Friday, September 11, 2015

Parsha: What are Hidden and Revealed Mitzvot?

Rav Turetsky

The Torah (Devarim 29:28) includes a somewhat cryptic Pasuk in Parshat Netzavim. We are told, "הנסתרות לה' אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבננו עד עולם", that the hidden is for Hashem, but the public is for us and our children forever.  Yet, we are not taught what exactly is being referred to as hidden and revealed, and how that connects to God and our descendents.

What is the meaning of this Pasuk?

Rashi (ad loc) understands the Pasuk as a reference to communal responsibility. The hidden alludes to sins performed privately by individuals. Others are not aware of them, and those sins remain solely between the individuals who performed them and God; no one else knows of their existence. However, there are also public sins of others, of which we are aware and deemed accountable. The Torah teaches that such acts are “for us and our children”; it is our responsibility to improve others around us whenever we can.

For Rashi, this Pasuk teaches a very important lesson about our religious obligations. We are expected to be concerned (and are even liable) for that which is done publicly by others. Religious life is not only about one’s own Divine worship; it must also concern itself with the religious observance of our fellow Jews.

Ramban (ad loc) suggests that the Torah distinguishes between two kinds of sins. The “private sins” are a reference to unintentional acts of which a person is unaware. Those are not as severe or egregious, and only God knows of them. However, the Torah also refers to “public sins”, those that are intentional and known to the sinner. Those are taken much more seriously and are treated with increased severity.

This idea highlights an important element of the Teshuva process. One facet of the Teshuva process certainly involves an honest accounting and confrontation with one’s errors and iniquities.

Chatam Sofer suggested a very powerful idea. Each person performs Mitzvot that are “hidden”, or only known to them. Those are important religiously, but their impact is limited. Rather, it is specifically one who performs Mitzvot in public that impacts others.  For Chatam Sofer, that is the meaning of the Pasuk – the hidden are only for God, but the public are for us and our children forever. Our families and communities gain tremendously from the Mitzvot we perform in public forums. They help set a positive religious tone and creative an atmosphere conducive towards religious growth. They contribute to our familial and communal legacy.

Chatam Sofer is not recommending a haughty or arrogant approach to one’s Mitzvah observance. Certainly one must make sure Mitzvot are not performed for the sake of others seeing them. Rather, Chatam Sofer teaches an important insight into religious life. We have an incredible capacity to positively impact others through our actions.

Rashi reminds us of our communal responsibility, while Ramban writes of our need to rectify our sins. Chatam Sofer offers a recommendation for the long-term success of our people.

May we be Zocheh to live religiously ambitious lives privately and publically.

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