Parshat Nitzavim states in Deuteronomy 29:28 that the secret things belong to HaShem, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever. So what is revealed? One can certainly take the position that the revelation of Torah through Moshe is what is being referred to here as “the things that are revealed.”
This week’s parshah begins in Deuteronomy 29:9 with all of Israel standing before HaShem. The text states in verses13-14 that the unique covenant was not just between HaShem and the ancient Israelis standing there that day, but also with all those not standing there. Verse 21 goes on to specifically mention “the generation to come.” We are included.
According to verse 3, HaShem had not given the ancient Israelis a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until that day. Verse 15 says, “You know.” Verse 16 continues, “You have seen.” Judaism, beginning here with Moshe himself, puts tremendous importance on seeing, hearing, and knowing. What is possible for us to know? Sometimes, in order to learn what is possible to know, we have to open our eyes and ears.
Neither the Torah, nor the Tanach claims to be the depository of all truth. Our forefathers did not know everything that is needed and helpful. Yet their ancient yearnings to know and understand can inspire us to also search for truth and greater knowledge. David gave us a hint as to where to look in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of El and the firmament demonstrates His handiwork, day unto day uttering speech and night unto night revealing knowledge.”
According to Genesis 1, in the beginning Elohim spoke and the light, earth, and sky all appeared. Then He stated that the physical world was all good. If Elohim created the universe, then something about His personality might be revealed in nature. In order to understand a little more about the Divine Artist, we need to study His artwork.
Today. our eyes and ears are extended by advanced telescopes, microscopes, and supercomputers. As we take the Psalmist David’s advice to listen to what nature has to tell us about truth, whatever is even remotely discoverable through the latest technology and mathematics should be fair game for research. As our sight is extended by more advanced technology and methods, then incomplete knowledge and inaccurate analysis will be replaced by better understanding.
Our ability to know is expanded by the analytical and predictive power of mathematics. Math is the most accurate method of describing facts and providing evidence needed for clear thinking. Albert Einstein, arguably the most famous Jew of the twentieth century, said, “The creative principle resides in mathematics. In a certain sense, therefore, I hold true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.” The ancients could only dream of what we can discover today. They could not see it clearly.
There have been many examples of natural phenomena being predicted by mathematics before their actual observation in the real world. Take relativity, for example, which has been verified time and time again by experiments. Among many other things, Einstein’s equations predicted the gravitational bending of light before it could even be observed. Supermassive black holes (SMBH) were mathematically predicted before the discovery of a SMBH called Sagittarius A* at the center of our very own Milky Way galaxy. The so-called God particle was predicted by Peter Higgs and other physicists decades before it was discovered at CERN.
Math can work in the opposite way, also, to better understand phenomena that we’ve already observed. If an approaching asteroid or comet big enough to destroy a city, for example, is discovered by telescopes, mathematics can predict both the time and point of impact on the earth’s surface. Such advanced warning would be useful in giving us the opportunity to evacuate the city or at least dig a hole in order to hide our heads.
Crystal balls and doomsday prophets typically don’t give us any more detail than “trouble is on the way” unless we take the necessary action to avoid it. We knew that already. Mathematics and science now have the best track record for predicting the future in the greatest detail. If the ability to accurately predict the future in detail is a sign of divine inspiration, then some mathematicians and scientists certainly seem divinely inspired. A little help from advanced equipment and methods cannot hurt.
Our father Jacob said in Genesis 32:10, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth.” It was later that night that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel – when he understood the importance of truth and mercy in understanding HaShem. HaShem is not offended by truth, nor our search for more of it. If HaShem is not truth, then He is nothing at all.
David pointed us to the wonders of nature in our attempt to better understand the glory of El. Just how much of the Divine Artist’s mind is revealed in His artwork? We can never know the final answer. All we can do is through great effort get closer and closer to the truth. As T.H. Huxley famously stated, “The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.”
Einstein also said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Our understanding of truth is always tentative, subject to experimental invalidation. It is enough that with our best efforts we can only get closer and closer to the truth.
We are now discovering natural laws that would’ve been considered divine secrets by previous generations. Albert Einstein said, “I want to know how God created this world… I want to know His thoughts.” Perhaps that goal is beyond our finite minds, but we will never know what is beyond our ability to discover until we push the boundaries.
According to Moshe, those things that are revealed belong to us and our children. David said that the universe is revealing knowledge. Yet, there are, no doubt, secrets of the universe that are incomprehensible to our finite minds. There are things we don’t know and then there are things that we cannot know that we don’t know. Those are the things that Moshe was talking about when he said the secret things belong to HaShem. But if we don’t keep searching for more and more verifiable truth, then we will never know the difference between what we can know and what we cannot know. I want to know the difference.
Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob or make his habitation waste.
You can write to Eli Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org