessings for a sweet, healthy and fulfilling 5778.
Wishing all a Ketiva, v’chatima tova, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Shabbat shalom and Shana tova.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger