This week’s Parashiyot, Nitzavim-VaYeilech, include Moshe’s final exhortation of Bnei Yisrael to keep the Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu appeals to the people not to regard the Torah as an impossible set of restrictions: “Lo Nifleit Hi Mimcha,” “It is not too hard for you” (Devarim 30:11).
The Midrash Rabbah (Devarim Rabbah 8:3) explains the use of the word “Mimcha,” “for you,” which is unnecessary in context, by adding a few words before it: “It is not hard, and if it is hard, it is only hard because of you.”
The Midrash Rabbah then explains how one causes Torah observance to be difficult by way of a parable: A loaf of bread is tied up high in the air, and below it, a fool and a wise man pass by. The fool believes that it is impossible to reach the bread; it is much too high, and he walks on. The wise man, however, surmises that for the loaf to be suspended so high, someone must have been able to reach it to put it there in the first please; he brings a ladder or a stick and fetches the loaf.
So too, says the Midrash, are the attitudes of fools and wise men in regard to Torah study and observance. The fool looks at the entire body of Torah, from Tanach to Mishnah, from Gemara to Halacha, sees a towering mountain in front of him, and surrenders. The wise man, meanwhile, learns a verse a day, a chapter a day, a page of Gemara a day; eventually, he scales the peak and arrives at the summit, having mastered the entirety of the Torah. Rather than giving in when faced with a tall task, the wise man begins to work.
As the Yamim Noraim bring about changes in our hearts, and we resolve to change our ways for the coming year, we would do well to remember that the path is not always easy, but rather than giving in to adversity, rather than surrendering to the Yeitzer HaRa, the wise response is to redouble our efforts toward self-betterment. The mountain may look unconquerable, but with consistent work, step by step, the peak is reachable.