SALT - Wednesday, 22 Elul 5777 - September 13, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Moshe famously teaches Benei Yisrael in Parashat Nitzavim, “Lo va-shamayim hi” – “It is not in the heavens” (30:12), a proverb which has been understood as the origin of several fundamental beliefs regarding the Torah.  According to one interpretation of this verse, which the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 8:6) cites in the name of Rabbi Chanina, Moshe here teaches that the Torah “has been given together with all its tools – its humility, its justness and its uprightness…”
            Just as a laborer or craftsman cannot perform his work without first acquiring the necessary tools and instruments needed for the job, similarly, we cannot begin our work of learning and practicing Torah without certain “tools.”  Rabbi Chanina identifies these tools as humility, decency and integrity.  These are the basic qualities and character traits that we must attain before we proceed to try to excel in the study and observance of Torah. 
Rabbi Chanina also teaches us that these “tools” were given to us together with the Torah.  We cannot excuse ourselves from our Torah obligations by assuming that we are not endowed with the character traits that we need before we can strive for greatness in Torah knowledge and observance.  We cannot decide that we are, by nature, arrogant or unethical, such that we lack the basic “tools” needed for Torah life.  Chazal teach us that we have been given all the necessary “tools,” that we are fully capable, if we try, of achieving the basic qualities of humility, honesty and decency.  Just as the Torah itself is not “in the heavens,” but is rather relevant and applicable to all of us at all times and under all conditions, similarly, its “tools,” the personality traits that the Torah demands, are readily attainable to one and all, and we must therefore work to achieve them so we can then reach higher and pursue the loftier levels of spiritual greatness.