Why? - Parshat Nitzavim

There is an apocryphal story about a final exam in an advanced philosophy course. The students who studied long and hard for this test were perplexed to find that there was but one question on the test page and the question had but one word: "WHY?" Many of the students labored for hours thinking and writing their answers. There was one student however, who handed in his test after a few minutes. The teacher was both astounded and impressed that the student had answered with but a two-word answer: "Why not?"

This week's parsha, Parshat Nitzavim, asks a similar question. Upon seeing the devastation in Israel, the other nations would try to understand why there was such destruction. They would assume it was due to a lack of observance of the Torah, Moshe tells us.1 Yet the Torah adds another verse at the end. "That which is hidden is for God"2 What is the connection to the immediately preceding portion? What is hidden? Abarbanel explains that not all that we see is so easily understandable. Indeed, the nations who viewed the destruction and offered their answers may have given accurate answers. But there may also be higher answers, perhaps even on a cosmic level. Those, Abarbanel says, are God's and His alone. We can never fully know the answer.

This answer is humbling and liberating. Humbling in that, as humans, we are limited in our understanding of how the world works. Liberating because even as we struggle to understand, we also know that there is a higher being who is watching over us.

We go through our lives trying our best not only to survive but to succeed.3 We try making adjustments along the way. Sometimes the adjustments help. Sometimes they don’t. We may look at our own lives in comparison with those of others. Why is their life so different from ours? Why are they so much more, or less, successful? Why does one family have two or three children with special needs while another has none? The list of these questions can continue ad infinitum. Sometimes we understand. Sometimes we just don’t.

So, do we give up or give in? That may be the choice left to us.

Here, too, this week's parsha ends with an answer.

"Choose life!"4 Choose the path which will allow you to continue, grow,learn and develop into a fuller, more understanding person.

Wishing everyone a ktivah vachatima tova. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.



  1. Devarim 29:17-27
  2. ibid. 28
  3. Viktor Frankl believed, and found research to support his theory, that people generally wish to improve in their lives
  4. Devarim 30:19

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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