9/19/2006

The Torah IS in Heaven

I write from my seat in an El Al 777, having just departed Newark for Lod, high above New England. The well-known words that we read this past Shabbat – the Torah is Not in Heaven (Lo Ba-Shamayim Hi) are part of a passage which insists upon human access to Torah. The Torah makes sense. It’s intuitive. It’s accessible. It’s intelligible. I find myself having to remind myself of this over and over as I see and hear those who would insist that there’s no room for anything ‘balebatish’ in Torah. That ‘Common Sense’, that which Everyman finds intelligible, and Torah, are two completely separate realms, and ‘never the twain shall meet’. And then I note the irony of the fact that since I have access to Torah, in the form of my Bar-Ilan CD, and the ability to record my thoughts, in the form of my laptop (and if I wanted to spend the money, I could even post from up here), from above the clouds, that the very accessibility of Torah can be summarized by saying that the Torah is in Heaven as well. Leit Makom Panui Minei.

[This, in turn, reminds me of the headline in HaModia after the surfacing of allegations that a particular chassidishe rebbele made inappropriate contact with a teenage girl on a flight from Australia – ‘The Torah is Not in Heaven’. Whomever came up with that headline deserves a Pulitzer.]

After a week in the states, this flight allows me to reflect upon the purpose of my travels. The organization that I now represent, Tzohar, is really all about being consistent with a Torah that is not in Heaven, that is fully earth-bound, and has what to contribute to all of our lives. It’s about letting the Torah speak for itself, without trying to interfere too much with its message, without trying to turn ourselves into the conduit for that message, without purporting to be a go between, kal va-chomer THE go-between between man and God. It’s about doing our best not to obscure the ‘ma’or she-bah’, and having faith that the Torah can speak for itself, without my help.

(which, of course, is part of the paradox of Torah She-Be’al Peh, being both the passive recipient and active contributor to the corpus of Torah. I prefer R’ Tzadok of Lublin’s resolution, namely, that creative contribution to Torah is not experienced by the contributor as a self-consciously creative act, ve-acamo”l)

I think about the various conversations that I had with people on this very theme, from mori ve-rabi, R’ Yosef Blau, as we lament the divestiture of the halakhic experience from everyday life and intuitive reasoning (and we didn’t even bring up R’ Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, whose book, not coincidentally called ‘Not in Heaven’, explores this very theme, to my conversation with a woman who created a dialogue group between those inside and outside the Orthodox community, whose slogan is ‘The Twain SHALL Meet’!

My thoughts are as scattered as the clouds outside my window, and my laptop battery will be stilled long before my mind. We’ll see how far I get.

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