Would that it were so simple. Would that we could easily "connect the dots" of Torah and see an easily understandable and identifiable picture take shape. Oh, I imagine that this is the general intent of the Torah's author (Divine or otherwise, as you choose to believe)--that one can simply "connect the dots" and come to a simple and easy understanding. After all, the Torah herself teaches us, in Deut,
Surely this commandment which I have commanded to you this day is not concealed from you, nor is it far from you. It is not in heaven...It is close to you, in your mouth and your heart to do them. (Deut 30:11-14.)
(I have deliberately avoided the more standard and fleshed out translations to emphasize the very simplicity of these words.)
Yet it would seem that, despite these words, few of us succeed at connecting the Torah's dots.
Funny, then, that this parasha should happen to contain one of the 10 places in the Torah where the Masoretes, the scribes who have given us the standard vowelized text of the Torah, have placed dots above or below letters in the text, for reasons we can only speculate about. The most common understandings are that it was done to emphasize or highlight an important homiletical point, or that the dots indicate questionable text that doesn't really belong in the Torah.
Here in parashat Nitzavim, we have the most extensive series of these dots, occurring over 11 consecutive letters, covering two complete words and one letter of a third two-letter word.
And here we have an enigma wrapped in a mystery. For these special dotted letters occur in the middle of one of the Torah's most baffling statements:
Hanistarot l'Adnai El-hecha, v'haniglot lanu u'l'vaneinu ad-0lam la'asot et-kol-divrei hatorah hazot. (Deut 29:28)
The hidden things are for Adnai, your Gd, and the revealed things are to us and to our children for all eternity to do all the words of this teaching.
(Again, I have avoided the more standard and fleshed out translations to emphasize the original words in their stark simplicity.)
What, exactly, can this mean? Even the rabbis couldn't agree on that. Does it means that some things are only for Gd to know? Does it refer, as Talmud suggests, to our sins though the rabbis argue whether it means the people are held accountable for all sins, hidden or revealed, or whether the people are only accountable for overt sins)?
Well, excuse me, but don't we have a revealed thing right here in front of us? Is not the Torah revealed to us? Yes, we may have some trouble understanding parts of it (or even most of it) but we have it and it is ours to interpret and try to understand and to do all these things to the best of our understandings. Gd has given us this revelation. There are obviously other things Gd has not revealed to us. (Maybe, perhaps, that Gd wanted to hold the door open for other possible covenants with other peoples? Maybe that a whole lot of bad crap was going to happen to us and Gd wouldn't intervene and we'd wind up doubting Gd or being mad at Gd?)
That both this verse and the verses containing "lo bashamayim hi" both contain and center on the extremely active verb "la'asot," to do -- help me to see a connection between them, thus leading me to an understanding.
I say, "Sin, shmin." Not that I have any great authority to disagree with our great sages, but for me the meaning of these words are obvious. It's Gd saying to us "OK, folks. Here it is. This Torah. It's all yours. It's all I'm giving to you. You figure it out. I think I made it pretty obvious, but then I know what you folks are like. You'll probably argue about it for millennia, and never get it all quite right. In any case, just do your best with it. The rest I'm keeping to myself. It's a secret not intended for you to know."
Simple. Straightforward. Annoying. Yet, at least for me, acceptable.
Yet, just when one thinks one has it all figured out...well, it's bad enough we have to try and figure this out on its own, but then the Masoretes have to complicate things by putting those extra dots over the words "lanu u'lvaneinu a(d-olam.) To us and our children for eternity. (The dots appear over each letter of the words lanu u'lvaneinu, but only over the first letter in ad-olam.)
Is there a hidden meaning here? Why did the Masoretes point us to these words? (Pun intended.) It would seem, on the surface, that the words "for us and our children" are worthy of being highlighted, if for no other reason than to remind us that we must continually teach and observe these commandments.
Perhaps we are being reminded that these words shall be a truism for us and our children through all time--that there are some things we will know, and others that will not be revealed to us. A warning, perhaps to keep our scientific and technological hubris in check? We can put a man on the moon but we can't cure the common cold. (And don't get me started on my great disappointment that we haven't put anyone back on the moon in quite some time.) We can kill hundreds of thousands with a single instrument of war, yet we can't seem to understand and uphold the teachings of our many faith traditions, all of which teach that peace is what we should pursue.
But why only the first letter of the word pair "ad-olam" ? Perhaps this is also a warning. The words meaning "for us and our children" are highlighted, yet the words meaning "until eternity" or "forever" are truncated. Might this be a forewarning that if we do not heed these words, that we won't be around forever so that we might forever do these commandments? Maybe these great weapons we make, maybe our penchant for war, hatred, violence, political intrigue, raping our planet's resources, etc. will doom us to not be able to complete the letters in "ad-olam" if we fail to follow the teaching of Torah (and of other great faith systems.)
Some suggestions of possible answers, yet, as usual, mostly more questions raised. Yet, in some small way, I hope I have helped some of you connect a few more dots in the Torah. And this is my wish for you this Shabbat, that you be able to connect a few more of the dots in your own life.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha
5757/5759-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5760-L'eyd B'vnei Yisrael-The Real Denouement
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no Musing.
Email Me A Comment!