NITZAVIM-VAYEILECH

Although Nitzavim is a very small parashah, it contains some of the “biggest” and most important principles of Judaism: reward and punishment, mutual responsibility, the ingathering of the exiles, the final redemption, repentance, Torah study, free choice, the purpose of life – to name just a few.

NITZAVIM

by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

THE INGATHERING OF THE EXILES

The Lord your God will return (ve’shav) your captivity and have mercy on you, and He
will return (ve’shav) and gather you from all the nations where the Lord your God has
scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of the heavens, from there the Lord
your God will gather you and from there He will take you. And the Lord your God will
bring you to the Land… (30:3-5)

These verses constitute the Torah’s clearest reference to the long-awaited ingathering of
the exiles. It therefore behooves us, the generation that has been privileged to see at least a
partial fulfillment of this promise, to study these verses in depth.
Two major questions arise from a careful reading of the opening verse. First of all, the
verb ושב (He will return) seems grammatically incorrect, for it implies that God Himself will
return from exile. The Torah should have used the hif’il form of the verb – והשיב (He will
cause to return, or bring back). Secondly, why is this word (ושב) mentioned twice in the
verse?
Rashi gives two answers to the first question. 1) When the Jewish people go into exile,
God accompanies them and “suffers” with them (as if to say). Therefore, when they return to
their Land, God returns as well. 2) “Another possible answer is: The day of the ingathering of
the exiles is so awesome and difficult that God Himself (as it were), with His own hands,
must actually [go down to exile and] seize each man from his place, as it says, – And you will
be gathered up one by one, O Children of Israel (Yeshayah 27:12).”

The first answer adds a new dimension to our obligation to live in Eretz Yisrael. Aliyah is
not only good for us (on both a personal and national level), it is also good for God (so to
say). When a Jew returns to his Homeland, he helps bring the Shechinah back home, as well.
This is an awesome responsibility and zechut (privilege), which no Jew should pass up.
(Regarding the second answer, see Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 101-104.)
R. Meir Simchah HaKohen of Dvinsk discusses the second question in his commentary on
the Chumash called Meshech Chochmah. He provides two answers, of which the second is
most applicable to our day and age:
God will first return and have mercy on the Jews who are in captivity, those who yearn
for Eretz Yisrael and want to flee Chutz LaAretz as [a prisoner wants to flee] from
prison. [The second part of the verse], And He will gather you from all the nations…
refers to the Jews who have found contentment in foreign lands, those who have lost any
desire for the Land of the Deer. HaShem will gather them, too, and He will return them
afterwards [i.e., after the first group].
That is to say, there are two types of exile: oppressive and comfortable. Jews who live in
the first type will be redeemed first; perhaps because this is an easier task, seeing that they
still yearn for God’s Chosen Land. Or perhaps it is because they deserve to be redeemed first
due to their desire to return. On the other hand, Jews who live comfortably in exile and have
lost their desire for the Desirable Land, will be redeemed last.
It is astounding how consistent this “prophecy” is with recent world events. For all intents
and purposes, there are no longer any Jews living in the first type of exile; they have already
returned (or, more accurately, they have been brought back). The question is, when will the
other Jews return? Will they wait for Mashiach to swoop down and bring them back to Eretz
Yisrael on the wings of eagles? Who says they will want to go along with him then? Perhaps
they will be like the four-fifths of Israel who did not want to leave Egypt, because they
became so comfortable there. (Yes, despite all the hardships, there were Jews who lived
honorably and comfortably in Egypt. See Midrash Tanchuma, VaEira 14 [end].) Or worse
yet, who says these Jews will be brought on the wings of eagles? Perhaps the lands in which
they live will turn oppressive, and they will be forced to flee to Eretz Yisrael, leaving all of
their wealth behind. If I am not mistaken, there are examples of this in Jewish history.
Finally, call it coincidence, call it inconsequential, but the second verse quoted above (If
your dispersed will be at the ends of the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather
you…) is the 5,708th verse in the Torah. This number corresponds to the year (1948 in the
secular calendar) in which God restored sovereignty to the Jewish people in the Land of
Israel, allowing for the ingathering of the exiles after 2,000 years of persecution in foreign
lands. How much longer will it take for world Jewry to wake up and seize this historic
opportunity?

