In her best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” author Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
“Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed—much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts.” (p. 14)
Throughout her quest for self-exploration, meaningful spirituality and personal empowerment, I wonder if Mrs. Gilbert read Moses’ words from Parashat Nitzavim. Speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to cross the Jordan River and step into the Promised Land, Moses reminds the Israelites:
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
Both Gilbert and Moses speak of a God that is eminently accessible. For Gilbert, that God is one that is near, within us, close to us, “breathing right through our own hearts.” For Moses, that God is a God who instructs us through loving commandments, and remains ever-present in the words we speak and the feelings of our hearts. For both Gilbert and Moses, God is with us; we just have to be open to the experience of letting God’s presence into our lives.
Moses’ message, couched in one of his final speeches to the Israelites comes at a most opportune time. We always read the words of Parashat Nitzavim on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. As we prepare ourselves to hear the piercing cry of the shofar, as we seek t’shuva (repentance) for our misdeeds in the past year, and as we offer forgiveness to those who may have wronged us, the Torah’s framework provides us comfort on our most important journey. The gift of Torah is that it is accessible; Torah is found in the words we speak, the actions we perform, and the feelings we hold deep in our hearts. And if we allow the most basic lessons of Torah to be accessible to us, then we will realize that God’s presence is near to us as well, very near indeed.