Messianic Education Trust
    Nitzavim/Vayelekh  
(Deut 29:9(10) - 31:30)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 30:12   It is not in the heavens, [as if] to say: "Who will go up to the heavens for us and take it for us and cause us to hear it and we can do it?"


This verse starts the famous set of three verses that have, among others, inspired the song "Lo B'Shamayim" by Craig Taubman, that he recorded in 1997 with his sister Caren Glasser as part of the album Kol Tikvah. The words say:

It's not in the heaven, it's not in the sea;
The answer it lives within you, within me.
Close to my mouth, deep in my heart;
And the choice is my own, right from the start.
© Sweet Louise Music 1997

What is not in heaven - what is Moshe talking about? The surrounding text explains: "This instruction [this mitzvah ] which I enjoin upon you this day ... Choose life - if you and your offspring would live - by loving the L-RD your G-d, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him" (D'varim 30:11,19-20, JPS). By inclusion, 'this mitzvah - commandment' is taken to cover the whole of the Torah, which Moshe has been expounding to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, opposite Jericho, as they are about to enter the Land to take possession of it. The Israelites are to choose life by obeying the Torah, which is not in the heavens.

The Sages of the Talmud discussed what this might mean. "Rabbi Abdimi ben Hama ben Dosa asked: What is the significance of the text: It is not in heaven? 'It is not in heaven', for if it were in heaven you should have gone up after it; and if it were 'beyond the sea', you should have gone over the sea after it. Raba expounded, 'It is not in heaven', it is not to be found with him who, because he possesses some knowledge of it, towers in his pride as high as the heavens, 'neither is it beyond the sea', it is not found with him who, because of some knowledge of it, is as expansive in his self-esteem as the sea. Rabbi Johanan expounded: 'It is not in heaven', it is not to be found among the arrogant; 'neither is it beyond the sea', it is not to be found among merchants or dealers" (b. Eruvin 55a). Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi adds, "For it were in the heavens, you would have to go up after it and learn it"; to obey it, you must know it, and if it were in the heavens, you would have to learn it there and then come back to do it.

Taking a slightly different tack, Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch explains, "The teachings and actions which it has in view do not move in the sphere of the supernatural or the heavens, and nothing which was necessary for its being understood and accomplished remained in heaven in the Divine Revelation, that you could say: where can we find a mind superhumanly enlightened that it penetrate into the secrets of heaven for us, or bring us a new revelation from heaven, which we still lack, that will complement our present knowledge, then we could keep the Torah in accordance with the will of G-d." There is nothing missing; we have everything we need to keep the Torah as G-d desires.

Who Is ...

Nechama Leibowitz: (1905-1997 CE), born in Riga, graduate of the University of Berlin, made aliyah in 1931; professor at Tel Aviv University; taught Torah for over 50 years
Nechama Leibowitz confirms this and goes a further step: "We have two aspects to our text. 'It is not in heaven' emphasises the facility and feasibility of Torah affording therefore no excuse for neglect. It also implies the heavy responsibility devolving on the students and scholars of the Torah. Since it is not in heaven, man can no longer rely on heavenly guidance but must interpret it and teach it himself with his own resources. The Torah is not the property of a privileged caste of priests and initiates. It is not in heaven but in our midst. It is the duty of all to study, teach and practice its tenets."

In speaking of "further revelation" and "heavenly guidance", both Hirsch and Leibowitz are trying to preclude the claims of Yeshua - of explaining its intent while upholding it - and the subsequent role of the Ruach: "The Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything; that is, He will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26, CJB). The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno blankly states, "There is no aspect which necessitates the amplification of a prophet".

Jeffrey Tigay comments that "human inability to reach heaven was proverbial", and points to "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4, ESV) as proof that the gap between earth and heaven has never been crossed. Nevertheless, Yeshua adds an important exception to that rule, when He tells Nicodemus, "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, ESV). Yeshua is the only one who has come down from heaven to earth, so He is the only one who can fully explain, demonstrate and live the Torah. Language experts say that you have reached real proficiency in a foreign language when you stop translating and start thinking in that language, so that the act of speaking is not a translation - however fluent or proficient - but a speaking out of your thoughts directly in that language. That is how John the Immerser explains to his disciples the difference between himself and Yeshua: "He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all" (v. 31, ESV). "I speak from the earth", John is saying, "because I am of the earth." But Yeshua doesn't have to translate: He thinks in heavenly, because He is heavenly and came from the heavens. That is why He is greater than all earthly people.

Later, Yeshua has a discussion with the crowd about bread. Starting from the comment that it was not Moshe who have the Israelites bread from heaven - the manna - in the wilderness, but G-d, Yeshua says, "The bread of G-d is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:33, ESV). The people, thinking more physically that spiritually, ask Yeshua to give them that bread, but Yeshua explains what He means: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst" (v. 35, ESV). Seeing their obvious disbelief, He adds, "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me" (v. 38, ESV). Yeshua cannot be more explicit: He is the one - the one who comes to give life to the world - who has come down from heaven. And the will of the Father that He has come to do? "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (vv. 39-40, ESV). Resurrection, certainly, but more than that; eternal life, yes, that too, but still more. Yeshua came down from heaven that He might bring us up to heaven: new and eternal life with Him "in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6).

So that brings us back to where we started: Lo B'Shamayim. The answer to life isn't in heaven, so that we need to send someone to get it for us. As the song said, "the answer lives within us," the Holy Spirit within us when we enter into relationship with G-d through Yeshua. Moshe urged the people to "choose life that you may live" (D'varim 30:19) and Yeshua said, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). Craig Taubman sings, "The choice is my own". What choice will we take for our lives? Have we chosen life - with Yeshua, the Living Torah, to help us keep His Torah for our lives - or death - interpreting life by our own resources, without the assistance of heaven?

Further Study: 1 Corinthians 15:47; Ephesians 4:10

Application: Be honest - what choice have you taken? Are you relying on your own resources or have you asked heaven what life means? You can call the expert in at any time, so why not make that call today!

© Jonathan Allen, 2013



25Aug13 08:04 Tim: Ephesians 1, it seems to me, is also pertinent to this theme. And it contains a further jigsaw piece in this mystery of accessibility of the heavenly on earth. As you unfold the theme of the one who came from heaven being the only one who is able fully to live out Torah, and that it is He who has broken through for us leaving us with a decision to make, it seems to me that you appeared to jump over Ephesians 1 in getting to Ephesians 2. According to St Paul it is now, in Christ, we are blessed with all that has been won for us at the cross. And it is now, by the Spirit, that we have at the very least the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit. And it is also now, on earth, that St Paul prays for us to be able to "know" (I take that to mean Yada - know experientially) the power of Messiah in increasing measure because that power is "for the church". So somehow there is a heavenly treasure chest in heavenly places in which everything I need is deposited. And it is secure in heavenly places. But my journey is to access that deposit while here on earth by the Spirit - in intimacy, in sanctification and in raw power for ministry on occasions. So the "mystery" remains. The intention of God is that this deposit doesn't remain in heaven. But it is kept in heaven for me to access.

Messianic Trust Home Page Join Weekly Email More Weekly Drashot
Last Week Support the work of producing this weekly commentary
Next Week
Last Year - 5772 Scripture Index


Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?

Name Display my name ? Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
Comments
Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.