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

Although Nitzavim is a very small parashah, it contains some of the “biggest” and most
important principles of Judaism: reward and punishment, mutual responsibility, the
ingathering of the exiles, the final redemption, repentance, Torah study, free choice, the
purpose of life – to name just a few. In some parshiot, one has to delve deeply to find an
inspirational and timely message. In Parashat Nitzavim, however, the verses speak for
themselves. No fancy interpretations or “vortlach” are necessary. God lays it all out on the
table: the challenges, the choices, and the solutions.
Probably no section in the Torah sums up our choices and responsibilities in life better
than the last few verses of the parashah:
See, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil – that I command
you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His
commandments, statutes, and ordinances; then you will live and multiply; and the Lord
your God will bless you in the Land to which you come to possess it. But if your heart
turns away and you do not listen, and you are led astray and bow to other gods and
serve them, I tell you today that you will surely perish; you will not live long on the
Land that you cross the Jordan to come there to possess it. I call heaven and earth
today to bear witness against you: I have placed before you life and death, blessing and
curse; choose life, so that you and your offspring may live – to love the Lord your
God, to listen to His voice, and to cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your
days, to dwell on the Land that the Lord promised to give to your forefathers – to
Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya’akov (30:15-20).
On a simple level, the last phrase (to dwell on the Land…) is a reward for the preceding
statement. I.e., you will be privileged to live in Eretz Yisrael if you love HaShem, obey His
commandments, and cling to Him. The Sforno and the Or HaChayim HaKadosh, however,
view dwelling in the Land as more than just a physical reward for being obedient. The Sforno
sees it as a means through which to attain eternal life, as he explains:
TO CLING TO HIM: Meaning, all of your actions should be for His sake. FOR HE IS YOUR
LIFE: For cleaving to Him is the way to attain eternal life. AND THE LENGTH OF YOUR
DAYS, TO DWELL ON THE LAND: This [i.e., clinging to God] will also cause you to live
long, [while] dwelling on the Land, in this temporary existence, through which you
will merit eternal life in study and deed. As our Sages state, “Prepare yourself in the
corridor so that you may enter the main hall” (Avot 4:21).
The Or HaChayim, on the other hand, sees living in the Holy Land as an end in and of
itself (in addition to being a means of attaining a portion in the next world):

TO LOVE THE LORD… This statement is connected to the previous one. [The Torah]
stated, So that you and your offspring may live; then it concluded by saying, to love the
Lord… I.e., the reason for desiring life is to love the Lord your God, to listen to His
voice, etc. It then gives a reason for this: For He is your life. What else is life all about
if not [fulfilling] God’s desire? For doing His will causes man to cling to his Creator, as
it says, and to cling to Him. This itself is [the essence of] life in this world and the
length of days in the World to Come, as it says, and the length of your days. It then
says, To dwell on the Land [that the Lord promised to give to your forefathers]. [This is
to be understood] as if it says, and to dwell… [That is], this is also a way of attaining
perfection, for dwelling in the Land is a mitzvah that encompasses the entire
Torah. You may derive this from Chazal’s statement that anyone who walks four
cubits in Eretz Yisrael has a share in the World to Come, which is the epitome of life.
In other words, the Torah tells us: Choose life, so that you and your offspring may live.
But why should one want to live? What is the purpose of life? To this the Torah answers,
“The purpose of life is to get closer to God.” And how does one do that? – By loving
HaShem, listening to His voice, and dwelling in His Chosen Land – the only place where the
Torah is perfect and complete.
On these last few days before Rosh HaShanah, let us all take stock of our priorities and
consider what is truly important in life. If we do a thorough introspection, remaining
completely honest with ourselves, many of us will surely realize that we have a long way to
go before achieving the goal of being close to God. Perhaps one of our New Year’s
resolutions should be to move physically closer to HaShem, after which the spiritual
closeness will surely follow.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

 The last generation will say – your children who will rise up after you and the foreigner
who will come from a far-off land – when they see the plagues of that Land and its sicknesses
that the Lord has laid upon it: “Sulfur and salt burning up the entire Land, it will not be
sown and it will not sprout…” And all the nations will say, “Why did the Lord do this to that
Land? What is the burning of this great anger?” And they will say, “Because they [the Jews]
forsook the covenant of the Lord… and they went and served other gods… So God’s anger
burned against that Land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book; and the
Lord uprooted them from their soil, with anger, with wrath, and with great fury, and He cast
them to another land, as this day” (29:21-27).
*THE LAST GENERATION [refers to the last generation] that will dwell in Eretz Yisrael in
tranquility. That generation will go into exile. YOUR CHILDREN WHO WILL RISE UP AFTER
YOU: [This refers to] generations that will already exist in Chutz LaAretz, who will come

to Eretz Yisrael. It does not say, who will come, as it says immediately afterwards
regarding the foreigner who will come. [The reason being], it is the way of Jews to
come to Eretz Yisrael even when it is ruined, as Midrash Kohelet demonstrates – that
they used to come to see [the Land] even after the destruction. However, [regarding
Gentiles it says], the foreigner who will come – by chance… (Ha’amek Davar)

