“Neither is [this mitzvah] beyond the sea… No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” Deuteronomy 30:13-14
When people ask me to summarise my approach to Jewish practice, I almost always direct them to Deuteronomy 11-14. This passages capture the audacious democracy that lays at the heart of Judaism. No one else — and certainly no rabbi — can negotiate it on behalf of another. No one can fulfil our obligations or responsibilities. It is for each of us to embrace the power of making our own informed choices and create a Judaism of integrity.
It always makes me smile that for rabbinic ordination, no “holiness” is conferred; we are given no intercessionary role. A rabbi is simply a teacher with recognised standing. Every Jew has the same possibilities.
A Jewish marriage is made binding not by the rabbi, but by a witnessed ketubah. Even a Jewish funeral need not be conducted by a rabbi, as comforting as it may be to have one officiate. That democracy means our communities are made up of many who have the potential, but choose other vocations instead.
It is a fantastic call to humility but also to the personal integrity of choice. Be the Jew you can be; it is not in heaven or over the sea.
During Elul, it behoves us to see another dimension to this call to a personal Judaism. This mitzvah may be actually an invitation to teshuvah — its accessibility being what repentance is about. Teshuvah is the preeminent experience of being a free-willed Jew. Joseph Albo, in Sefer Ikkarim, wrote, “Teshuvah involves confession of the lips and remorse of the hearts” — good words to see us into the New Year.