SALT - Friday, 27 Elul 5776 - September 30, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg


            In Parashat Nitzavim, Moshe foresees the time when Benei Yisrael will repent in exile, whereupon God will return them to their homeland: “The Lord shall return your captivity and have mercy upon you…” (30:3).

            Rashi observes that the verb “ve-shav” used in this verse actually denotes one’s own return, as opposed to returning others.  Returning somebody or something to his or its place is generally expressed with the causative form “heishiv,” whereas “shav” usually refers to one’s actions with respect to himself.  It thus appears that the Torah speaks here not of God returning Benei Yisrael to their land, but to God’s own return, as it were.

Rashi offers two explanations for the use of the word “ve-shav” in this verse, the second of which is, “The day of the gathering of exiles is great, and will entail difficulty, as though He Himself must actually grab hold of each person’s hand [and bring him] from his place.”  God will Himself “return” from exile in the sense that He will have to go and take each person by hand to bring him back to the Land of Israel.

            How might we explain this image of God “grabbing hold” of every Jew’s hand to bring him out of exile?

            Rav Yissachar Teichtal Hy”d, in his Eim Ha-banim Semeicha (p. 66), suggests that Rashi refers here specifically to the nation’s sinners, who see themselves at home in exile, living among the gentile nations and leading a gentile lifestyle.  These Jews will not be instinctively motivated to leave the exile once the opportunity arises to return to their homeland, and thus God will have to come and take them by their hand, so-to-speak, back to Eretz Yisrael.  (Rav Teichtal applied this reading to the assimilated European Jews who had lost their Jewish identity, but were deemed Jewish by the Nazis and thus fled to Eretz Yisrael.)

            A different explanation of Rashi’s comments was advanced by the Lubavitcher Rebbe (in a discourse transcribed and printed in Ha-ma’or, Shevat, 5754).  He explained that the final redemption will unfold on two levels – the national, and the personal.  Rashi here expresses the point that alongside our national redemption, the return of the Jewish exiles and the restoration of our national sovereignty, we will also experience individual redemption.  God will take each of us by the hand, as it were, in the sense of tending to each person’s individual needs, like a person cares for and helps his friend.

            This two-tiered model of redemption perhaps serves as a reminder of our responsibility to care for each other on these two levels – the communal, and the individual.  On the one hand, we are to involve ourselves in national and communal needs, to see where we can contribute towards meeting the needs of Am Yisrael as a whole, or of populations and communities within Am Yisrael.  However, these ambitious undertakings must not diminish from our personal sensitivity, from our commitment towards each other as individuals.  We are to take one another by the hand, when necessary, offering personal and individual attention and assistance, just as we anticipate the time when God will come and take us each by the hand and bring us all our personal “redemption” that we each need.