Shabbat Nitzavim

September 3, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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In the short reading this week Moses addresses the whole of the Israelite community, men, women, and children.

He stresses the remarkable idea that we have free will, and the choice to accept or reject Judaism. He predicts the constant backsliding of most of the Israelites that was true then and is still true today. Yet seven times he repeats the idea of return, Shuvah, both in terms of our returning to God and God returning to us. Not as a specific command, but as a desirable option. It implies choice and responsibility for or decisions.

In a remarkable sentence ( 29:28), the Torah says, “Those things that are hidden, belong to God, but what had been revealed is for us and our children forever.”
The last phrase “our children” is emphasized in the text with special dots over the letters, as if to say that this is the most important task we have in life.

But what do the words “ hidden and revealed” mean? Surprisingly, Rashi, and most traditional commentators except Ibn Ezra, take this to mean that human justice is fallible. We work according to its rules and sometimes we may make mistakes and release someone guilty or fail to prosecute. That’s because we can only know what our senses tell us. But when that happens, we should know that God, before whom there are no secrets, will deal with it.

But there is a very different way of understanding it. There are many things about our universe we do not know. To us, they remain hidden in that we do not yet understand and may never. These are what we might call God’s secrets.  Important as it may be to explore and discover, in the end, what matters most is our ability to navigate life on earth in the present. And we do have a guide to human behavior as revealed to us through Torah.

To behave ethically and spiritually are things that we can and do know. It is up to us to make the right choices. And then make sure we pass them on to our children for the future.

Deuteronomy 29.9-30.20.


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