During my first year of rabbinical school in Israel the jewelry of a particular silversmith was popular amongst my classmates. The artisan would take any verse of Hebrew scripture and engrave it upon hammered silver jewelry. Both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually inspiring, you can imagine why these necklaces were popular amongst young rabbinic, cantorial and education students. These charms became a wearable credo and a reminder to the wearer of whatever message they bore. One of my classmates had the shortest quote I had seen on a large silver circular charm, it read, “lo bashamayim hi,” three words from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Nitsavim, which translate to, “it is not in the heavens.”
Not being as familiar with Nitzavim as my friend, I asked her to describe what the words meant to her. She went on to explain that they appear near the end of Deuteronomy, after Moses has spent considerable time reminding the Israelites of all that they have seen, and all that they have agreed to do in their covenant with God. These words appear in a moment where Moses reassures the Israelites that the work of understanding and implementing the terms of the covenant is not beyond them. As his exit approaches, Moses reminds the Israelites that the work of being in holy relationship with the Divine is not beyond them, nor is it beyond us. I love these three words, because they so simply encapsulate Judaism’s understanding of how humanity can indeed access the Divine – and that which is greater-than-us. We need no intermediary, just an openness to give, to receive and to be changed. I, for one, will be holding onto these three words of reminder as we head in to the ritual-and-prayer-dense High Holy Days.
Rabbi Callie B. Schulman