IN THE MOUTH AND BY THE MOUTH
“For the word is very near to you, to carry it out with your mouth and with your heart.” (Devarim 30:14)
Interesting words. The commandments of Hashem are in close proximity; they are properly observed using our mouths and hearts. Moshe prefaced his instruction by saying:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not beyond your understanding, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven so that you could say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us and make us hear it so that we may carry it out?’ Neither is it beyond the sea so that you could say ‘Who shall go for us to the other side of the sea and bring it to us and make us hear so that we may carry it out?’” (Devarim 30:11-13)
a bit further, the first ten verses of Devarim 30 set forth a prophetic passage
in which Moshe gives the Children of Israel a glimpse of their future destiny: After
they have experienced both the blessings and the curses itemized in the famous
chapters of blessing and cursing set forth in Devarim 27-28, they will come to
their spiritual senses in foreign lands.
They will have been exiled to these lands as a result of rebellion and
disobedience to Torah. There, the
Children of Israel would repent and seek to return to Hashem. Hashem, responding to their sincere repentance,
would turn again in favor towards them, forgive them and bring them back to the
In this prophetic passage, Devarim 30:6 tells us that “Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendents to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”
The analogy is made to the act of circumcision, a sign of the Covenant made between Hashem and Avraham’s descendents; in particular, the descendents of Ya’akov. Circumcision involves the cutting away of a layer of skin, a membrane that covers the head, the crown, of the male organ. Curiously, the heart is encased in a sac-like membrane called a “cull”. In figurative terms, the ‘heart’ refers to the true essence of a person. Moshe is describing a process by which Hashem will cut away those barriers in our lives that conceal our true essence and prevent us from serving Him wholeheartedly, which, of itself, is a command in the Torah:
“You must be wholehearted with Hashem your G-d.” (Devarim 18:13)
What types of things conceal our true essence, raising barriers to wholehearted service of Hashem? There are several answers: Pride, both human and spiritual; falsely assumed identities; rebellion and disobedience; and generally resisting the authority of Hashem, His Torah and those to whom He has entrusted His Torah as we will discuss later in the class.
The great Torah commentator Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that the Torah, the “Book of the Teaching” referred to by Moshe in Devarim 30, is “nothing less than the Voice of G-d set down in writing. From it, the voice of G-d speaks to us for all time, teaching us all the ‘tasks and limitations’ of His commandments and statutes for every aspect of our existence on earth.”
Hirsch goes on to say that the observance of Torah’s laws will be the sole aim
With respect our title verse, Devarim 30:14, “For the Word is very near you …”, Rashi explains that this refers to both the Written and Oral Torah. The Hebrew is explicit that the Word is not simply “near”, as in not being afar off in heaven or across the seas, but it is “near you”. In fact, Rashi translates “ki-karov aleicha ha-devar meod …” as “Rather, the matter is very near to you …” His commentary on this verse explains that “The phrase ‘to you’ of our verse indicates that ‘near’ is not meant here in a spatial sense. Rather, ‘near’ in our verse means that the Torah can be internalized. By means of studying the Written and Oral Torah, it is ‘in your mouth and heart.’”
(There are serious precautions that have resulted in the prohibition on Bnei Noach studying the Oral Torah; however, the Written Torah, as it relates to the many commandments entailed in full observance of the Universal Torah Laws, is permitted for Bnei Noach to study.)
Delving deeper into the verse in question, Samson Raphael Hirsch explains:
“The content and subject matter of these Laws are very close to you. You yourself are its subject matter, and its contents concern your own life on earth. In order to understand both, you need only to delve into your own inner self and examine your material and personal position with open eyes. As regards whatever instructions, in addition to those already set down in the Book of the Law that has been turned over to you, you may still need in order to understand this Law and to observe it – these instructions are being given to you ‘b’ficha’ (with your mouth); i.e. by the tradition that is to be passed from mouth to mouth.”
goes on to cross reference other verses which support the validity and
authority of the Oral Torah as the means by which the Children of Israel were
to understand and apply the Torah to their laws. This is directly related to
In addition to the 613 Laws of the Written Torah, there are volumes of Halachot and explanations contained in the Mishnah and Talmud that further explain and discuss the true significance and proper application of the Torah commandments. This demonstrates why Torah can only truly be taught by those to whom it was entrusted.
