Three times in today’s daf (Ketubot 81a-b) we read how one scholar sent a halachic query to another – and in one instance, requiring a third scholar as an intermediary: Rava sends Abaye a query by the hand of Rav Shemayah bar Zeira. And later on, Abaye sends both Rav Chanina bar Pappi and Rav Manyumi the son of Rav Nachumi a follow-up question.
In all three cases we are informed of the significant effort invested to consult with others, to seek the opinion of others, and to thereby clarify points of halacha, and this reminds me of the remark of the Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg Alter, 1799-1866) on a verse that we read just yesterday.
Among the various exquisite statements found in Parshat Nitzavim is that: ‘For this commandment that I am giving you today is not unattainable to you, neither is it distant (הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא). It is not in heaven (לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא), that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and keep it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the far side of the sea for us, and bring it to us that we may hear it and keep it?’ This word is very close to you (כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד). It is in your mouth and in your heart for you to keep it.’ (Devarim 30:11-13).
Significantly, there are those – like Rashi – who say that these verses are discussing our commitment to Torah, while there are others – such as the Ramban – who assert that the primary focus of these verses is Teshuvah (repentance). Either way, the core message of these verses is that our opportunities to connect to Torah or to do Teshuvah do not require that we travel far. Instead, they are close to us.
On this point the Chiddushei HaRim explains that ‘if someone truly wants to cleave to Torah, such that were it to be in Heaven or overseas that they would be prepared to travel to that destination in order to receive that Torah, then it is truly ‘close to you’’. What this means is that closeness is not measured by distance, but instead, by desire: An opportunity can be physically close to you but you do not seek it – which then makes it distant, and an opportunity can be physically far from you but you do seek it – which makes it close to you.
Too often we regard certain personal and spiritual opportunities to be unattainable for us because they seem to be beyond our reach. Yet the truth is that if we seek them then they can be very close, and it is this aspect of ourselves – to be a דורש (a seeker) – that we are meant to work on especially during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (דִּרְשׁוּ ה’ בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב).
Given all this I would like to wish you a Shana Tova and bless you that your New Year begins with yearning, with seeking, with hopes and dreams for your future, and with feelings of closeness towards others – and towards your Creator.