The case for observing the commandments often focusses on how easy it is to be religious once you begin. Even Moses had to argue this case, which is why we find the sidra saying, “This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, nor too far off” (Deut. 30:11).
We cannot be certain whether he was speaking to his own generation or to the future, but the argument is the same – the Torah is not beyond the capacity of human beings to observe.
It needs to be said because people constantly suspect that they will never be able to cope – “Keeping kosher is just too hard”… “Keeping Shabbat is too big an ask”… “Davening three times a day is too much of a commitment”…
The Moses answer is the same as that of the Psalmist, “Taste it and see” (Psalm 34:9). As the sages put it, the Torah was not given to the ministering angels but to human beings with all their limitations and frailties.
Yet this does not exhaust the levels of meaning in the verse we have quoted from the sidra. Literally, the Hebrew means, “This commandment is not too wonderful (niflet) for you”, and the Malbim draws attention to the fact that niflet derives from the root peleh, a miracle.
What this means, he suggests, is that there are no mysteries in Judaism that are beyond the rational understanding of people who use their minds.
Judaism does not say, “I believe because it is absurd”. The principle enunciated by Yehudah HaLevi and other great philosophers is, “God forbid that there should be anything in the Torah that contradicts that which is manifest or proved”.
If reason argues against something in Judaism, Judaism counter-argues. It does not say, “Leave your mind behind when you enter”. It does not say, “To be religious you must not think”.
Whoever thinks Judaism is anti-intellectual has not learned the first lesson in Judaism.