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#342: Open and Closed
S'fat Emet on Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilekh, Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:28
A sign at a beach shack. Photo credit: Tobias Spitaler, CCA-3.0
Gimme Some Torah #342
Welcome to new subscriber Rabbi G.!
הַנִּ֨סְתָּרֹ֔ת לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹ֞ת לָ֤ׄנׄוּׄ וּׄלְׄבָׄנֵ֙ׄיׄנׄוּ֙ׄ עַׄד־עוֹלָ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֶת־כׇּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃
Concealed acts concern our God יהוה; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.
One of my earliest memories is watching this cartoon with a cute monster and an open box. When the monster is far from the box, the box says in Spanish, “Abierto (open).” But when the monster tries to get whatever’s in the box, the box closes and says, “Cerrado (closed).” Nearly fifty years later, this video came to mind when I read a verse from this week’s Torah portion.
Deut. 29:28 says that our hidden acts are God’s concern but that overt acts have to be addressed by the community as directed in the Torah. In his commentary on this verse, the S’fat Emet (bio) makes an interesting comment about the nature of existence:
This is the way of everything, for in life there are things that are closed and things that are revealed. As it says in the Holy Zohar, the name of the Holy One and the Torah are closed and open. And because the Holy One’s ways are higher than our ways, as it were, the Creator made the Torah open in the blessed name of God.
I agree, everything has a closed and open dimension. For instance, when we speak, our words don’t always represent our true feelings. As the old saying goes, “Diplomacy is the art of making people feel at home when you wish they were.”
While we generally strive to tell the truth, there are times when the truth is too cruel to say. The Talmud (B. Ketubot 16b) addresses this issue with one of the classic debates of Hillel and Shammai:
The Sages taught: How does one dance before the bride, i.e., what does one recite while dancing at her wedding? Beit Shammai say: One recites praise of the bride as she is, emphasizing her good qualities. And Beit Hillel say: One recites: A fair and attractive bride. Beit Shammai said to Beit Hillel: In a case where the bride was lame or blind, does one say with regard to her: A fair and attractive bride? But the Torah states: “Keep you from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7).
The Sages conclude that it is better to protect the groom and bride from anguish than it is to tell the naked truth.
One reason that American society is so torn apart is that we are no longer sure when to be closed and when to be open. Social media platforms encourage everyone to have their openness set at maximum for everyone at all times. That kind of indiscriminate openness leads to a lot of suffering.
Even the human body itself requires somethings to be closed and somethings to be open. Any deviation from the schedule can lead to discomfort or even death. Jews recognize this truth when they recite the Asher Yatzar blessing after going to the bathroom:
Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, God, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.
We are socially encouraged to think that openness is good and concealment is bad. It’s not that simple. There are plenty of times when openness is a good thing, but there are just as many time when concealment and mystery serves a protective, beneficial purpose.
What other things can you think of that have both an open and a concealed side?
Science is the act of opening the mysteries of the world. Is there a definable limit to the openness we should seek? If so, describe it.
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