Chapter 29

14 With all future generations: The Torah transcends the limitations of time and space. Therefore, even today, affirming our covenant with God by resolving to study the Torah and perform its commandments, immediately and spontaneously unites us with every Jew in the world and every generation of the Jewish people—past, present, and future—thereby garnering their support in our resolve.

Thus, although we are the smallest of nations,1 with respect to issues involving the Torah, its commandments, or fulfilling our Divine mission in general—to transform the world into God’s home—we need not fear being outnumbered, for we stand together with the merits of all the generations of the Jewish people.2

18 To add the drunkenness to the thirsty: Allegorically, the human-animal soul is referred to as “drunk.” It indeed longs for pleasure, but the pleasure it longs for is purely physical. Inasmuch as this form of pleasure is readily available to it, it can easily quench its thirst.

In contrast, the Godly soul thirsts for Godliness. This thirst can never be quenched as long as the Godly soul is clothed in the physical body and faced with the concealment of this world. Only in the messianic future, when Godliness will be openly revealed, will the Divine soul be “drunk” with Divinity.3

A Closer Look

[28] Mutual responsibility: When God sealed the covenant between Him and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai by pronouncing the curses and threats given there, He made every Jew responsible for the behavior of all other Jews with whom he or she has contact.4 Here, God expanded this obligation to make every Jew responsible for the behavior for every member of the Jewish community, including those with whom he or she has no contact.

From another perspective, in the covenant God made with the people at Mount Sinai, He did not make the people responsible for one another’s behavior at all, even individually; all levels of mutual responsibility originated in this second covenant, made in the plains of Moab. According to this perspective, the mutual responsibility referred to in the Sinaitic covenant is to that which would take effect later, as part of the second covenant described here.5

Chapter 30

2 You will return to God, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul: In contrast to repentance (teshuvah), which we are here commanded to perform with all our heart and soul, we are commanded to love God not only with all our heart and soul, but with “all your might,”6 implying a love that transcends our normal emotive powers. What is the reason for this difference between these two seemingly similar commandments?

Love is, of course, an emotion. The Torah asks that our love for God be not only a function of our heart and soul, but that it also draw on the unlimited powers of connection to God that are rooted in our essential Divine consciousness. This is referred to as “all your might,” since love founded on our Divine essence is infinitely more powerful than love founded on emotion or intellect.

Repentance, on the other hand, is in its essence an act of going beyond oneself. The normal, operative self is what put us in our present predicament of having sinned and of therefore needing to repent. We therefore need to transcend this self and seek a deeper, more essential layer of identity, in which God means more to us than the indulgences to which we have become accustomed.

Once we find this transcendent consciousness, we must make it our normative consciousness, in order to preclude any backsliding into our previous levels of consciousness and associated behavior.

Thus, whereas the Torah bids us to elevate our love of God from normal to transcendent, it bids us to repent by making our transcendent relationship with Him into our normal one. The processes associated with repentance and love are directly opposite, the first ascending out of innate limitations and the second bringing transcendence into limited consciousness.7

3 Which had accompanied you into exile: This notion may be likened to how, when a student is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher must go with him.8 God is our teacher and we are His students;9 thus, when we go into exile, God must similarly, so to speak, go into exile along with us.

We are taught that whatever God asks us to do, He Himself does.10 Thus, when God sends us into exile, He also sends Himself, so to speak, into exile with us.11

11-14 For this commandment is not remote from you; it is not far away…it is not beyond the sea…for this thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart so you can fulfill it: The fact that the Torah has to refute the supposition that following its commandments is “remote…far away…and beyond” implies that there is some substance to such a claim. In particular, it seems self-evident that inculcating the Torah’s values into our hearts—training ourselves to love the somewhat abstract notions of goodness and Godliness instead of the familiar material desires of this world—is anything but easy.12

Yet the fact that the Torah insists that it is nonetheless so indicates that all of us indeed have the power to easily train our hearts to become emotionally involved with God and His Torah, in place of the more accustomed objects of our love and fear. We possess this power in the form of an inherent, deep-seated love for God that is innate to our Divine soul. This love, although initially “hidden,” i.e., not conscious, can be easily accessed via a number of rather simple exercises in contemplation. We therefore do not have to create a love of God in our psyches or to force ourselves against our nature to love God. We already love Him; all we have to do is open ourselves up to this love, allowing it to manifest itself. As we have mentioned above,13 recalling our willingness to sacrifice our very lives for God if necessary summons our innate love of Him to the surface of our consciousness.