* THAT ARE WRITTEN IN THIS BOOK: the Land, the People, and this book, those are the three
factors belonging together, mutually explaining each other, which to this day are the
everlasting testimonials of God in the eyes of the world. (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch)

 The hidden [sins] are for the Lord our God, but the revealed [ones] are for us and for our
children forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah (29:28).
There are dots on top of [the words] לנו ולבנינו (for us and for our children), to teach that
[God] did not punish the masses even for revealed [sins] until [the Jews] crossed the
Jordan and accepted upon themselves the oath at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, [at
which time] they became responsible for one another. (Rashi based on Sanhedrin 43b)
See BeHar, “The Great Unifier.”

VAYEILECH
SINCERE REPENTANCE 1

The Lord said to Moshe: “Behold, you will soon lie with your forefathers, and this
nation will rise up and stray after the gods that are foreign to the Land… and they
will forsake Me and violate My covenant that I have made with them. Then My anger
will burn against them on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face
(והסתרתי פני) from them, and they will be as prey, and many evils and troubles will
befall them. They will say on that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because
our God is not in our midst?’ And I will surely hide My face (הסתר אסתיר פני) on that
day, because of all the evil that they have done” (31:16-18).

An obvious question arises from a careful reading of these verses: We understand why
God will become angry with the Jews, and hide His face (והסתרתי פני) from them, when they
worship foreign gods. But why should He be angry with them – and even double the hiding
of His face (הסתר אסתיר) – after they confess their sin and admit that all of their troubles stem
from the fact that God is not in their midst? (See Ramban and Or HaChayim.)

This article was written shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

R. Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal cites a beautiful answer in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, quoting
R. Yosef Tzarfati’s Yad Yosef (written in the early1600’s):
We find that Pharaoh also repented, saying, – The Lord is the Righteous One, and I and
my people are the wicked ones (Shemot 9:27). However, his repentance lasted only as
long as the plague afflicted him. As soon as there was relief, he became the old Pharaoh
again, and God was forced to smite him again and again. The same applies here. If we
repent only on that day – i.e., as long as the troubles affect us, but when they pass we
return to our old ways – then our repentance is not really repentance. On the contrary,
HaShem’s anger will burn even more, God forbid. Thus, the verse says, They will say
on that day. As long as they are in distress they will confess and say, These evils have
come upon us because our God is not in our midst. When the troubles pass, however,
they will not recognize this, and they will return to their abominations. Therefore, I will
surely hide My face…
Rav Teichtal, who wrote his book in the middle of the Holocaust, concludes: “The same is
true today. If we forget all that we went through and our vows to return to our Homeland
when the troubles pass, acquiescing once again to remain in exile, then HaShem’s anger will
burn with a double hiding of His face.”
How appropriate this explanation is for the Days of Awe, in which we find ourselves, and
the cataclysmic events of last week. Anyone truly serious about serving God is undoubtedly
striving to improve his or her ways and draw closer to HaShem during these Ten Days of
Repentance. The Yad Yosef teaches us that our repentance must be sincere and lasting, not
short-lived and dependent on some external factor. If we do teshuvah only when we are in
distress – physically, spiritually, or emotionally – then, we will return to our old ways as soon
as our troubles pass.
What happened last week in America shocked everyone to the core, Jew and Gentile alike.
And it aroused many to search for some kind of a lesson to be learned. It is not my place to
tell others what that lesson should be, but whatever resolutions we make as a result of the
event, let us make sure that they last. Let us make sure that when the feelings of shock and
fear pass, we hold on to the lessons we learned. Let us consider the event as a minor wake-up
call from HaShem and make the necessary changes in our lives, so that He will not have to
use more drastic measures, חס ושלום, to make us understand His message. In short, let us
make sure that our repentance lasts for more than just that day!
ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

 Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel, and he said to them, “I am a hundred
and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come in, and the Lord said to me,
‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’ The Lord your God, He crosses over before you; He will
destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them; Yehoshua, he will cross
over before you, as the Lord spoke” (31:1-3).
THE LORD YOUR GOD, HE CROSSES OVER BEFORE YOU: Why doesn’t it say, “Our God”? One
could answer that since the Shechinah spoke through Moshe’s throat, it is fitting to say
your God. Another possible explanation is based on Chazal’s statement “Anyone who

