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Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

The end of the tenure of Moshe draws closer and close, and although he addresses the task of preparing the Jewish people to enter into the land of Israel, he must also prepare them for a new leader, a world without him at the helm. For a culture so steeped in tradition, memory and connection with one's past such an experience is difficult. Moses must convince the people that their successes and sense of direction is intuitive not commanded by him or by God.

The parsha reads:

לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֙יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃ וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵ֥בֶר לַיָּ֖ם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י

יַעֲבָר־לָ֜נוּ אֶל־עֵ֤בֶר הַיָּם֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃ כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃

It 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?”Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

Lo bashamayim hi! The famous words used to democratize Jewish tradition and eliminate divine command ethics in preference for systems founded in the human experience. These were the words spoken to Rabi Eliezer, who, in his attempt to conclude the halacha was such a way called on the heavens and nature to demonstrate miraculous events only to be told, Lo Bashamyim hi - the Torah is not in heaven!

Let us expand this conversation to one of power in general.

We too often as people become reliant on our leaders, we place the success of our hopes and dreams in them. We cede moral responsibility over them, begging our leaders to guide us. Lo bashamyim hi! It is us, the people who are ultimately responsible, it is us the people who, according to the parsha will observe the Torah "in your mouth and in your heart". Your body, not the body of another leader.

Moses encourages the people to recognize they are the masters of their own fate and that it they who will enter Israel and not him. In this way, history must be remembered but not insofar as it inhibits autonomous decision making.

Lo Bashamayim hi! The direction that we choose to take is up to us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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