Community Rabbi Corner, Sept. 27, 2019

Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky ‘02
Congregation Beth El
South Orange, NJ
Parashat Nitzavim
In Parashat Nitzavim, Moses reminds the Israelites that “these commandments which I enjoin upon you this day are not too baffling for you, nor are they beyond reach. [Torah] is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’” (Deut. 30:11-12)
 
Moses will soon pass away, and Joshua will transition to become the new leader of the People of Israel. Moses is worried that the Israelites will see Torah as only connected to him and without him there to lead them, they won’t make Torah a part of their lives. Additionally, Moses doesn’t want the Torah to be seen as “too divine,” lest one concludes they aren’t “religious enough” or “spiritual enough” to make Torah a part of their lives. By declaring that Torah is “not in the heavens,” Moses is saying that Torah should be a part of everything one does.
 
That is the essence of Golda Och Academy’s mission. I say this proudly not just as a community rabbi that supports GOA, but also as a GOA alum and GOA parent. Torah is not just meant to be studied in the classroom. Torah is found when the high school Spanish students visit Cuba to experience Jewish life on the island and when students speak out and participate in the Climate Change Strike. Torah is found when Kindergarteners taste-test apples in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and when Lower School students learn about Social Emotional Learning.
 
Our goal is to make this mission our mission as well. We go through our busy lives expecting that there are designated times when Torah applies to our lives. In the coming days, we will sit in synagogue trying to make Torah a regular part of our lives. We will think about the parts of ourselves that we want to change, the parts of our lives devoid of the ethics and values of our tradition, and attempt to find a way to make Torah present all the time.
 
The reality though is that we too often feel like we’ve done our jobs simply by showing up. But teshuvah is about a lot more than showing up. It is hard work. Real change requires a willingness and openness to understand that if Torah is “not in the heavens,” then it is here, all around us. We just need to be willing to make it a part of our everyday lives. As we prepare to enter 5780, may we begin anew and declare that Torah is not too far away from us to comprehend, understand or appreciate. Torah has the potential to guide us in all that we do and in all that we are. We just have to be open to embracing it. May the new year be a year where we learn for our children and their teachers, and may we all strive to make Torah more of a part of our lives. Shana Tova!
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