My teacher Rabbi Harold Kushner once shared a challenge that he and a fellow rabbinical student extended to one another to write full sermons based on window signs that they had seen in the neighborhood near the Jewish Theological Seminary. The sign that I remember hearing about from Rabbi Kushner read “Help Wanted Inquire Within.”
Punctuation matters. Those words can be read in more than one way. ‘Help Wanted. Inquire Within.’ means one thing, while ‘Help Wanted? Inquire Within.’ conveys an entirely different message. Let’s stay with version two. Where might I find help? Habitually, and perhaps logically, we tend to look outside of ourselves for help of various kinds. Counter-intuitively, says our sign, ‘inquire within.’ It’s a beautiful message for this last week of Elul and this final Shabbat of 5779.
My teacher, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appel understands our parasha, Nitzavim, as an extended word of encouragement to have (or find) the confidence that “what we need is what we already have.” The guidance and wisdom we seek is not “beyond reach” – neither “in the heavens” nor “beyond the sea” in the Torah’s words. “No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) In Rabbi Bendat-Appel’s lovely formulation, “it’s all there in my lived experience.” Help wanted? Inquire within!
“In your heart.” Vaclav Havel, playwright and political leader extraordinaire, makes a powerful claim. “…the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better…” Salvation comes from within, says Havel. That’s the heart of the matter. The Torah agrees and invites each of us to inquire within in search of wisdom, comfort, hope, and wholeness.
“Lo ba-shamayim hi – It is not in the heavens.” Rather it is “in your mouth and in your heart.” Inquire within. Search on!
Shabbat Shalom & Shanah Tovah.