Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

I present here two short selections from the Maggid’s commentary on Parashas Nitzavim.
1. The Torah states (Devarim 29:28): “The hidden things are unto Hashem our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of this law.” In connection with this statement, the Maggid quotes Yeshayah 48:16: “Not at the start did I speak of the hidden” (homiletical rendering).  He explains as follows. The Torah encompasses an unfathomably great treasure of esoteric wisdom. But when Hashem brought the light of the Torah into our world, He did not begin with the esoteric teachings, but rather with the revealed and openly accessible teachings. The revealed part of the Torah is easily understood by everyone. Indeed, all the nations of the world appreciate the Torah’s laws; Moshe describes the nations praising us for our laws (Devarim 4:6): “Therefore safeguard them and perform them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say: ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” When a person has internalized the revealed Torah, Hashem then conveys to him the hidden Torah. [The Maggid explains elsewhere, for example in Kol Yaakov in the commentary on Song of Songs 4:9 and the end of the commentary on Ruth, that when a person faithfully fulfills the directives of the revealed Torah, Hashem grants him access to the hidden Torah.] We should take a similar approach in learning Torah from others. We should not accept the words of anyone who comes along and offers us teachings of the hidden Torah. Only when a person has given us extensive instruction in the revealed Torah and has proven to us his expertise in this area can we believe that he is knowledgeable in the hidden Torah and accept hidden teachings from him. If a person whom we have not verified to be an expert in the revealed Torah makes various statements with the claim that they are hidden Torah teachings, we should turn away.
2. The Torah states (Devarim 30:1-3): “And it will come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, and you take it to heart amidst the all the nations among which Hashem your God has dispersed you, that you will then return to Hashem your God … And then Hashem your God will bring back your captivity ….” The Torah speaks here of our being stirred to repent specifically through witnessing both blessing and curse. If we observe only a curse, for example a drought, we might think it is just happenstance – that we have just reached one of the low points in the changing tides of life. But when we see that all the other nations are enjoying blessing while we alone are beset by curse, we then realize that Hashem has orchestrated the circumstances deliberately in order to arouse our hearts, and so we will be stirred to repent.
In truth, though, even when the whole world is subject to curse, it is a mistake to think that the misfortune came about through happenstance. In this vein, Yeshayah declares (verse 40:28, rendered according to the Maggid’s commentary): “Did you not know? Behold, you did not pay heed. Hashem is the God of the world (אלוקי עולם), the Creator of the ends of the earth.” Yeshayah is telling us: “Did you not know what you did when you did not pay heed to Hashem’s command to obey the laws of His Torah? You caused Hashem to change His mode of operation, on a world-wide scale, from the Attribute of Mercy and Compassion, which is associated with the Divine Name ה', to the Attribute of Justice, which is associated with the Divine Name אלוקים!” Indeed, in a famous teaching, often quoted in the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our Sages say (Kiddushin 40a-b):
A man should always regard himself as though he were half guilty and half meritorious: If he performs one mitzvah, he is fortunate for tipping his scale to the side of merit; if he commits one sin, woe to him for tipping his scale to the side of guilt, as it is said (Koheles 9:18): “But one sinner destroys much good” – that is, on account of a single sin which he commits much good is lost to him. R. Elazar ben R. Shimon said: “Because the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority [of deeds, good or bad], if he performs one good deed, he is fortunate for tipping his scale and that of the whole world to the side of merit; if he commits one sin, woe to him for tipping his scale and that of the whole world to the side of guilt, as it is said, ‘But one sinner …’ – on account of the single sin which this man commits he and the whole world lose much good.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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