lives outside the Land is like one who has no God” (Ketuvot 110b). At this point, the
Jews were on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, [Moshe] said, The Lord your God,
for he was remaining in Chutz LaAretz. (Tiferet Yehonatan by R. Yehonatan
Eybeschitz, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 6, p. 194)
Apparently, R. Yehonatan derived his second answer from the following Zohar:
R. Yitzchak said, “…What is the meaning of – I profess today to the Lord your God
(26:3)? It should have said, to the Lord our God!” R. Shimon replied: “Is this the only
[place in Scriptures where we find such an anomaly]? Behold, it says, For the Lord
your God brings you… (Devarim 8:7, et al.), That the Lord your God gives you (ibid.
28:8, et al.), For the Lord your God is a consuming fire (ibid. 4:24), etc.”
Rather, this is what we learned: Anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who
has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God. What
is the reason for this? Because holy offspring belong in the Holy Land, and the
Shechinah dwells in its place [in Jerusalem], and one depends on the other. Therefore,
Moshe only said, “your God” to the ones who were destined to enter the Holy Land and
greet the Shechinah. He did not say “our God” because Moshe was not privileged to
enter the Land… (Zohar, Parashat Yitro, based on the Sullam Hebrew translation, sec.
262-63)

 Moshe called Yehoshua and said to him in front of all of Israel, “Be strong and
courageous, for you will come with this people to the Land that the Lord swore to their
forefathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it” (31:7).
After telling [the Children of] Israel that HaShem will cross over before them and that
Yehoshua will bring them in and divvy up the Land for them, [Moshe] said to
[Yehoshua], “Be strong and courageous, for you will come with this people to the
Land.” That is to say, you are not the conqueror, you are just going in with them, for
this is the Land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them. You will only
cause them to inherit it. And [Moshe] told him [this] – You will come with this people –
in front of all of Israel, for had he said, You will bring [the Children of Israel to the
Land] (v. 23), they might have thought that Yehoshua is the one who conquers and
brings them in. Afterwards, however, when [Moshe] spoke to Yehoshua in private, he
said, you will bring [the Children of Israel to the Land]. (Yalkut MeAm Lo’ez, quoting
R. Moshe Alshich)

 At the end of seven years, at the time of the Sabbatical year, during the Sukkot holiday…
you shall read this Torah before all of Israel… Gather together (הקהל) the people… And
their children who do not know shall hear, and they shall learn to fear the Lord your God all

the days that you live on the Land to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess it
(31:10-13).
AND THEIR CHILDREN WHO DO NOT KNOW how to learn the rules and laws SHALL HEAR the
written Law read by the king during the Hakhel [ceremony]. AND THEY SHALL LEARN TO
FEAR… Hearing [the Torah] at this chosen place and in the presence of the entire
congregation [will have such an impact that] it will cause the children to learn how to
fear [God]. ALL THE DAYS THAT YOU LIVE ON THE LAND… The benefit of reading [the
Torah] at the chosen place will reach [the Jews] only when they are in Eretz Yisrael, not
when they are in Chutz LaAretz. (Ha’amek Davar)

 The Lord said to Moshe: “Behold, you will soon lie with your forefathers, and this nation
will rise up and stray after the gods that are foreign to the Land (אלוהי נכר הארץ), in whose
midst they are coming, and they will forsake Me and violate My covenant that I have made
with them” (31:16).
Rashi translates the words אלוהי נכר הארץ as The gods of the foreigners of the Land. The
Ramban, however, disagrees (as does the Ibn Ezra). He understands the phrase to mean, The
gods that are foreign to the Land. He explains that all idolatry is foreign to Eretz Yisrael
because HaShem is referred to as “the God of the Land,” as it says, They did not know the
statutes of the God of the Land (II Melachim 17:26), and, They will not live in the Land of
the Lord (Hoshea 9:3).

 When I shall bring them to the Land that I swore to their forefathers, [a Land] flowing
with milk and honey, they will eat, be satisfied, and grow fat; [then] they will turn to other
gods and serve them, and they will provoke Me and violate My covenant. And it shall come to
pass, when many evils and troubles befall them, that this song shall answer before them as a
witness, for it shall not be forgotten from the mouth of their descendants; for I know their
inclination, what they do [even] now, before I bring them to the Land that I have sworn
(31:20-21).
FOR I KNOW THEIR INCLINATION, WHAT THEY DO [EVEN] NOW – that they do not anticipate
entering the Land in order to serve Me there, which is My intended purpose, as it says,
He gave them the lands of nations… that they might observe His statutes (Tehillim
105:44-45). Rather, they anticipate [entering] it in order to satisfy their desirous souls,
which will bring about all the evils that [Moshe] prophesied when he said, – Yeshurun
grew fat and kicked (32:15). (Sforno)

 [Moshe] commanded Yehoshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for
you will bring the Children of Israel to the Land that I [God] have sworn to them, and I will
be with you” (31:23).
See above, 31:7.

 

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