In this week’s Parshah, the Torah provides the coordinates for its location in the cosmos:

It is not in the heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us” … Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us.”1

At first blush it appears superfluous to inform us that the book that is in our hands is not in the heavens. It makes as little sense as myWhat is the Torah to you? asking you to run around the corner to ascertain that I am not there. If you are reading this passage, and you are on Earth, you know that the Torah is on Earth too, not in heaven; and it is in your country, not across the ocean.

However, on reflection, these verses yield a powerful message. Rather than a set of coordinates, they transmit a teaching that informs our entire approach to the Torah.


What is the Torah to you? Is it an interesting book and a good read, or is it the word of G‑d that binds you? When you attend a Torah class and learn the Jewish dietary laws, do you walk away thinking about the changes you need to implement in your diet, or do you come home to tell your spouse and friends about the interesting habits of others? Does the Torah have relevance to you?

In all seriousness, the question boils down to this: Is the Torah an ancient book for a vanishing people, or is it alive and well in you? If the Torah is not alive in you, whose task is it to keep it alive? If not yours, whose? And if it’s not yours, why not?

These verses appear toward the end of the Torah because it is G‑d’s challenge to us. Now that we have completed reading the lion’s share of the Torah, G‑d is telling us: I want you to know that I never meant for it to be irrelevant and abstract. It is not in the heavens for heavenly, pious and holy people who devote their lives to scholarship and charity. Neither is it across the ocean for distant tribes from other parts of the world.

The verses continue: “Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”2

The Torah is meant for you. Just like Uncle Sam, the Torah wants you. You can’t duck this responsibility, and you can’t shirk this privilege. It is not an anthropological study of how people lived years ago in distant places. It is about you.3

I once met a Jewish couple in an apartment building where I had koshered someone’s kitchen. When I told them that a new Jewish family was about to move in to their building they rejoiced. When I mentioned that I had just koshered the new family’s kitchen they said, “Aaah, that kind of Jew.” After a brief pause they recovered and said, “That’s all right, we welcome all kinds to our building.”

This is the vital mistake that G‑d wants us to avoid when we read the Torah. The laws of kosher are not for the other kind of Jew. They are for you and me and every Jew on the planet. The Torah belongs to you. When G‑d issued His commandments, He was talking to you too. When he said that Jews must keep Shabbat and Passover and Rosh Hashanah, He included you. The kosher Jew is not a different kind of Jew. He is your kind. You too are a kosher Jew. Even if you don’t know it yet.


The Torah and the Jew are like a father and mother. Both parents make a critical contribution to the conception and birth of a child, and the child can be ushered into the world only if the parents collaborate to create new life.

The Torah is a container filled with intensely sacred Divinity. When we study the Torah and implement its teachings, we are suffused with its holiness and Divine energy. We become holy creatures, as it were. But if we study the Torah as an academic curiosity, and don’t see ourselves and our role within it, the holiness of the Torah remains aloof, trapped in the Torah and unable to permeate us or the world at large.

A student without Torah cannot channel holiness into the world. And the Torah without its students also cannot channel holiness into the world. It is only when the two mate that our person and our world become holy. This bonding means that we become relevant and important to each other. It is not enough that we learn about each other and remain distant. Just as the conception of a child comes about through intimacy, the holiness that the Torah is designed to usher into the world comes about through connecting with the Torah and making it relevant.

Learning about Torah from a distance, as a book that has no relevance for me, won’t generate the spark that the Torah is designed toA student without Torah cannot channel holiness into the world generate. It is only when we learn to take it seriously, as providing instructions for daily life, that the Torah becomes a channel of Divine blessing in our lives.

To bond with the Torah is to give it relevance in our daily lives. Whether it is by taking on the observance of its laws on a personal level, or by working to maintain a higher level of consciousness even as we go about our daily tasks, the challenge is the same. It is to recognize that when I study the Torah, G‑d is talking to me. Not to my neighbor and not to my friend, but to me. He wants me to take Him seriously. Seriously enough to implement change in my life.4

G‑d Reciprocates

When we implement change in the way we approach the Torah, G‑d implements change in the way He treats us, and we merit a year of blessing and abundance, plenty and joy. When we see the Torah as a relevant document, our concerns become relevant to G‑d, and He ensures that blessings flow to us from heaven.

G‑d treats us the way we treat Him. If we build a hiding place for Him in heaven, He will hide there. If we usher Him down to Earth, He will descend and join us.