We are So Close
We are so close. The Torah assures us that teshuvah and closeness to Hashem is extremely accessible and is something that is completely within our grasp (Deut. 30:11-14). “It’s not in heaven… and it’s not on the other side of the sea… For it is very close to you (“כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד”), both in your mouth and in your heart to accomplish.”
There is another place where the Torah says that something is “כִּי־קָרוֹב”, close to us. In Parshat Beshalach, in describing the route the Jews took to leave Egypt, the Torah states that God did not allow them to pass through the Philistine territory, “כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא” – “because it was close” to the Egyptian border (Ex. 13:17-18). Hashem was concerned lest the Jews become frightened by the Philistines and turn back to Egypt.
Rabbi Yitzchak Yungerleib was a Hassidic Rebbe in the town of Radvil in western Ukraine in the early 19th century. He noted this connection and suggested that a Jew should keep both verses in his heart. On the one hand, spiritual closeness is very much within everyone’s grasp. The Torah is free to all to study and to draw inspiration. At the same time, there are many pitfalls in this life, and it is very easy to get distracted and waylaid by the vicissitudes and allures of the physical world.
God Himself is rooting for us, always hoping that we’ll make the right decisions, and not fall into the hands of the “Philistines.” This is why the Torah states, “וְלֹא־נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים”, which can also be translated as “God is inconsolable (לֹא־נָחָם) when His children go down the Philistine path.”
How does Hashem try to divert us from the Philistine path? The next verse in Parshat Beshalach states: “Hashem instead turned the nation toward the desert.” When one feels that sense of humility and loneliness, devoid of ego and arrogance, but rather barren and desolate like a desert, this is a sign that that one is on the right path.
Making ourselves vulnerable
We are approaching these Days of Awe. In order for them to have meaning for us, we ought to make ourselves somewhat vulnerable. We should acknowledge our shortcomings and the fact that we don’t have answers to everything, nor do we completely have our lives together. We should also acknowledge that while teshuvah is very accessible, we often neglect that access, and much to Hashem’s chagrin, choose the Philistine path, which sometimes seems like the more convenient path.
I would add that there is something unique about the “כי קרוב” in our text. It doesn’t just say here that our access to Hashem is close; it says “כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד” – it is VERY close. While it’s true that we are also at risk of succumbing to the allures of this Philistine world, the Torah testifies that we are even closer and have more access to the truths of the Torah and to the teshuvah process, since they are already “בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ” – in our mouths and hearts.
Rabbi Moshe David Valli, a student of the Ramchal, noted that there are many things that are “close.” You can have a neighbor who lives right next door. Our family members are even closer to us than our neighbors. We are even closer to our spouses than other family members. But the closest sense of kinship that we have is with the Divine Presence that is so close, that it rests in our mouths and hearts. There is a constant gnawing within us to seek out the truth and to see past the veneer of this world. The Torah acknowledges that we were all created with that inherent hunger to seek out a close relationship with Hashem.
Small adjustments, minor corrections
Because of its closeness, the teshuvah process is a very small step and we don’t have to travel far outside of our comfort zones. The story is told of Rabbi Yerachmiel of P’shischa (d. 1836), who was once sitting with his students. He related to them that he owned a watch that had stopped working, and none of the watchmakers could figure out what was wrong. He decided to take it apart himself.
He removed all the gears, wheels, and switches, and they all seemed perfectly in order. He finally discovered that the tiniest spring in the watch was slightly bent. All that had to be done was to bend it back into position, and all the gears started to move once again. The students understood that their rebbe was alluding to them that sometimes, our internal springs are bent out of shape.
Instead of having to replace all the parts, it’s sometimes the tiniest little adjustment that must be made in our lives to fix everything else that isn’t working. Because the solution is so close, all it sometimes takes is a small correction to our hearts to bring us back into alignment with our Yiddishkeit, our fellow man, and our God.
The call of the shofar
There is something else that is described as “כִּי קָרוֹב” in the books of the Prophets. In the book of Yoel (2:1), the prophet proclaims:
תִּקְעוּ שׁוֹפָר בְּצִיּוֹן וְהָרִיעוּ בְּהַר קָדְשִׁי יִרְגְּזוּ כֹּל יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ כִּי־בָא יוֹם־יְקֹוָק כִּי קָרוֹב
Blow the Shofar in Zion, blast the noise in My holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the Land be frightened, for the day of Hashem is coming near (“כִּי קָרוֹב”). This is echoed in other verses, such as an Obadiah 1:15, that the day of Hashem is near, when Hashem will take His revenge on our oppressors and bring the Redemption.
As we prepare for the Shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah, let’s recall that the “Day of the Lord” is coming, and what a great and awesome day it shall be. May our Shofar blasts this year bring us to the ultimate “Day of the Lord” at the time of our Redemption, bb”a.
Wishing you all a ketivah v’chatimah tovah, a joyous and blessed new year.