It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. — Deuteronomy 30:12–14
The Torah reading for this week is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, from Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20. Nitzavim means “standing” and Vayelech means “and he went.” The Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10–63:9.
The Torah portion that we read this week, Nitzavim, is always read in close proximity to the High Holy Days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In it, we read one of the most beautiful and inspiring verses in the Bible. God tells us that fulfilling His commandments and living a life of holiness are not beyond our reach: “It is not up in heaven . . . Nor is it beyond the sea . . . No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.”
Such fitting words to start the Jewish New Year! As we make new resolutions and wonder if we will be able to keep to them, the Bible offers these encouraging words.
There is a story told about a little apple tree in a forest of oak trees. Each night, the little tree looks up at the great big oak trees and sees the magnificent stars shining through their branches. From the vantage point of the apple tree, it appears as though the stars are actually hanging from the branches of the oak trees. The apple tree is amazed and she turns to God and asks for stars on her branches, too. “Be patient," God replies.
Every night the apple tree is amazed at the stars, and every day that passes without stars of her own, she is sure that the stars are simply beyond her reach. “Please, God,” she begs at night. “Please give me stars, too!” And God’s usual reply comes, “Be patient, my little one.”
One night, the little apple tree is particularly distraught. “Will I ever get those stars? Are they within my reach?” Just as she starts to despair and believe that the stars are simply beyond her, God sends a great wind. The wind carries a newly formed apple from the branches of the little tree and it falls just beneath her. When the apple falls, it breaks in half, and lo and behold, there is a “star” within. The stars had been hanging from the branches of the little apple tree all along!
The authors of this charming story took advantage of the fact that when we slice an apple horizontally, indeed, the image of a star can be seen. It serves as a great analogy for what the Bible has been telling us for millennia. The heavens are not beyond us somewhere out there beyond our grasp. Holiness, godliness, and spirituality are all within us already. We just need to reveal it.
When you feel unworthy, defeated, or overwhelmed, remember that you are pure holiness at your core. Nothing is beyond our reach; we need only to uncover the light that already shines within.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President