I am struggling to understand the implications of Devarim 30:11-14. I have taken the words ‘it is not in heaven’ to mean that the ‘full counsel’ of HaShem is down here, in the Tanakh, and that one therefore ought not hope or expect to hear any more from Him in this life. The trouble is, much of my hope had hitherto been placed in the possibility of a personal relationship with Him, and as such the idea that He has already said all that He has to say to me before I die has left me feeling very disheartened.

What, I ask, ought we to hope for with respect to HaShem? What hope is there of a personal relationship with Him in this life if His full counsel is down here, bound in leather (so to speak)?

My blessings to whoever can provide a satisfactory answer to these questions. TW

  • 3
    The application of the phrase is less about direct relationship and more about application of law bimbam.com/achnai
    – rosends
    Aug 28 '19 at 12:10
  • 2
    Note that there were hundreds of years of G-D directly 'speaking' to the prophets after that verse was written (thats the whole "nakh" part of "Tanakh"), so that verse clearly can't mean that post the Torah era, G-D is distant and no longer interacts with humanity. Aug 28 '19 at 12:45
  • How do you understand "and G-d in Heaven said in the Torah that the Torah is not in Heaven"? Sounds like a contradiction to me. Therefore it should not be taken literally, it should be interpreted metaphorically, exactly what the Rabbis did.
    – Al Berko
    Aug 28 '19 at 13:19
  • @AlBerko: Taken at face value, there is REALLY no problem; the whole question is within rabbinic hermeneutics. Gd is saying, "The Torah isn't impossible for you to keep, like if its truths were non-intuitive, or it was far away, if you needed to cross heaven or even just a river to get it." They take Hashem's simile (it is not in heaven = it is not beyond reach) literally. And say, "The mitzvah I am giving you today" will be given to you, and thus no longer in heaven. No contradiction -- the current act of giving means it won't be in heaven in the future when you're thinking its too hard. Aug 29 '19 at 14:53
  • @Salmononius2 A rabbi said, regarding evolution, " while Orthodoxy rejected the idea of evolution and even called it heresy, most Orthodox Jews today accept it as a fact: “in 2005, even the [Orthodox] Rabbinical Council of America issued an, admittedly very guarded, pro-evolution position.”"
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 29 '19 at 21:05

To add to your own answer....

If "it is not in heaven" applied to wisdom in general, why the other 19 books of Tanakh? I wouldn't call them situational, because there were schools of prophets in each generation through to the end of the First Temple period. (And maybe slightly beyond; prophecy doesn't end until early Second Temple.) The prophets and prophecies we know about are the ones that have messages deemed valuable for the generations.

"It is not in heaven" means that G-d gave us the halachic system and wants us to use it to redeem ourselves. Not to expect those "general mitzvot" to be defined by Him, but to work with what He gave us. After all, what is greater living up to the "image" of the Creator than using our own creativity rather than relying on His?

In my book (Widen Your Tent, sec. 2.2) I compare this with Hillel's summary of the whole Torah to meet a candidate for conversation who insisted on being told the whole thing "while on one foot". Hillel said, "That which you loathe, do not do to another. That is the whole Torah. Now go and study." Hillel describes the whole Torah as being an implementation of a very natural concept of morality -- reciprocity and empathy. Just as the Torah is founded on natural morality, I argued that it can only be interpreted by someone who experiences natural morality. As it says shortly after your quote (v. 14), "Rather, the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and heart, to perform it.”

Related is that the objective Heavenly Truth of Torah admits multiple valid answers. We have to find what they are, and of those choices, which is right for us. (For more on this tangent, see "How does “eilu v'eilu” work out with an absolute truth?" I personally like the "two shadows of a cylinder" metaphor, which seems to illustrate the Maharal's position in particular.)

The Torah tells us how to best implement natural morality, and how to hone ourselves to be better at it. And therefore, its interpretation cannot be separated from the history of the Jewish People.


I’m answering my own question here - apologies.

The ‘It’ in ‘It is not in heaven’ refers to the general, universally-applicable mitzvot which have been given to all Israel for all time. What ‘remains in heaven’ are particular, situation-based instruction (Go here, say this to this person etc.), as well as words of comfort, consolation, guidance, rebuke etc. (I.e. HaShem’s words to Job, David etc.). I had no good reason to be alarmed: It wasn’t a very good question - my apologies again. I’ll try to be more patient in the future. My regards to all, TW


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