Who’s Really in the Know? by Reuven Herzog


Parashat Nitzavim is a very deep Parashah, one that gives Bnei Yisrael an objective view on their relationship with Hashem.  It begins with Moshe explaining to Bnei Yisrael that they are entering into a new covenant with Hashem, one that is simultaneously strong and fragile.  He proceeds to provide a terrifying description of what can go wrong in the Brit, that if any person among Bnei Yisrael worships idols, then Hashem will destroy him and all that he owns completely, like He did to Sedom and Amora.  The carnage will be so terrible that the nations surrounding Eretz Yisrael will be shocked, asking, “Meh Chori HaAf HaGadol HaZeh,” “What is this fury?” (Devarim 29:23)  This description must have been terrifying to Bnei Yisrael, who just heard the Tochachah, rebuke, found in Parashat Ki Tavo, and now realize that they are in jeopardy of being slaughtered.  However, immediately after Moshe’s discussion about the Brit comes Parashat HaTeshuvah, a long, uplifting piece explaining that if and when this carnage occurs, Hashem will lift up and return His people to its land and restore it to its former glory.

Sandwiched between these two Parshiyot is a Pasuk that stirs curiosity and seems slightly out of place.  The Pasuk states, “HaNistarot LaHashem Elokeinu VeHaNiglot Lanu ULeVaneinu Ad Olam La’asot Et Kol Divrei HaTorah HaZot,”  “The hidden things are for Hashem our God, and the exposed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all of these things [mentioned in the covenant]” (Devarim 29:28).  This Pasuk seems to be telling us to just let Hashem do his job and that we do not need to know everything.  However, there are dots written above the words “Lanu ULeVaneinu,” hinting that there may be more to this phrase.

Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik explained that whenever dots are written above a word or phrase in the Torah, the Torah is telling us to stop and think deeply about that word or phrase.  In this case, the Rav learned something simple, yet brilliant, which expands the reach of the Pasuk.  “HaNistarot LaHashem Elokeinu” means that the hidden things are only for Hashem to know; HaNiglot, however, are seemingly only “Lanu ULeVaneinu.”  Although we seem to think that we know everything and are in control of our own destinies, there is only one being who is omniscient and is always in control:  the Ribono Shel Olam.  Only Hashem completely knows the workings of the world, even what seems known to man.

In light of this, the Pasuk fits perfectly with its context.  Moshe has just finished outlining a terrifying and downright depressing State of the Union address, and Bnei Yisrael seem to be destined for an awful end and have little reason to have hope.  After all, the previous generation was in the same situation, with a fairly new covenant with God and about to enter Eretz Yisrael, and they blew it in a huge fashion; in fact, this generation has sinned already at Mei Merivah.  However, Moshe then offers Bnei Yisrael a glimpse of hope with this Pasuk.  Such a simple idea – we do not know everything – is so comforting.  Even if something awful occurs, even if we do not know what it is, it is comforting to know that it happened for a reason.  There is no pure evil in this world that can have its way just for the sake of being bad; everything takes place for a reason.

Next week is the ninth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and other sites on September 11, 2001.  Such a devastating attack on the United States had never happened before, and, Im Yirtzeh Hashem, will never happen again.  The attacks shattered the sheltered lives many Americans were living.  Up to that point, the deadliest attack on American civilians, the Oklahoma City bombings, came from the inside, and it was assumed that future attacks would emanate only domestically.  However, 9/11 showed citizens that America, too, is vulnerable to the outside world.  Many people began to question why this took place; why did so many innocent people perish, and why did hundreds of valiant, brave and special members of the FDNY and NYPD lose their lives while saving others?  No one really has the answer to this question, as it is completely against human morals and ideas.  However, even without an answer, it is still comforting to know that there was a reason for the 9/11 attacks, and someone knew – and still knows – what is going on.

Meanwhile, from that day onward, many more tragedies have occurred to the human race, some more devastating than others.  Three of note were all natural disasters, which seemed like they were just acts of cruelty with no apparent reason behind them. In 2004, a terribly strong earthquake struck the Indian Ocean, and a giant tsunami followed.  When it made landfall, it killed over 230,000 people, making it the tenth deadliest natural disaster of all time.  Two years ago, a massive earthquake in China left over 68,000 people dead.  And just eight months ago, an earthquake hit the island country of Haiti, killing over 250,000 people and placing the already impoverished nation into a seemingly bottomless pit of hopelessness.  None of these seemed hardly fair to the human race; what reason was there to kill hundreds of thousands of people?  And yet, the simple realization that someone knows what is happening, someone is wielding the might of justice in this world, can be enough to make one accept what happens.

On a more personal level, when a person dies, his relatives mourn him for a week, and are often just left thinking, “Why?”  There is no problem with being upset at Hashem for this person’s death, and it may help the mourner cope with the loss, but it does not really comfort him.  It is for this reason that when people come to be Menachemim Aveilim, comfort the mourners, they leave with one simple, yet powerful line:  “HaMakom Yenacheim Etchem Betoch She’ar Aveili Tziyon ViYrushalayim.”  Although Hashem’s presence may not be felt, it is comforting to know that He is still out there somewhere.

Attitude is Everything by Leead Staller

Teshuvah of Intent by Yakir Forman