Access and Ownership Text Study


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Access and Ownership Text Study

  1. 1. Access and Ownership: “It is not in Heaven”Consider the following 2 texts:Deuteronomy: 11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? 14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. {S}Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b:If a man made an oven out of separate coils [of clay, placing one upon another], then putsand between each of the coils [1] — such an oven, R. Eliezer declared, is not susceptible todefilement, while the sages declared it susceptible.[2]It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but theSages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: "If the Halakhah (religious law) isin accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!" Sure enough the carob tree immediatelyuprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. "Noproof can be brought from a carob tree," they retorted.And again he said to them "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!"Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. "No proof can be brought from a channelof water," they rejoined.Again he urged, "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study proveit!" Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, "Whendisciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?" Hencein deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume
  2. 2. their upright position; they are still standing aslant.Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved fromheaven." Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, "Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, withwhom the Halakhah always agrees?" R. Joshua stood up and protested: "The Torah is not inheaven!" (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount SinaiYou wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline. (Ex. 23:2)"R. Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah [3] and asked him, "What did the Holy One do at thatmoment?" Elijah: "He laughed [with joy], saying, My children have defeated Me, My childrenhave defeated Me."Questions for Reflection:What does “lo bashamayim hi” mean in the context of each story? Is it the same, different?How does each text relate to ideas of access? Ownership?Does one text demonstrate access more than the other? If so, which, and why? What aboutownership?What is the difference between having access to the Torah and owning it?