Nitzavim: Israel Returns to G-d

The ancient Messianic drive.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen

It will be that when all of these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you - then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where HaShem, your G-d, has dispersed you; and you will return to HaShem, your G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul. Then HaShem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which HaShem, your G-d, has scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there HaShem, your G-d, will gather you in and from there He will take you. HaShem, your G-d, will bring you to the land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it; He will do good for you and make you more numerous than your forefathers. HaShem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love HaShem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. HaShem, your G-d, will place all these imprecations upon your enemies and those who hate you, who pursued you. You shall return and listen to the voice of HaShem, and perform all His commandments that I command you today. HaShem will make you abundant in all your handiwork - in the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your animals, and the fruit of your land - for good, when HaShem will return to rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your forefathers, when you listen to the voice of HaShem, your G-d, to observe His commandments, and His decrees, that are written in this Book of the Torah, when you shall return to HaShem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul. (Devarim 30:1-10)

This paragraph, commonly known as the Chapter of Repentance, is featured in many prayer books immediately
Is Israel first brought back to our borders, or do we first return to being Torah-observant?
following the weekday morning service. Upon a superficial reading, however, these verses can appear somewhat confusing. In verse 30:2, it seems that the Jewish people return to HaShem. We are then brought back to the Land of Israel and receive Divine blessings from G-d. But then verse 30:10 states that Israel again returns to HaShem, prompting a question on the chronology of events. Is Israel first brought back to our borders, or do we first return to being Torah-observant? Is the Hebrew Nation meant to perform tshuvah twice?

The illustrious Ohr Sameach, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, explains in the Meshech Chochmah that these verses refer to two types of tshuvah. He points out that in verse 30:2 the return to HaShem is written as v'shavta ad-HaShem, while the later tshuvah in verse 30:10 reads tashuv el-HaShem.

Ad-HaShem, he teaches, is not necessarily a return to Torah observance, but to Israeli nationhood. It is the Jewish People once again viewing ourselves as part of a single national entity after generations of trying to assimilate into the populations in the lands of our dispersion. We will suddenly desire our own country, want to speak our own language and share our own collective cultural identity. This tshuvah is basically a widespread sense of nationalism and feeling of unity with Jews everywhere.

El- HaShem, the later return, is a re-embracing of the Torah and its commandments in both our private lives and in the national life of the Hebrew Nation. The Ohr Sameach illuminates that once the Jews return to a sense of ethnic nationalism, we will certainly return to observing the statutes of G-d's Torah. National tshuvah is the first stage of a process leading to tshuvah on a level far greater than an individual's personal return could ever reach. It brings Israel to a level of national holiness and sanctification in every sphere of life, from farming and economics to warfare and international relations. The early stages of returning to national consciousness are part of a Divine historic process that even those participating in it are often unaware.

The legendary Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Chai Alkalai (in Kitvei HaRav Alkalai) supports the Ohr Sameach's view that there are two types of tshuvah. He defines these types of tshuvah as individual and national. Rabbi Alkalai elaborates further that national tshuvah is Israel coming back to our homeland. The Redemption, he explains, does not occur all at once, but rather takes place in stages - stages in which the Jewish people must participate. Israel coming back to a feeling of nationhood after bitter centuries of dispersion and suffering is a response to the magnet of G-d's Will for Creation. The initial stage of the Redemption process is a natural, healthy feeling of nationalism, similar to the nationalism found among Gentiles.

In "Sha'ar 100" of the Akeidat Yitzchak, Rabbi Yitzchak Arama points out that the process of Redemption takes place with the tshuvah of returning to nationalism, followed by G-d bringing Israel back to our homeland. Only following this ingathering comes the tshuvah of Israel returning to Torah and experiencing a complete and magnificent Redemption.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook explains that the Redemption is, in and of itself, tshuvah. It is the Jewish people returning to the fullness of what the Nation of Israel is meant to be. He calls on us to appreciate that the Redemption comes "slowly, slowly" (Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot 1:1) and further demonstrates, based on verses throughout the Bible, that ad-HaShem is a collective subconscious tshuvah of returning to nationhood in the Land of Israel; whereas, the tshuvah of el-HaShem stems from a conscious understanding that loyalty to G-d necessitates certain behavior and beliefs. While the tshuvah of ad-HaShem has no willful destination, the tshuvah of el-HaShem carries with it a deep awareness of the Divine Source to which one is returning.

As is clear, el-HaShem occurs after the ingathering of the Jewish Nation to our ancestral homeland. The concept of ad-HaShem is expressed throughout Scripture (Yoel 2:12, Amos 4:6, Eicha 3:40-41). Yishaya 44:22 states, "Return to Me for I have redeemed you," implying that Israel returns after being redeemed. And one of the clearest examples of this process can be found in chapter 36 of the Book of Yehezkel:

I will take you from among the nations and gather you in from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own soil. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all
Beyond what the early pioneers themselves understood on a conscious level, they were performing national tshuvah.
your contamination and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and My ordinances and fulfill them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers; you will be a people to Me, and I will be a G-d to you. (Yehezkel 36:24-28)

While it can be argued that the majority of Jews actively involved in the early Zionist movement did not necessarily intend on fulfilling any Divine plan, the national segulah often shines through the level of a person's individual free will. Even beyond what the early pioneers themselves understood on a conscious level, they were performing national tshuvah and bringing Creation closer to perfection.

The deepest yearning of Israel's national soul is to bring G-d's world to ultimate completion. Modern Zionism emerged as the external political expression of the ancient Messianic drive existing deep within Israel's collective spirit. The Divine plan of history has awakened the Hebrew Nation in order to bring existence to the complete Will of HaShem through what will become the Kingdom of Israel - G-d's throne in this world. This is the true essence of Israel's national aspirations, culminating in the entire Jewish Nation living peacefully in our homeland, with a Temple on the Mount, revealing HaShem's Divine light to all of existence.

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