Parashat Nitzavim: The Hidden Torah and the Visible Torah
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we study Parashat Nitzavim, which is a rather short portion. In fact, all the upcoming weekly Torah portions are concise, however, the excitement builds up towards the completion and the restarting of the weekly Torah reading cycle.
We, together with all the people of Israel, are excited because the holidays of Tishrei are coming up. We are just about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of the appointed times.
The Personal Aspect of the Covenant
In Parashat Nitzavim, Moses declared that the people of Israel were making a covenant with God. All were considered equal and all were to stand together; this applies to the past generations as well as those to come.
Sometimes we think about our personal relationship with God and what Yeshua did for us. I often contemplate how Yeshua released me personally from the burden of the Torah, or at least from the punishments mentioned in it.
Indeed, the covenant is with individuals, but these individuals are all a part of the whole, they are part of the people of Israel. In other words, God was and is making a covenant with all the people of Israel. If I am a part of the Jewish people, than this covenant still applies to me.
Yeshua redeemed me personally, but I am still part of Israel, and due to this I am also part of the covenant.
The Torah Applies to All of the People of Israel as a Whole
If we, the people of Israel, leave the path of God and transgress the covenant, then we will receive the curse; this includes the believers. In fact, we are also to blame, we have not been successful enough in shining the light of the Messiah, the gospel, and the Torah. We did not succeed in being a good influence.
We can see this form of thought woven throughout the stories of the Bible. When the people sinned and got punished, the prophets, the priests, and even those who remained faithful to God suffered and were killed.
The culture we live in today encourages us to think that we live in a personal bubble, that we are the center of the world. This ideology can also be seen with believers today. We have become accustomed to the thought of personal salvation – it’s me and my God.
In my opinion, there is a core concept that must be changed so that we can truly be tools in the hands of God. This is the concept of the overall salvation of the nation, as opposed to the salvation of the individual.
Each person or small group decides what he feels that God wants from him on a personal basis.
The approach that we must adopt is that the gospel is intended for society as a whole.
For example in Israel, we need a vision that suits the entire Jewish people. We have a mutual responsibility like what is found in the saying that ended up becoming one of the foundations of Jewish culture: “All Israel is responsible for each other.” We are responsible to pay the debt.
Each member of the people of Israel took upon himself to pay the debts or the sins of his fellow man.
We are All Responsible for Each Other’s Sins
Last week we read in Deuteronomy 27 about the commandment to stand on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival in order to perform a ceremony in which the people committed themselves to the covenant of the Torah.
The Biblical understanding is that we have a collective responsibility of each and every member of the nation of Israel, including the sins of others. The example of this is Achan’s sin, when he took some of the loot which was forbidden, and as a result, innocent individuals died in battle. This story appears in chapters 7 and 8 of Joshua.
The Bible mentions the sin of Achan in a general and collective way:
“The Lord said to Joshua… Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies…” – Joshua 7:10a-12a [NIV]
Should We Take Responsibility Only for Public Sins?
Now, there is a disagreement among the sages of Israel on this matter: does this responsibility apply only for public sins or also for hidden sins that no one knows about?
The accepted view today is that we must take responsibility only for the public sins, and even then there is no punishment. That is unless a person was able to protest the sin, but he did not do so.
This issue brings us to the verse that serves as a summary for this covenant:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29 [NIV]
The Hidden Meanings Found in the Torah
In the original Hebrew text found in the Torah, there is a dot above each letter in the words “to us and to our children forever.” No one knows what exactly these dots mean.
Most likely there is a secret hidden within these mysterious markings.Perhaps this means that what is hidden from us, the hidden sins, are revealed to God. It is also possible that the Torah has a hidden side and a visible side: the visible side being the practical commandments and the hidden side as the secrets of the Torah that are revealed only to those who seek God.
In my opinion, this verse asks us to understand the reasons behind the commandments, and to understand the intention of the Torah. On one hand, the whole chapter deals with keeping the Torah and the reward that will follow if you do so. On the other hand, however, there are numerous punishments that will follow if we breach the covenant and choose not to observe the Torah.
The question is, what is the proper observance of the commandments of the Torah? Do we have to know the entire Torah with all of its secrets? Or is it enough to fulfill it only in its clear plain meaning?
I think we can explore, think, pray, and examine the secrets but this is indeed between us and God. The revealed are the actions and things that the Torah commands us to do or to avoid, and they are an obligation for us and our children.
The Torah and the Commandments are Attainable
In our parasha, Moses made two important statements: the first is that we do not know all the secrets of heaven, which is ok. We must leave what is hidden to God and act honestly in the visible plane.
The second important statement of Moses is that the truth is attainable, the Torah and the commandments alike. This includes the will of God, which is close, clear, attainable, and available.
The Long Journey to Find Treasure
I will end with a short story:
There was a man who dreamt of finding a treasure buried under a bridge. After having this same dream repeatedly, he decided to get up and go on a journey for hundreds of kilometers in order to reach that same bridge and the treasure hidden beneath it.
After many days of a difficult journey, he finally reached the bridge. He approached it slowly, examining it carefully, when suddenly a stranger approached him and asked him what he was doing. When he heard the story, the stranger bursted into laughter and said: “So what if you had a dream?! I also dreamt that somewhere there lived a man named…” and here the stranger mentioned the exact name and address of that person. “…under whose kitchen there is a treasure. Do you think I’d just go off on such a long journey just to find some dream treasure?”
The man, who had wandered such a long way, suddenly turned around and went home. When he arrived, he dug in his kitchen floor and found the treasure.
This is a well-known Hasidic story, and can be understood and explained in several ways: It can be understood as a parable for every Torah student who goes far to study the word of God. The meaning behind it is that the treasure was already in his possession. He must dig in his house and within himself in the spiritual sense in order to find his treasure. In other words, only the person himself can decide to follow God. The rabbi, pastor, or leader cannot save you.
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven… Nor is it beyond the sea… No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” – Deuteronomy 30:11-14 [NIV]
One does not have to look for the answer overseas or in the heavens, nor does one need to consult with the rabbi or pastor. The answer lies solely within us.
It is also possible to interpret this story in the opposite way: we must go out and search for the meaning of life, in order to understand that the treasure is at home. Sometimes we have to go to the end of the world to understand that the real treasure can be found right under our noses.
I want to end with the blessing of a happy holiday and a Happy Jewish New Year!
May we all start the year with renewed hope. My prayer is that God will bless the new year with health and mercy. May it be a blessing to the family, and a blessing to the community. I pray that God will bless the work of our hands and our lives, that we will always walk in the light of Yeshua the Messiah. May this year be a year of success, productivity, and faith. I pray this in the name above all names, the name of Yeshua the Messiah.