Stand up! The King is coming! for Parashat Nitzavim

The Torah portion of ניצבים- Nitzavim – standing guarding and attending – is always read before Rosh Hashana, and as I often say, this is definitely one of my 54 most favorite readings. It is home to the famous לא בשמים היא – “It is not in the heavens” (Deuteronomy 30:12), which is the saying many centuries later Rabbi Yehoshua used in his argument against Rabbi Eliezer, trying to emphasize how the Torah is ours, for us to use, kneed and work with; it talks about choice and about teshuva (repentance, coming back) and more.
One of these gems is especially curious (Deuteronomy 29:28):
הנסתרת ליהוה אלהינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד־עולם לעשות את־כל־דברי התורה הזאת (ס)
The concealed acts are to Hashem our God and the revealed one it is for us and our children forever to do all the words of this Torah.
I purposely took out any punctuation so the confusion can be obvious. It can be read in (at least) two ways):
The concealed acts are to Hashem our God.
And the revealed ones are for us and our children forever to do all the words of this Torah.
The concealed acts are to Hashem our God and the revealed ones.
It is for us and our children forever to do all the words of this Torah.
Which way is it?
One way to check is to look at the Torah trope, the musical notes that help us make sense of the text, highlight, divide, punctuate the verses. But even those, put over the word הנגלות – “haniglot” – the revealed – a non-committal mark which can make the word go with either side of the sentence. And, not only that, but above that words -לנו ולבנינו עד עולם – “to us and our children forever”, very (very!) unusually so, there are eleven dots. According to Rav Hirsch, this is all about our mutual responsibility for each other (in the sense of —- all Israel have mutual solidarity or care for one anoter), and these dots “serve to limit the applicability of our responsibility”. For Hirsch it means that even for the –נגלות – niglot, the responsibility only takes effect after entering the Land and the proclamation of the covenant on Mount Grizim and Mount Eival (which we read about last week). Until that time, the נגלות – niglot (revealed things) too, are just like the נסתרות – nistarot (concealed), and are to Hashem. What is it about the entry to the Land for him? Is it “the Land” (i.e. anyone being in it)? or is it us being together? Or a combination of us being together in the Land? This question is not just a “pilpul” (Talmudic argument) but an inquiry of what’s on us to do. When we stand and say, “it’s this way”! “This is the only answer”! How do we know? Perhaps, it is no coincidence that this quest for an added “chip” of humility, comes right before Rosh Hashana, the day we crown G-d as King. As if to say, we know some; with great effort, we can know a tiny bit little more, but we don’t know it all. This can be both scary and comforting. We’re not in full control but we also don’t have to worry about everything; there’s a Boss. Let’s just do the little things we can.

Shabbat Shalom.

Hide and Seek


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