A friend of mine is seriously into karate and trains very hard. He almost ha a black belt. Once, he travelled to Japan for a tournament and on this trip, he was able to meet with old Japanese masters at karate. They were older men trained and raised in the ancient arts, devoted to teaching and spreading karate. They were treated with extreme respect as they, having lived their entire lives in the study of karate, were experts at it. These elders had been trained in the secrets of the martial art. As anybody knows, a discipline or art cannot simply exist in an academic level but must have leaders and masters.
Interestingly enough, while almost everyone would treat these karate masters with respect, many deride the rabbis as "a brood of vipers", "Pharisees" and taunt the Jews as following the laws of man as opposed to the laws of G-d. Some like to mock the rabbis and call them hypocrites who prefer to focus on the trivial aspects of the law as opposed to its deeper purpose: intimacy with G-d. Fools. Little do they know.
On Mount Sinai, G-d spoke to the entire Jewish nation and revealed to us His Torah, both the Oral and the Written. One is meaningless without the other, in the sense that one cannot learn karate from a book but only with a teacher. At Sinai, G-d taught to Moses His commandments, who transmitted it to Joshua, who transmitted it to the Elders, then to the Prophets, and then to the Men of the Great Assembly. Moses was taught of the many laws that are not found explicitly in the Torah, yet are alluded to. He was shown how to make tefillin, of what colour it should be, of what material, how to wrap it, etc. Moses was shown the precise way of wrapping tzitzit, the fringes that Jews wear on the corners of their garments. For 40 years, the Jews dwelt in G-d's womb and studied Torah from His mouth.
While many aspects of Judaism are from Sinai like kashrut, the 39 forbidden labours on Shabbat, or tefillin, many prohibitions or obligations are rabbinical in origin. The holidays of Chanukkah and Purim are nowhere in the Five Books of Moses yet they are equally incumbent on every Jew as the biblical holiday of Pesach. The prohibition against carrying on Shabbat is one a rabbinic one as well, to "build a fence around the Torah" and to prevent Shabbat desecration. Laws of man?
A fundamental principle in Judaism is that of lo bashamayim hi. In Moses' final oration and testimony to the Jews before he died (Deut 30:12), he summed his speech up with four magnifience verses: "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it." From this we derive the principle that the Torah is no longer in heaven, but that G-d gave it to man to interpret and to follow. With this verse, G-d gave us the power and authority to decide halacha, matters of Torah law. Actually, G-d's opinion is no longer relevant as Torah law became the sole domain of the Jewish people. But the phrase "not in heaven" took on an extraordinary life of its own in the rabbinic era. It gave rise to a justly famous story in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59a), one of the most radical and paradoxical in religious literature. It is the tale of another oven that needed to be declared kosher. This oven was a new invention created by a certain man named Achnai. Achnai brought his new oven to the rabbinical court at the house of study for them to give his contraption their imprimatur and deem it appropriate for Jewish use. With the exception of Rabbi Eliezer, every sage at the house of study declared that the oven was un-kosher. Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument to try and convince the other sages that the oven was kosher, but none of his colleagues was convinced. Rabbi Eliezer was getting frustrated, and he shouted at them: “If Achnai's oven is in fact kosher, as I say it is, then let this carob tree prove it!” And the carob tree flew out of the ground and landed a hundred cubits away. Unimpressed, the other sages retorted: “No proof can be brought from a carob tree.” Again Rabbi Eliezer implored them: “If the oven is kosher, then let the stream of water prove it.” And the stream of water flowed backwards. “No proof can be brought from a stream of water,” the rabbis rejoined. More frustrated than ever, Rabbi Eliezer cried out: “If the oven is kosher, as I say it is, let the walls of this house of study prove it!” And the walls began to fall inward. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked the collapsing walls saying: “When scholars are engaged in a disagreement over a point of Jewish law, what right do you have to interfere?” And the walls did not fall in honor of Rabbi Joshua, nor did they resume their upright position in honor of Rabbi Eliezer. Again Rabbi Eliezer said to the sages, “If the law agrees with me regarding the fact that Achnai's oven is kosher, then let it be proved by heaven.” And a heavenly voice cried out: “Why do you rabbis argue with Eliezer? He's always right in his interpretation of the law!" But Rabbi Joshua arose and exclaimed to the sky: “It is not in Heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). One must follow the majority!” At that moment, the sages say, God laughed, saying “My children have defeated me! My children have overruled me!”
With this, we became partners with G-d in creation. When the majority of rabbis in the Sanhedrin, and today in the beit din, decide the halachah, the law becomes the Words of the Living G-d and no Jew is free to oppose them. The Torah states: "If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose. And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment. And thou shalt do according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall declare unto thee from that place which the LORD shall choose; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they shall teach thee. According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left. And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt exterminate the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously." (Deut. 17:8-13) The Torah was given to man to interpret, to understand and to live by. The Talmud tells us, when the ministering angels come to G-d to ask when is the Festival of the New Moon, He tells them, "Why do you ask me? Let us go to the earthly court of the sages and ask them what they've decided. (Midrash Rabbah, Devarim 2:14)
The Torah is not in the heavens! It is near and dear to us, given to man to live by. G-d gave us the amazing priviliege of living by His Torah. What an amazing challenge! It is said that G-d is to found within the four cubits of the halacha. Will you meet Him there?