It is Not in the Heavens – "לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא"

Introduction

"This Commandment"

Chapter 30 describes how the nation, after enduring many punishments for not adhering to the commandments, will ultimately return unto Hashem, listen to His instructions, and love Him with a full heart and soul:1

EN/HEע/E
(ב) וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשֶׁךָ.

(ו) וּמָל ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְאֶת לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשְׁךָ לְמַעַן חַיֶּיךָ.

(ח) וְאַתָּה תָשׁוּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל ה' וְעָשִׂיתָ אֶת כׇּל מִצְוֺתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם.

(י) כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֺתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשֶׁךָ.

(2) And you will return to Hashem your God and listen to His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul.

(6) And Hashem, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.

(8) And you will return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and do all His commandments which I command you today.

(10) If you listen to the voice of Hashem your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in the book of this Torah, if you return to Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Torah then moves on to emphasize that "this commandment" ("הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת") is not esoteric, but rather readily accessible:

EN/HEע/E
(יא) כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא. (יב) לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. (יג) וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבׇר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. (יד) כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
(11) For this commandment which I command you today, it is not hidden from you, and it is not distant. (12) It is not in the heavens, saying, "Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and make us hear it and we will do it". (13) And it is not beyond the sea, saying, "Who will cross to beyond the sea and take it for us and make us hear it and we will do it". (14) For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and your heart to do it.

The context, though, leaves some ambiguity regarding the commandment(s) of which the Torah is speaking. Does the singular form of "הַמִּצְוָה" refer to an individual mitzvah (and, if so, which one) or to the entire corpus of mitzvot? If it refers to the entire Torah, what is it saying is easily available and attainable – intellectual knowledge of Hashem's instructions or their actual observance?

Devarim Terminology

The term "הַמִּצְוָה" is found in Torah almost exclusively in Sefer Devarim.2 While in some instances,3 one might claim that it refers to the general collection of mitzvot, there are a couple of verses in which it is overtly linked to the obligation to love Hashem:4

EN/HEע/E
(יא:כב) כִּי אִם שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן אֶת כׇּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשֹׂתָהּ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם לָלֶכֶת בְּכׇל דְּרָכָיו וּלְדׇבְקָה בוֹ.

(יט:ט) כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת כׇּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת לַעֲשֹׂתָהּ אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו כׇּל הַיָּמִים וְיָסַפְתָּ לְךָ עוֹד שָׁלֹשׁ עָרִים עַל הַשָּׁלֹשׁ הָאֵלֶּה.

(11:22) For if you keep all of this commandment which I am commanding you to do it, to love Hashem your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him.

(19:9) If you keep all of this commandment to do that which I am commanding you today, to love Hashem your God, to walk in His ways all of the days, then you shall add for yourself three more cities to these three.

Do these verses shed light on the meaning of "הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת" in our verse? Do they imply that the phrase refers exclusively to the love of Hashem, or does the term in all three verses refer to a more general walking in His ways ("לָלֶכֶת בְּכׇל דְּרָכָיו"), and not only to loving Hashem?

Returning and Loving

As mentioned above, the first portion of Chapter 30 speaks of two actions – "returning to Hashem" and "loving Hashem" – each of which is performed with every fiber of one's being ("בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשֶׁךָ"). Conceivably, both of these are prime candidates to be the subject of the phrase "הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת". However, precise definitions of each of these actions are also somewhat elusive. Does "returning to Hashem" constitute an independent precept of repentance or a more general obligation to observe all of the Torah's instructions?5 Similarly, is "loving Hashem" a distinct commandment of an emotional experience, or does it instead refer to a loyalty to Hashem which manifests itself through the fulfillment of all of His mitzvot?6 Thus, even if "הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת" refers to returning or loving Hashem, it remains unclear whether it refers to a specific obligation or a general commandment to observe the entire Torah.

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