Ki Ha’mitzvah (Avraham Fried)

September 20, 2022

The Torah: Every letter is sacred; every word is Divine. There is not a single extra drop of ink or empty space to be found in its precious scroll. And yet, when it comes to discussing one particular mitzvah, the Torah seems to repeat itself quite a number of times. In a span of ten pesukim, the mitzvah of teshuvah – the requirement to “return” to Hashem through repentance – is mentioned no less than ten times!

Immediately thereafter, the Torah states the following:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא׃
לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה־לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה׃
וְלֹא־מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבׇר־לָנוּ אֶל־עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה׃
כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ׃

For this commandment (mitzvah) that I command you today – it is not hidden from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can cross to the other side of the sea and take it for us, so we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it (Netzavim 30:11-15).

The Gemara (Eiruvin 55a) tells us very explicitly, as codified very clearly by the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:8) that when the Torah says כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת… לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא… וְלֹא־מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא, it is referring to the mitzvah of learning Torah. When the pasuk says that it is not in heaven it means that Torah will not be found among the haughty. And when the pasuk says that it is not across the ocean, it means that Torah will not be found in businessmen and merchants who are constantly travelling over the seas.

But not everyone interprets these pesukim in this way. The Torah had just mentioned teshuvah – not once, but many times – therefore, says the Ramban (and this is the opinion of the Sforno and the Abarbanel as well), that when the Torah says that this mitzvah is not distant, it is referring to none other than the mitzvah of teshuvah.

{As you could imagine, this debate is the subject of countless discussions and discourses, and is really not the focal point of this particular musical blurb. What is important, however, is that we internalize the powerful message being conveyed by these words and thereby enhance our appreciation of the many melodies that these lyrics have inspired.}

It’s worth noting that, while there are those who opine that these pesukim are referring to the mitzvah of teshuvah, their stance is really not a contradiction to the Gemara, but rather is meant to redefine our concept of limud Torah. While we may have otherwise thought that talmud Torah is its own independent mitzvah, the truth is, learning Torah is also a prime component of the mitzvah of teshuvah! The whole purpose of teshuvah – and the goal of each and every one of us – is hiskarvus l’Hashem, drawing close to Hashem, and the best way to do that is by learning Torah.

So, after reading this, no matter which way we approach these pesukim, and no matter what time of year you hear today’s touching tune, I think we have accomplished what we set out to do: add a little more meaning to a song that so many of us know and love. Just like the Torah, teshuvah is a gift – a total act of chessed from the Ribono Shel Olam. And it is in these words that we are taught that it is something that Hashem guarantees is within our reach at all times.

Ki Ha’mitzvah was written by the ingenious Yossi Green, and is sung by the genuinely graceful Avraham Fried on his 1991 album Aderaba. This song – as well as this album’s title track and Tanya (We Are Ready, 1988) – broke the mold when it came to your typical mainstream composition, and in no small way, changed the Jewish music world forever. These Yossi Green compositions opened our eyes to a new kind of song – one that told a musical story, almost as if it were painting a musical picture, and that allowed the words of the song to speak to each listener in a beautifully unique, personal and powerful way.

{As all of you know, I am a big proponent of the originals. But I believe that even the most avid Fried fans will find the Yiddish Nachas updated adaptation (Emunah U’bitachon, 2020) to be just as satisfying, and, therefore, deserves an honorary mention. A recommended listen when you get the chance.}

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