Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Parshat Nitzavim-VaYelech

The Hidden

This weeks parsha contains a passuk that we say a number of times during our prayers on Rosh Hashana:

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לָה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת

“The hidden belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed belong to us and to our children forever; that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah” (Devarim 29:28).

The meaning of this passuk is unclear. What are the “hidden that belong to” God and what are the “revealed that belong to us”?

There are a number of ways to translate and understand this passuk.

A few pessukim earlier, Moshe had warned those who: “hear the words of this curse, and will comfort himself in his heart, saying, ‘I will have peace, even if I follow my heart's desires’” (ibid 18). People often behave one way in public and another way in private. It is likely that people will think that in private they can do what they like, without the fear of repercussions.

Moshe therefore warns those individuals that the “hidden belongs to” God. He knows your private thoughts and actions. There can be no escape from God’s justice.

Another way to understand the passuk is that it is referring to the actual curse that was mentioned in the previous chapter. A long list of sins were recorded whose violation would result in the most severe of punishments – the tochecha. The problem with this list is that it deals with crimes committed in private, for which there is no public knowledge (See ibid 27:15:26). How can all Israel suffer for the crimes of individual sinners, when the people had no knowledge of the crime in order to correct it?

Moshe comforts them saying that the “hidden (crimes) is God’s responsibility”, we do not have to be overly concerned with the goings on behind closed doors in our neighbor’s house. Nevertheless, he reminds Israel that that does not absolve them of responsibility of dealing with public crimes, for the “revealed (crimes) is our responsibility” to ensure that the rules of the Torah are obeyed.

There is one further way to understand this passuk. After the signing of a covenant, both parties receive a copy of the agreement. This is possibly why there were two luchot (tablets) of stone given at Sinai. One went to God and was stored in His “home”, i.e. the Mishkan, while the other went to the people’s representatives, i.e. the Kohanim, who stored it in their shrine, i.e. again the Mishkan.

So too, the covenant made in the Land of Moav was written on stone steels (ibid 27:2-3). One copy was to go to God, while another was to go to the people for them to clearly see the terms of the covenant.
Thereby the “hidden (stone) belongs” to God, while the “revealed (stone) is for us…forever, so that we can fulfill all the words of this Torah”.


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