Volume 3 Issue 52
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The Torah, this week's portion tells us, is not in space. We do not have
to travel to the heavens, nor cross the seas to learn it. It is close to
our hearts and our lips to do and observe (Deuteronomy 30:12). Though
the Torah is not in the heavens, that is not always the case with the
Jews! We read this week that sometimes the Jewish people will be so
dispersed that "if your exiles are scattered at the end of the skies,
Hashem will gather them from there" (Deuteronomy 30:4).
Those two verses are an amazing contrast. Though the People of the Book
may be as far-flung as the heavens themselves, the Book is always within
our reach. Ultimately however, both the far-flung Jew and the Book he or
she is meant to observe will always land together.
The meaning of the message is surely open to analysis. What does the
Torah mean by telling us that Torah is not in heaven? We all know that.
After all, aren't we reading those verses on Shabbos, in synagogue, here
Rashi explains that the Torah means to tell us that if the Torah was
actually in heaven we would have to find a way to retrieve it, bring it
back to earth, and study it! Quite a prescient prediction of
space-travel! But, I imagine, if a possible cure for cancer or the quest
for other scientific discoveries prompted a multi-billion dollar space program
with a goal to land on the moon, Mars and our other celestial neighbors,
the quest for morality would have propelled us there thousands of years
Perhaps, however, we can use an old Jewish story to see how the Torah is
entreating us in a different vein.
The story is told of Reb Chaikle, a poor tailor from Lodz, who had
recurring dreams. Each night his father would appear to him and tell him
about a secret fortune. All he had to do was travel to Vienna and visit
the royal palace. Exactly 50 yards from the palace, explained his
father, was an old oak tree. Under that tree, his father told him, lies
a great treasure. All Reb Chaikle had to do was dig under the tree, and
all his financial problems would be solved.
At first, Reb Chaikel ignored the dreams, but they kept repeating night
after night, and he felt compelled to travel to Vienna and seek his
He camped out near the palace and waited for an opportune moment to begin
the dig to fortune. At midnight on a moonless night he stealthily crept
up to the tree and began to dig. His shovel did not get a chance to
strike dirt when he felt a rough hand squeeze the back of his neck.
"Jew!" shouted the palace guard. "What on earth are you doing at twelve
midnight, 50 yards from the palace gates, shoveling dirt?"
Reb Chaikel had no choice but to tell the story of the dream and the
great fortune that lay beneath the oak tree that he was about to dig up.
He even offered to split the booty, if only the guard would let him go.
"You idiot!" laughed the guard. "Everyone has dreams. In fact, I myself
even dreamt that if I would go to the city of Lodz in Poland, and dig in
the basement of some Jewish tailor named Chaikel, I, too, would find a
fortune! Hah! Now get lost!"
Legend has it that Reb Chaikel returned to Lodz, and after a little
digging in his own home became a very wealthy man.
Sometimes we look at the Torah's goals as way up in space! We look at
the mitzvos as nearly impossible tasks that are as difficult to achieve
and perform as landing on the moon. We view them as hurdles that are
impossible to overcome and not feasible to attempt. We must travel to
distant lands and perform incredulous feats.
The Torah assures us twice that it is within our reach. A Jewish soul
may be lost in space, but Hashem will find a way to bring him home.
Whether through a chance meeting with an observant Jew stuck in Thailand,
or seated next to him or her on an airplane circling Dallas airport,
Hashem will find him. Next, the Torah assures us that its very manual is
a lot closer to practical observance than people may imagine. One may
think it takes extensive efforts to become something he imagines is way
beyond his reach.
This week the Torah teaches us the secret of the Jewish soul and the
Book that was written to guide it. Both of them are within our reach.
Neither of the two is forever spaced out.
Best Wishes to our subscriber US Air Force Rabbi Brett C. Oxman who is
conducting High Holiday services for our troops in Bosnia. It is
wonderful to know that we are on his mind as he is on our mind too!
Shana Tova U'mesuka!
Mazel Tov to Avigdor Fuld upon his marriage to Yoni Kantor! and Yasher
Koach to all who made the simcha so beautiful!
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