<I>Nitzavim-Vayelech</I>: Keep the Momentum Up

Why are we the privileged ones?

Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin,

rabbi riskin.jpg
rabbi riskin.jpg
Arutz 7
What made our generation the very special generation - after almost 2,000 years of exile - to have merited the return to our national homeland, the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel? Why are we the privileged ones who are able to give thanks to the Almighty each Sabbath for His having granted us "the beginning of the sprouting of our redemption"?
The female will run rings around the male.

Linked to this question is another one: the attempt at understanding what appears to be a strange Ashkenazi custom of the bride making seven circuits around the groom at the very opening of the traditional marriage ceremony. There are those who explain that in so doing she is expressing the new reality that henceforth only he - the groom - is to be the center of her existence. But isn't she also the center of his existence? Indeed, I once had a bride who insisted that the groom follow her circuits around him with circuits around her, but that is not the custom.

Once we examine the Biblical chapter that is the true source for the nuptial canopy circuits, the entire symbolism will become clear, and so will the special merit of our generation.
The prophet Jeremiah, the soothsayer of doom who foresees the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, is also the seer of Jewish re-birth, return and redemption. Chapter 31 of the book of Jeremiah opens, "Thus says G-d, the nation which has survived the sword has found grace in the desert... you will yet build and be rebuilt, virgin Israel, plant vineyards in the mountains of Shomron.... Rachel has wept for her children. So says the Lord: 'Stop your voice from weeping, your eyes from tears; the children shall return to their borders (of Israel).'" And it is within this very chapter of ringing redemption that the prophet declares, "How long will you escape My embrace, oh wayward daughter, because the Lord has created something new in the land: a female shall do circuits around a male." (Jeremiah 31:21) In truth, I would translate the phrase, "a female shall 'run rings' around a male."

In order to understand the true force of this phrase, we must remember that, as a result of the primordial sin of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Eve was punished with the words, "He (Adam, male) shall rule over you (female)." (Genesis 3:16) This inequality of male dominating female, however, is far from an ideal situation; it is the result of transgression, it is punishment for sin. However, at the time of repair, redemption and re-creation, harmony will be effectuated by first going to the other extreme: the female will run rings around the male.

I would like to take this analogy one level deeper. According to the sacred Zohar (the mystical interpretation of the Bible) as well as Maimonides, rational legalist and philosopher, the greatest and most exalted love in the cosmos is the love of G-d for Israel. The Song of Songs - on one level, the passion of the shepherd lover for his shepherdess beloved - is more profoundly the love of G-d for Israel (Maimonides, "Laws of
The greatest and most exalted love in the cosmos is the love of G-d for Israel.
Repentance," 10). The prophet Hosea sees Israel as the betrothed of G-d, and the words we recite as we entwine the phylactery straps around our finger each morning - our wedding ring presented by G-d - bear testimony to this truth (Hosea 2:21). Similarly, the groom under the nuptial canopy is analogous to G-d, the bride to the nation of Israel, and the nuptial union to the rapprochement, the great unity, which portends Messianic redemption. Hence, the magnificent conclusion to the marriage ceremony, in its final blessing, "Soon shall there be heard in the cities of Judea and the broad places of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of groom and the sound of bride."

When Israel was in its infancy, and G-d presented us with the initial paradigm for redemption, G-d was dominant and Israel played a much more passive role: G-d brought about the plague and G-d split the Reed Sea. But when the ultimate redemption will eventually come about with a world at peace and unity, a more mature Israel will have to assume the more central and, at least initially, dominant role: "(First) return unto Me, and then I shall return to you." Hence in our marriage ceremonies, it is the bride who runs circuits around the groom, Israel who must make the initial moves.

In last week's Biblical portion of Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28), we read of the curses, the exile, the trials and tribulations of Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple. (The exile to Babylon after the loss of the First Temple is foreshadowed in the Book of Leviticus 26, according to the Ramban, in which the return to Israel is prophesied immediately and within the very same chapter of the destruction). This second tragic exile merely concludes, "These are the words of the covenant..." (Deuteronomy 28:69) without any reprieve, devoid of any glimmer of hope. It is only two chapters later, in our Biblical reading of Nitzavim, that the Bible promises, guarantees, that "after all these things, the blessings and the curses, have come upon you, that you shall return to your heart from amongst all the Gentiles where G-d has scattered you, and you shall return to the Lord your G-d and listen to His voice...." (Deuteronomy 30: 1-10) Here, too, we are promised redemption, but only after we return - to Israel and to G-d and His Torah. And this double returning must be initiated by us, by the Jewish nation, by G-d's bride. We will have to make the first moves (as the Bible says, you shall return from amongst the nations, you shall return to G-d - t'shuvah.)

We, Israel, took our destiny into our own hands.

Why is our generation blessed? In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we, Israel, took our destiny into our own hands and established the movement of our return to Zion and all the initiatives that such a return demanded. And the twentieth century likewise saw an unprecedented type of "return" or teshuvah, where individuals made a whole turnabout in character and performance, where children of Sabbath-desecrators became rabbis and Torah educators. Our generation, despite the intermarriage and assimilation, has also miraculously seen the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises of Nitzavim. But if we wish to achieve the goal of our journey and at last realize our destiny, we must keep the momentum on both counts moving.

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