Nitzavim 5782-2022

“The Hidden Things Belong to G-d”
(updated and revised from Nitzavim 5765-2005)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On the final day of his life, Moses gathers all the people of Israel, from the most exalted to the lowliest, old and young, men and women, and, for the last time, inducts them into the Covenant of G-d. He again warns the people against engaging in idolatrous worship, and beseeches them to remain loyal to G-d.

Moses concludes his message with the following enigmatic statement. Deuteronomy 29:28: הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַהשׁם אֱ־לֹקֵינוּ, וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, the hidden things are for the L-rd our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah.

The classical commentators Rashi and the Ramban explain that the people of Israel were afraid that they would be held responsible for the transgressions committed by sinners in private, even though they had no knowledge who committed those sins. Moses therefore reassures the people, that hidden sins are the province of G-d alone, and that only the sinners themselves are held responsible for those transgressions. Nevertheless, all of Israel is expected to maintain the nation’s integrity by opposing all sins committed openly.

The Ramban also explains that this verse alludes to sins that are hidden from the perpetrators themselves. In these cases, the Ramban explains, those sins belong to G-d, in the sense that G-d will not hold those sins against the sinners, since the people who commit them did so out of ignorance of the law or because of the lack of clarity regarding the particular situation.

Rashi, in his commentaries to Psalms 87:6 (cited in the Stone Edition of the ArtScroll Chumash p. 1090), explains that because of the vast assimilation that the people of Israel will experience, many Jews will completely forget their Jewish origins. In the time of the Final Redemption, these “hidden ones,” [assimilated Jews] who are known only to G-d, will be reunited with the Jewish people, and restored to their status among the Jewish nation.

Upon learning of Rashi’s interpretation to Psalm 87, I immediately concluded that Rashi must have been referring to our own day and age, since so many Jews, who had lost their Jewish identities, are now being restored to their Judaism, as the movement of Jewish return sweeps across the country.

It is indeed exciting to see the many people, young and old, known colloquially as בַּעֲלֵי תְּשׁוּבָהBaalei Teshuva (Masters of Return), who are re-engaging in Jewish life in significant numbers. Truth be told, they are not all “re-engaging” in Jewish life. In fact, most are engaging in Jewish life for the very first time, and that is why a more proper classification for such people would not be Baalei Teshuva, but תִּינוֹקוֹת שֶׁנְּשְׁבּוּ children who have been taken into captivity and are now being taught the heritage of their people for the very first time.

While the Baal Teshuva phenomenon has been ongoing for decades, as of late, a newer phenomenon has appeared on the scene. It is probably still too early to say that it is a real “movement,” but significant numbers of people, from extremely assimilated Jewish backgrounds, seek today to embrace the heritage of their parents and grandparents. Many of these people have only one Jewish parent, very often a Jewish father, and a Jewish surname. Traditionally, these young people, of paternal Jewish descent, are not considered Jews by Orthodox and Conservative standards, who recognize as Jews only those of maternal Jewish origin. Yet, they seek to adopt traditional Judaism and observance.

These young people, who often come from prominent homes and have attended the most prestigious schools, are coming, in not insignificant numbers, seeking to embrace their Jewish heritage. Many of them undergo rigorous Orthodox conversions, and at times, painful adult circumcisions, with a fervor and devotion that is absolutely staggering. Significant numbers of Russian Jews, whose parents knew nothing about their Jewishness in the former Soviet Union, are also coming to embrace their Jewish heritages.

I recently received a call from a friend who runs a school for Russian Jewish boys. He told me that he was in the throes of a painful dilemma about accepting a young Russian student into the ninth grade. The boy’s Jewish father came in to plead with him to allow his son to enter the school. The boy, as well, staged a virtual sit-in at the school, refusing to leave unless he was admitted. Pleading with the Principal, the father explained that when he married the boy’s non-Jewish mother, he knew nothing about Judaism, and now was determined that his son not be ignorant as well. He wanted to give his child a choice. Trying to dissuade the father, my friend drew a grim portrait of what would happen if his son became religious, started to observe the Sabbath and keep kosher, and depicted the turmoil it would create at home and wreak on the family. Without hesitating, the Russian father stated that he was prepared to take the risk, as long as his son had a chance to be the kind of Jew that he never had the opportunity to be.

After consulting with different rabbinic authorities, the young man was conditionally accepted into the school, and appears to be, at least at this point, one of the most committed, diligent, and knowledgeable students.

Within this context, the aforementioned verse, found in Deuteronomy 29:28 takes on new meaning: The hidden things belong to the L-rd our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and our children forever, to carry out the words of this Torah.

We pray that our “hidden” and assimilated brothers and sisters will soon be “revealed,” and reunited with the rest of the Jewish people, restored to their status as full and beloved members the Jewish nation.

May you be blessed.

Please note: Rosh Hashana 5783  is observed this year on Sunday evening, September 25th, and all day Monday and Tuesday, September 26 and 27, 2022.

Rosh Hashana is followed immediately by The Fast of Gedaliah, that will be will be observed on Wednesday, September 28, 2022, from dawn until nightfall.

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Friday night and Saturday, September 30th and October 1st, is known as Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of repentance.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה  –Shana Tovah, a very happy and healthy New Year.