The Secret Things Belong to the Lord

The Torah portion this Shabbat is called Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20, and from the prophets the reading is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9. From the New Testament the reading in our congregation is from Romans 10:1-18.

The portion Nitzavim is one of my favorite Torah portions, for two reasons. First, it is a sign that we are ending the Torah reading cycle and the feast of Sukkot, then starting again the reading from Genesis chapter 1.

I really like this new beginning of the Torah cycle year after year. Every time that I read the Torah or hear the reading I receive new insights, and some phrase or word or verse jumps up into my conscience and gives me a jolt to search and look into the biblical text.

The second reason why I love this Torah portion is because of Deuteronomy 29:29:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” — Deuteronomy 29:29

This text is especially meaningful for me these days when so many people are sucked into mysticism and Kabbalah, and fall into the pit of spiritual deception — delving into areas that are not rational, which is like taking drugs, dealing with things that puff up the ego of the person with false security that he is doing something “secretive”, something special and exclusive, and receiving esoteric knowledge.

The true meaning and warning of this text is much more simple, and it is a warning to all people who seek God and want to follow and serve Him faithfully. There are things that we, normal and simple human disciples of Yeshua and children of God, need to leave alone. We are to concentrate on the revealed and practical.

The plain things that move us and motivate us to good deeds and actions, and the practical working-out of our faith into action, to bless people on the sidewalk level – people who walk on the same ground of this earth and have similar hungers and needs and desires and dreams like we do. Yes, those people who need God and need friends and need a community and need assurance that the Creator and Father of us all hears prayer and cares and love us, a love demonstrated in our relationship to others like us!

There are also things that we must know and leave up to God. There was a movement called Gnosticism that essentially started first in closed circles toward the end of the first century CE (AD) and continued strong into the 3rd Century CE. The term, based on the Greek “gnōsis” (”secret knowledge”), was coined in the 17th century, when it was applied liberally to ancient Christian heretical sects, especially those described by their orthodox contemporaries as radically dualistic and world-denying, and those who sought salvation through esoteric revelation and mystical spirituality. (Taken from Encyclopedia-Britannica definition of Gnosticism.)

The Lord is instructing Moses and the children of Israel that there are things and knowledge that belongs to God and we, the human disciples, ought to deal with those things that are clear revelation from God for us, for mankind, those things that are revealed in God’s word. In fact, it is my opinion that even the revealed things, the simple things that are assessable to us, are sometimes too much for us, much less dealing with Kabbalistic and esoteric issues and knowledge that, at best, is speculation and speculative for normal folk like me.

Most of those people whom I know, both Jewish disciples and non-Jewish disciples, that delve into the mystical and think that they have some kind of secret special spiritual knowledge end up to become false prophets — and for profit. This is the reason that I feel so good that the word of God, the Torah, gives us this very important and clear instruction:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” — Deuteronomy 29:29

Personally, I have a hard enough time dealing with those things that are clear and demand practical action and executive power to do. Much less do I want to swim in unclear waters, where I can’t see either what is in the bottom of the pool or what is in front of me, and in what direction I need to swim to get to the safe shore.

This text for me is a compass and a border guarding me, as a disciple of Yeshua and a servant of God, to stay in the clear and safe, practical and useful, fields of corn where even on Shabbat I can pick and feed on it myself and help others feed and satisfy their hunger for God and fellowship with Yeshua and with the community of disciples of Yeshua in Israel and around the world.

Another approach to these words of God:

“For what is open and revealed in you and what is concealed in you, are equally known to Him. He will requite you for all that His omniscience observes in you, though it remain hidden from human beings. For do you not see that a human judge decides according to what has been established before him as fact, whether on the evidence of witnesses or by his own senses. If what was in the mind could be established for him, he would also take that into account in his decision. Since the blessed Creator knows everything equally well, it follows that He judges according to His knowledge, as it is said: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord, our G-d’ (Deut. 29:28).” — Rabbi Bechai Eben Pakuda, “Duties of the Heart”

We have a temptation to enter and delve into things that are mystical or esoteric, but the Lord gives us such clear and practical instructions to guide us into the practical and practicable things that can increase the good in the world and diminish the speculations, and attempts to lead us into practical actions to do good on Earth as the Lord does good for us!

I want to do what I have to do, and what I understand how to do, and whatever is clearly given to me to do. That is already a very big challenge just to do what is my duty and responsibility without involving total strange things that don’t really apply to me. If I am not a Levite or a priest, I don’t have to do the work of a Levite or a priest.

