"Neither is it beyond the sea" Deuteronomy 30:13


Before Moses dies, he impresses on the people that God's commandments are not in the heaven and also that they are not beyond the sea. The well-known phrase "not in heaven" is often interpreted as meaning that the commandments are with us and not in the supernatural; that we must take responsibility and be involved in their development and that they continue to apply in an ever-changing human situation, as cleverly argued in Eliezer Berkovits's book Not in Heaven: The Nature and Function of Halakha.

However, the text seems repetitive by also making reference to them being "neither is it beyond the sea". Samson Raphael Hirsch, the influential 19th-century German commentator, states that this additional phrasing tells us that wherever we are, the commandments are not too distant for us, not incomprehensible and not contingent on circumstances and conditions that exist somewhere in a faraway land.

This prevents us from stating that the Torah and Jewish life are only appropriate in a certain part of the world where life is different from where we live or where we have easy access to it.

This principle advocates the portability of Torah and applicability to people living in different places and in different conditions. The reference to the sea also harks back to the sea where we fled from Egypt, the sea where we were saved by God and where Moses and Miriam sang the Song of the Sea to thank God for protecting us.

We must learn about those distant places beyond the sea – or the place where we live - so that the mitzvot do not appear strange and distant and so that we can know how to live Jewishly with the knowledge that God was with us at the sea and will continue with us on our journey.

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