Parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Hidden Things
הַנִּ֨סְתָּרֹ֔ת לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹ֞ת לָ֤ׄנׄוּׄ וּׄלְׄבָׄנֵ֙ׄיׄנׄוּ֙ׄ עַׄד־עוֹלָ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֶת־כׇּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃
“The hidden acts belong to Hashem our God; but the overt acts are for us and our children to forever apply all the words of this Teaching.”
A friend once asked me the following question: what’s more important – how you act when you are alone, or how you act when you are in public? Tough question. On the one hand, your public actions determine your reputation and, to an extent, the reputation of your family and community. On the other hand, your private actions are a more honest expression of your character. But does one matter more?
We are taught in a midrash that each person has three names: one given to them by their parents, one given to them by other people, and one they earn for themselves. When we are born, we are an extension of our parents’ identity. As we grow up and become responsible for our own actions, we acquire the other two names. The things we do in public define the name others give us: kind, loving, generous, etc. The things we do in private determine whether we earn these names or not. Are you really kind and loving? Really generous? Our hidden actions determine whether we have truly earned these good names or not.
The verse here states that these hidden actions “belong to God.” Whether God too sees all hidden actions, we cannot say. Yet the fact that there are both revealed and hidden actions teaches us a deep truth: we do not need to see God to know God is real, because there always lies a truth deeper than what the eyes can see.