Dear Heschel Families,
This week we read the double parshah Nitzavim-Vayelech. In Parshat Nitzavim, Moshe offers the significant teaching that the Torah is not “in heaven,” inaccessible to us, nor is it “beyond the sea;” but rather, it is “very close to you; in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfil it.” (Devarim 30:12-14). From this we learn that observing Torah is not difficult: We can observe mitzvot through simple acts of speech and kindness. This week our students performed many small but significant mitzvot.
Probing more deeply, we wonder why both “heart” and “mouth” are required to “fulfil” Torah. In ancient times, the heart was considered the locus of thought and intention; while speech pertained to making oaths and commitments. To perform a mitzvah, we need to use our heart to consider and feel-out how best to act; we also need to make a commitment to acting. Only when we combine intention and commitment — heart and word — are we likely to perform a mitzvah. As we approach Yamim Hanora’im (The Days of Awe) between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will have many opportunities for heartfelt reflection and verbal commitment. As Rabbi Heschel reminds us, “words of prayer are commitments; we stand for what we utter.” In the coming days we will consider the strength and frailty of both our intentions and our words; we will reflect on when our words and our actions fell short of our intentions, and we will seek to renew the alignment among them. It is a challenging goal; one that is “not in heaven,” nor “beyond the sea,” but in our hearts and our mouths to fulfil it.
Shabbat Shalom Veshanah Tovah Umetukah,
P.S. Thanks to the attentive readers who caught the typo from last week: we are leaving the year 5777 entering 5778!