Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim 5776
Niglot and Nistarot
Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775
This small parsha contains a number of my favorite pesukim.
I am drawn to the following verse because I like to read it out of context.
דברים פרק כט
כח) הַ֨נִּסְתָּרֹ֔ת לַיקֹוָ֖ק אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹ֞ת לָ֤נוּ וּלְבָנֵ֙ינוּ֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת: ס
28. The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.
I would love to read the verse as follows: Don’t worry about the mystical and the talismans and the voodoo shortcuts. Stick with the mitzvoth and the basics and leave the rest to God.
The problem with that read is the context.
The verses right before talk about the Jews leaving the path of Torah and mitzvoth, God getting angry and booting the Jews from the land of Israel.
What does the verse mean in that context? It clearly does not refer to our approach to the mystical.
The Ramban suggests that we might argue with God – you banished us for our sins but we are not even aware of all of those. How could you punish us for sins that we are not aware of! God’s response is: “Don’t worry, I will take care of all the hidden sins, they are not your concern. Your only concern is those sins that you are aware of.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that it refers not to the reasons for banishment but to the way back. When we are scattered in exile and looking to return don’t try and figure out the mysteries of when it is going to happen. Your concern is only with the revealed – do the mitzvoth and let God figure our when to bring you back. That is very much in line with Hirsch’s anti Zionist philosophy.
Rash in a similar vein to the Ramban suggests that the people might argue as follows. This is a national punishment based on our collective sins. But how is that our fault, many of those sins are hidden in other people hearts or the privacy of their homes. Why are we being punished for that?
To counter that God says- you leave other people’s hidden sins to me. That is not for you to deal with. But other people’s sins that are public knowledge, that is your responsibility.
I think that this is a beautiful Rashi. This can remain as one of my favorite verses. Rashi teaches us that it is not enough to live in your bubble, religious as you might be, with no concern for the spiritual welfare of others. So much so that if you ignore the spiritual needs of others the punishment is indeed collective.
The Ohr Hachaim, the holy kabbalist from 18th century Morocco, echoes Rashi’s point and explains that it is based on the principle of areivut, the mutual responsibility of one Jew to another. That is not only in the physical realm but in the spiritual one as well.
That does not mean that we should start looking at our friends and neighbors and pointing out their religious flaws and exhort them to repent.
We should however model the beauty of Judaism and hopefully inspire others, and certainly offer help and guidance to anyone who asks.
I am tempted to suggest that the split between nigleh and nistar could refer to the difference between personal and communal. Personal sins and behavior is God’s domain. I can’t be punished because my neighbor is a thief.
The nigleh is our communal responsibility. What does that refer to? Our communal structures and institutions must be ones that bring people to Judaism and not push them away. They must inspire people and make it easier to live religious lives and keep the mitzvoth. The national environment that we create must be one that is halachic but at the same time conducive to Jewish living. As food for thought – think about marriage, divorce and conversion in Israel. Think about shemittah and kashruth.
I think both answers are right- we have spiritual responsibilities towards our fellow Jews on both personal and communal/national levels.
And in both we have a lot of work to do!