Further evidence Samson Raphael Hirsch brings in defense of the authority of the Oral Torah follows:
“Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Write down these words for yourself, for according to the living content of these words have I made a covenant with you and with Yisrael.” (Shemot 34:27)
Rabbi Hirsch states that the words ‘the living content of these words’ is a direct reference to the Oral Tradition that was to be passed verbally from generation to generation as a living oracle.
“And now write down for yourselves the words of this song and teach it to the sons of Yisrael; put it in their mouth so that this song may become a witness for Me against the sons of Yisrael.” (Devarim 31:19)
Rabbi Hirsch explains that this verse, according to Nedarim 38a, applies not only to the Song of Moshe, but to all of the Torah, for as was explained by Rabbenu Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi (1308-1376): “ …if the command were indeed applicable only to the [song], it would not be much of a witness. All that the [song] does is perpetuate in general terms our awareness that our woe and weal depend on whether we perform the task G-d has assigned to us. But we will be able to understand the character of our task only if we are familiar with the entire Law.”
Hashem commanded Yehoshua be Nun: “This book of the Teaching shall not depart from your mouth.” (Yehoshua 1:8)
Isaiah was inspired by Hashem to tell
In each of these four examples we find direct reference to the Torah of Hashem being an Oral transmission. Rabbi Hirsch explains:
“All this you must study, and grasp it with your heart and spirit; in order to carry it out. To ‘learn’ the Book of G-d’s Law in the light of the Oral Tradition, with heart and mind; understand our duty and fulfill it: that is the only path to the understanding of the law of G-d, close to us at all times, wherever we may be, so it may cause us to comprehend our eternal mission on earth.”
Hirsch is speaking to
Similarly, it is incumbent upon every non-Jew to learn and to observe these Seven Laws. Through the observance of the Seven Laws and all the other commandments contained within them, Bnei Noach connect with the eternal light of Hashem and fulfill the purpose of their creation, receiving a share in the World to Come.
As explained by Rabbis Chaim Clorfene and Yaakov Rogalsky, “ … Therefore, the numerical disparity [between the Seven Laws of Noach and the 613 Laws of Torah] in no way reflects the relative spiritual worth of the two systems of commandments. There is a mutually complementary difference between a Jew’s service of G-d and a Noahite’s. Through observance of the Seven Universal Laws, Bnei Noach refine the world. Through observance of the 613 Commandments, Jews reveal G-d’s Presence in the world.”  Reciprocally, refining the world reveals its inherent G-dliness, and revealing G-dliness refines the world.
observance of the Universal Torah Laws, the Word and the Will of Hashem is “very
near” to anyone from among the nations.
As with the Children of Israel, it is to be carried out by mouth by
proclaiming it and teaching the Universal Laws to others, especially one’s
children, and it is to be carried out wholeheartedly with the circumcision of
the heart that removes barriers of pride, rebellion and resistance to
authority. No where in the Torah are we
told that this is an easy task. To the
contrary, the recorded example of the history of the Children of Israel shows
that it is not an easy task. Divine
Rabbeinu explained the primary purpose of the difficulties we encounter in life
to the Children of Israel as they prepared to enter the
“Remember the entire path along which G-D, your G-d, has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to have you come to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep His commandments of not.” (Devarim 8:2)
In an age where the authority of the Torah is often questioned, especially that of the Oral Torah, may we hearken to the advice of Moshe and direct our thoughts and actions accordingly.
 The Pentateuch, Samson Raphael Hirsch, pg. 790, Parsha Nitzavim
 Devarim, Rashi, pg. 316
 The Pentateuch, Samson Raphael Hirsch, pg. 791 Parsha Nitzavim
 The Path of the Righteous Gentile, Chaim Clorfene & Yaakov Rogalsky, pg. 43
 The Pentateuch, Samson Raphael Hirsch, pg. 797 Parsha Vayelekh
 Ibid., pg. 791
 The Path of the Righteous Gentile, Chaim Clorfene & Yaakov Rogalsky, pg. 43