Dots in parashat Nitzavim (yes I know it’s almost Vayelech now, sorry)

In parashat Nitzavim we read:

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God [to judge]; but overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity, to carry out all the words of this Torah.

In the Torah scroll, it appears thus:

Let’s start with the dot over the ע of עד, unto. Why is only half the word dotted?

עד is a word suggesting continuity, time extending uninterrupted forever. A dot on one of the word’s only two letters breaks it up, brings the continuity to a stop. We are reminded of the distinction between this world and the world to come – the words לנו ולבנינו, us and our children, are obscured as if to say, we may not know the secret things now, but in the world to come they will be revealed. We simply have to do the best we can now with what we know.

If we don’t read the phrase לנו ולבנינו, us and our children, the verse starts “Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God, and overt acts also.” While the children of Israel are still in the wilderness, they are not wholly responsible beings; God is concerned with both their public and private acts and will dispense judgement, like a parent. Once they cross over the Jordan, though [Rashi], into their promised homeland, they have to take collective ownership of their actions. Now they are adults with autonomy. They have a responsibility to maintain law and order among themselves as best they can.

This is the longest run of dots in the Torah, eleven of them, and immediately before the dots is an eleven-letter phrase – ליהוה אלהינו. As we’ve seen, we don’t ever erase God’s name. We avoid even a suggestion of doing such a thing, so we wouldn’t put those eleven dots above ליהוה אלהינו. But the association is there; is it coincidence that there are exactly the right number of dots for ליהוה אלהינו, put in right next to the phrase, on the next available words? What if we read the verse without God? Then it reads “Concealed acts and overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity…”

This means that we have responsibility for each other, helping each other obey the rules and do mitzvot – and we also have responsibility for ourselves. Each individual has to keep the laws, technical and ethical, as best they can, in public and in private. God is still there, to forgive us if we do something bad completely unknowingly, but we have to do the best we can by ourselves.

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