But feeling this love is one thing; making it permeate our lives is another. It is all too easy to become emotionally aroused about God or Judaism, only for this ephemeral sentiment to dissipate as quickly as it appeared. We are then left more or less where we began, and have to arouse our innate love all over again. The goal, then, is to entrench this love in our daily lives so that it become a permanent fixture of our being. The indication of whether our hidden love has permeated our lives is if this love has affected our behavior—our way of thinking, talking, and acting. This is indeed a difficult task, since there are many obstacles in life to overcome before we can transform both our emotions and our behavior in a lasting way.

Yet, as we have noted, the Torah insists that it is “close,” “in your mouth [speech] and in your heart [emotion] so you can fulfill it [action].” What, then, does the Torah mean?

This may be understood by way of the following episode, recorded in the Talmud:14

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah said: I was once on a journey when I noticed a little boy sitting at a crossroads. I asked him, “By what road can one go to the town?” He replied, “This one is short and long, and that one is long and short.” I took the “short and long” road. When I approached the town, I discovered that it was hedged in by gardens and orchards. Turning back, I said to him, “My son, did you not tell me that this road was short?” He replied, “And did I not also tell you: ‘and long?’”

In other words, there is a route that is short, i.e., direct, but it leads to a dead end; there is another route that is long, i.e., roundabout, but it leads to the city gate. Similarly, in our spiritual quest, there is a short, easy way, but it proves in the final analysis to be long, since in the end we are left where we began and have to start all over again. But there is also a long, difficult way, but it proves in the final analysis to be the truly short way, since in the end we reach our goal and are spared the need for repeating the process.

The short but long way is, as stated, arousing love of God directly by recalling our willingness to sacrifice our very lives for Him. This method relies on our innate belief in God. The long but short way, in contrast, requires harnessing the intellect—working through the particulars of God’s nature, providence, and how He manifests Himself in the world, in the Torah, and in our lives—to the maximum extent possible.

As we have seen in other contexts, each of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages. The “object” of pure faith is God Himself, His very essence; in contrast, the “object” of intellect can never be any more than what the intellect itself can conceive of, and for finite human beings, this means only God as He relates to creation (either immanently or transcendently). On the other hand, since pure faith does not involve the intellect, it cannot permeate our consciousness, and therefore transform us, the way intellect can. Faith affects us from “without” or “above” us, whereas using the intellect affects us from “within,” permeating us completely.

There is therefore justification for taking the short but long way, for relying on pure faith is a quick and sure way to arouse love of God. However, we must remain cognizant of the inherent limitations of this approach and not rely on it exclusively. Rather, we should also take the long but short way, exerting our intellect to its utmost in order to comprehend as much as we can about God and His relation to the universe, thereby fashioning an enduring emotional involvement with Him and transforming our behavioral patterns accordingly. As King David said to his son Solomon, “Know the God of your father, and [then you will be able to] serve Him with a complete heart.”15

The self-refinement and transformation accomplished via the intellect defuses the obstacles that life in this world poses to Divine living. Instead of encountering “hedges” blocking our entrance to our desired goal, we find a wide open gate.16

This commandment is not remote from you; it is not far away…it is not beyond the sea…for this thing is very close to you: On a deeper level—inasmuch as the Jewish people had been studying the Torah for nearly 40 years when Moses said these words, and therefore knew firsthand that it was not “remote,” “far away,” or “beyond”—the claim that Moses was refuting was that the dimension of the Torah that is indeed “remote, far away, and beyond” is not “remote, far away, or beyond” from you. Inasmuch as the Jewish people are rooted in God’s essence, which transcends the Torah, even the most recondite aspects of the Torah are not beyond them.17