There is one more very important teaching in our Torah portion this Shabbat. Something that we must allow God to do for us, something that is deeply connected with the concept of the “New Man” in the New Testament.

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” — Deuteronomy 30:6 [NKJV]

This command is the second time that the circumcision of the heart appears in the book of Deuteronomy. The first time is also in the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 10:16:

“Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” — Deuteronomy 10:16

We must notice the difference and similarity between the two instances in a command of circumcising our hearts. Both are in the book of Deuteronomy.

The first case is in chapter 10:16, we are commanded to circumcise our own hearts. The second is towards the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 30:6, and here God will circumcise our hearts. This difference is of great importance to us as disciples of Yeshua our Messiah, the savior of the world. Note that the theme is in three places in the New Testament: Romans 2:28,29; Colossians 2:11.

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” — Romans 2:28,29 [NKJV]

The apostle Paul in this texts says something that at first glance is hard for us as Jews to understand. Paul is saying something very profound to us as Jews. It is not enough to have been circumcised.

Jacob’s brother Esau was circumcised, but he was not to receive the inheritance, because he disposed it and sold it for a bowl of soup. A real Jew is one that is not only circumcised in his flesh, but whose circumcision is also inward in his heart, dedicated in the Spirit, and looking for God’s approval and praise, and not the praise of men.

“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…” — Colossians 2:11-13 [NKJV]

Both of these texts in the New Testament are written by the apostle Paul. The one in Colossians 2:11-13 is speaking to the gentiles. Like in all of Paul’s letters, when he uses the pronoun “you”, he always, without exception, is talking to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. When Paul uses the first personal pronouns “we, us, our”, Paul is talking to and about the Jewish disciples of Yeshua.

In the text of Colossians it is clear that he is speaking to the “you” — the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. It is clear that even after these non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua are circumcised without hands, by the circumcision of Christ, even then, in the next verses, they are now in Christ dead in their trespasses and still in the uncircumcision of their flesh, but made alive together with Him (Christ) who has made them alive together with Him by the fact that their trespasses (sins) are forgiven! In other words, these non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah (the Christ) have been circumcised without hands, i.e. spiritually (in their hearts), because their sins have been forgiven.

The importance of these texts is first for my Christian brothers and sisters to see and realize that the concept and the command for the circumcision of the heart comes from the Torah that God gave to Israel! Yes, the circumcision of the heart is from the Torah!

The apostle Paul does something that is quite unusual in his world. Paul applies the circumcision of the heart that is done without human hands to the gentiles who have given their lives to the God of Israel through the work of the Messiah, and by this Paul connects and enables the non-Jews that accept Yeshua as their Messiah and savior as a part of those who have joined Israel, like the mixed multitudes that looked at the homes of the Israelites, and understood that doom is coming to Egypt with the last and tenth plague of the death of the firstborn of Egypt, and they copied what the Israelites did, and joined them in the exodus from Egypt, and in the inheritance of the land of Canaan.

The circumcision of the heart that is done by God on the hearts of the Gentiles is something that the rabbis of the Pharisees don’t have a say-so, or a hand, or a right to control or stop. All that the rabbis can do is watch and see if these former pagans, idol worshipers have changed their ways, have joined the community of the saints and are doing what it is necessary to do to be a part of the community.

This is what the following text from the book of Romans 12 really indicates. Please remember that when The apostle Paul uses the send person plural pronoun “you” in all of its forms, he is speaking to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. For the Jewish disciples of Yeshua Paul always uses the first personal pronoun, “we” or “us” or “our”…

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” — Romans 12:14-18

Of course the same rule would apply to the Jewish disciples of Yeshua who are being persecuted. And it is made clear for both Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua, living and serving in the diaspora and in the land of Israel.

In the following text, Paul is using himself and his lifestyle and ministry as a paradigm and example for both the Jewish and the non-Jewish disciples. The young people would say that this is Paul’s avatar, that is recommended for all of the disciples that he has brought to the Lord. It is a formula that also the great rabbis of the first half of the first century CE commanded to their disciples:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” — 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 [NKJV]

Note that the principle that the apostle Paul is presenting here is the same principle that Hillel the Elder presented in the Mishnah:

“He used to say: do His will as though it were your will, so that He will do your will as though it were His. Set aside your will in the face of His will, so that he may set aside the will of others for the sake of your will. Hillel said: do not separate yourself from the community, Do not trust in yourself until the day of your death, Do not judge your fellow man until you have reached his place. Do not say something that cannot be understood [trusting] that in the end it will be understood. Say not: ‘when I shall have leisure I shall study;’ perhaps you will not have leisure.” — The Ethics of the Fathers 2:4

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.