Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayelech

On the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Senior Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum teaches a story from the Talmud that reminds us of our power to grow and change. 

When Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with every one of the other rabbis about the halacha of an oven, he’s determined to prove that he’s right.

He tries to prove it by saying that a carob tree will move 50 feet if he’s right, that the flow of a stream will switch direction if he’s right, and that the walls of the study hall will cave in if he’s right.

And after each of these things comes to pass, the other rabbis say: carob trees and streams and walls don’t get to make legal decisions!

And finally: “Rabbi Eliezer then said to them, if the halacha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven itself will prove it! A divine voice emerged from the heavens and said, ‘Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer if the halacha is in accordance with his opinion?’

“This is heaven itself now saying: forget the stream, forget the walls, forget the carob tree. Heaven itself has said what’s right and wrong. And then Rabbi Yehoshua said: ‘lo bashamayim hi’: It is not determined in heaven, how we on Earth need to live.

“The needs of human beings have to be determined through the prism of human experience. This is not these are not laws made for the heavens or the angels. These are traditions that are made for people to actually live. So in this season of trying to struggle for return and finding a place of deep acceptance, lo bashamayim hi: it’s not in heaven, it’s right here.

“We have to put one foot in front of the other [and] find a way to make meaning and purpose with the lives we’ve been given. To let go of the expectations of what we might have imagined our lives to look like, just so that we would have room for the life we actually have.

“And that life is full of mistakes and full of falling down and full of real struggle. That isn’t an aside to our lives. That is our life.”

Senior Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum delivered this drashah at Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday, September 8, 2023 / 23 Elul 5783.

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