Towards the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah describes the mitzvah of teshuvah, repentance, “The commandment that I instruct you today is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond your reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us, that we may observe it?” Ramban explains that the Torah is teaching us that the mitzvah of repentance is accessible for everyone. While the requirements of a genuine repentance appear daunting, in truth “it is not in heaven” and can be achieved by every man and woman. It is not surprising that the yearly order of the Torah reading always places this parsha on the week before Rosh Hashana.
Rashi, however, has a slightly different understanding of the phrase “it is not in heaven.” According to Rashi, Moshe is reminding the people that if this mitzvah was actually in heaven we would have to strive to ascend to heaven to achieve the fulfillment of this commandment. This interpretation seems to be in keeping with the literal explanation of the passuk. However, I believe that Rashi’s interpretation also teaches us an important lesson as we prepare for Rosh Hashana. On one hand, it is comforting to know that teshuvah is accessible and that we “can do it.” At the same time, the true religious experience requires us to reach beyond our comfort zone and to strive for that which is just slightly beyond our grasp. Rashi is teaching each of us in every generation that preparing for Rosh Hashana means reaching for our potential even if it means that we must work harder than are accustomed in order to achieve our goal.
The ability to push ourselves beyond our normal comfort zone will allow us to achieve new heights and new potential in the coming year.
Best wishes for a Shana Tovah U-Mevorechet.
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