Inner Dimensions

[11] This commandment is not remote…not far away: Allegorically, “this commandment” refers to the commandment to repent. “Remote” (נפלאת) refers to Atik Yomin, the inner dimension of keter. This level of the supra-conscious is indeed remote from our normative consciousness, which is why it is termed Atik (עתיק), which means “removed.” “Far away,” in contrast, refers to Arich Anpin, the external dimension of keter, which serves as the source of the ten sefirot and is thus much closer to our normative consciousness. However, inasmuch as we also possess a Divine soul, which in turn possesses innate Divine consciousness, these levels are not remote and not far away from us. Through repentance (teshuvah), we can reach, elicit, and influence God’s goodwill toward us (Arich Anpin) and delight in us (Atik Yomin), inducing Him to overlook our faulty past and renew His connection with us.18

15-19 Behold, I have set before you today life and good and death and evil. You should choose life: The fact that it is not always clear that good behavior leads to blessings and life and that bad behavior leads to curses and death is actually what allows us to choose to be good. If it were always clear that good behavior leads to blessing and life, whereas bad behavior leads to the opposite, what choice could we have but to be good? The very fact that being good does not always lead to goodness both forces us and enables us to base our relationship with God on a more profound basis.

For this reason, on a deeper level, God (through Moses) is here asking us to be good for its own sake, rather than for any expectation of material reward, even when we do see clearly that being good leads to good results.19

On a still deeper level, this verse is not referring to two sets of causes (good and evil) and effects (life and death) but to four distinct levels of reality: “Life” refers to the immanent Divine life-force animating all creation; “good” refers to the transcendent Divine energy beyond creation; “death” refers to the physical universe, which possesses no intrinsic life-force; and “evil” refers to material lusts, both for permitted and for prohibited indulgences. In this context, evil is worse than death, for “death” is the simple lack of life-force, whereas evil is in direct opposition to good—God’s plan for the world.20

Inner Dimensions

[20] To cleave to Him: The sages ask, “How, then, can one cling to God?” They answer, “Whoever marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, or does business in order to benefit Torah scholars, or uses his wealth to benefit Torah scholars, [and in this way clings to a Torah scholar,] is considered by Scripture as if he has clung to the Divine Presence.”21 In a sense, this answer begs the question, since we are still left wondering how a Torah scholar can cling to God.

The solution to this enigma is that even though every Jewish soul is “a part of God,” rooted in God’s essence, the vast majority of souls undergo a multi-stage diminution of Divine consciousness (what we might call “induced spiritual amnesia”) in the course of preparing to enter the physical world. There is a wide variation in the extent to which different souls experience this degradation of spiritual acuity, accounting for the wide differences we observe in people’s innate predisposition to spiritual and/or religious pursuits. Those whose souls have undergone the least “processing” will be the most predisposed toward spirituality; given the proper conditions, these individuals will naturally develop their innate spiritual genius, becoming the devout Torah scholars of their generation.

Furthermore, we are taught that each generation of souls descends into this world roughly as a unit, as a collective “individual,” in which the specific souls that make up the whole are identified with the various spiritual “limbs” of this collective “body.” Thus, the souls retaining the most of their pre-descent Divine consciousness form the “head”—the most conscious part—of this “body,” with the souls that retain less of their pre-descent Divine consciousness forming the other limbs, each according to its level. Just as in the human body, the limbs are all connected to the soul via the brain, the chief locus of consciousness, so are the individual souls that make up the generation’s collective multi-soul “body” linked to their unique soul-roots in God’s essence via the head-souls of that generation.

It is in this sense that the sages teach us that “whoever clings to a Torah scholar is considered by Scripture as if he has clung to the Divine Presence.” In being connected to the Torah scholar, the individual is connected with the root of his or her own soul.22