Things that are hidden belong to the Lord our G-d, but what are revealed belong to us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah. —Deut. 29:28
Moses spoke these words to the people of Israel in the third of his farewell addresses to them on the east bank of the Jordan River. Rashi, our greatest commentator, interprets them as referring to how we hold people responsible for what they do. He pictures the Israelites arguing with Moses, protesting: what can we do? You punish all of us because of one persons violation. Isnt it true that no one knows the hidden thoughts of his friend? Moses would answer: I do not punish you for hidden violations, because they belong to G-d. But open iniquities belong to us and our children, and it is we who must remove evil from our midst. If we do not do justice to the individual violator, the whole nation will be punished. Indeed, Jewish law always took a particularly serious view of public violations because they could involve other people besides the violator. Here, Rashi quotes the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin, commenting on ten little dots that appear in the Torah scroll above the ten letters of the words lanu ulvaneynu – to us and our children. Those dots are understood to signify that even for public violations the people were not punished until they crossed the Jordan, accepted the oath, and thus became responsible for each other: areyvim zeh la-zeh. That mutual responsibility guides us throughout our history. In Moses message, that responsibility should lead us to carry out the words of this Torah.
A 19th-century commentator named Benjamin Szold uses the cantillations to suggest a different translation. The word haniglot the revealed is chanted to a particular melody not connected to the following words. So Szold reads the sentence this way: The hidden things belong to G-d, and the revealed things also. For us and our children is the task of carrying out the words of this Torah forever. Maybe it is not our duty to punish a public violator, but right living is our duty.
Either way, we are eternally connected to our fellow Jews areyvim zeh la-zeh. Mutual responsibility and mutual concern. What happens to a secular Jew in Russia or a primitive Jew in Ethiopia, to a traveler in Bulgaria or a settler in Judea or a Hasid in Brooklyn, happens to you and happens to me. What we dont know about them, we leave to G-d. What we know, and what we share with all of them, belongs to us and our children, Lanu ulvaneynu ad olam– to carry out our Torah forever.