Then Hashem your G-d will return your captivity and have mercy
Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
Rashi: To convey the idea of returning or bring back the exiles from
captivity, the Torah employs the word veshav. This is unexpected. Properly,
the word should be veheishiv, which means “to cause to come back.” Veshav
actually means “he shall return” – as if the Torah were saying that Hashem
Himself would return from galus. Chazal2 therefore derive from
this usage that the Shechinah follows the Jews into exile; when they return,
so does the Shechinah. Another way to account for the direct veshav:
Gathering exiles is such a difficult task, that the Torah depicts Hashem as
an active participant in the process, as if He had to grasp the hand of
every individual scattered across a wide swath of exile, and lead them back
to their place. We find that even in regard to the repatriation of exiles of
other nations, Hashem speaks as if He, played an unusually direct role, as
it were, in the process. Thus, “I will return the captivity of Egypt,”
3 “I will return the captivity of Moav in the end of days,”
4 and “I will return the captivity of the Bnei Amon.” 5
Maharal: The conclusion of Rashi seems to undermine the gemara that he cites
at the beginning. If Hashem speaks about “personally,” as it were, returning
members of a number of other nations from their countries of exile, how can
the gemara conclude that the Shechinah follows the Jews – specifically –
Here is the best explanation. 6 Hashem created His world to
follow a definite plan and design. All important elements in that plan have
a place assigned to them. The exile of any people is a violation of His
original blueprint; ultimately, things belong in the places they were given.
Hashem speaks of involving Himself in the return of other nations from
exile, because the return of a people to its land means a resumption of the
state of affairs that the Divine Will intended. As such, bringing any part
of creation back to its equilibrium is congruent with His interests. When He
speaks of His role in accomplishing it, using language to denote His direct
“involvement,” so to speak, we understand this to mean that He reset the
program to the original factory settings.
The return of Jewish exiles is quite different. The fortunes of the Jewish
people are not just cogs in the big machinery of human life. Because of the
close relationship Hashem enjoys with His people, any departure from
Hashem’s plan for them strikes at His very honor. How could it be that the
people with whom He has the closest relationship does not dwell in the
special place that He crafted for them – the Land of Israel? If He is the
G-d of Israel, and His children are exiled from their land, then His
presence is perforce exiled as well!
When we examine the relevant pesukim, we see how the words themselves
reflect this difference. In describing Hashem’s role in ending the exile of
Amon, Moav, and Egypt, the pasuk simply says, “I will return the exiles.”
Returning a people to its land does not occur easily; when it happens, an
extraordinary amount of Divine providence is at work, restoring some
national group to the place in geography and history that His master plan
calls for. In regard to the return of the Jewish people, however, our pasuk
speaks of “Hashem, your G-d will return,” using Hashem’s Name. Because the
way Jews are treated reflects directly on Hashem’s prominence and standing,
as it were, in the eyes of the rest of the world, the exile of the Jewish
people is a diminution of His honor. It is much worse than a thwarting of
His plan. It strikes, kevayachol, at something much closer to home.
So does our return to our national home. It is not simply consistent with
His plan for history. It is a redemption of His Name and reputation.
Torah For Tots? 7
At the end of seven years…during the holiday of Sukkos…gather
together the people- the men, the women, and the young children.
Rashi: Why do the young children come? To provide reward for the parents who
Maharal: Rashi’s source is the gemara. 8 Its reasoning seems
obvious: what other reason could there be to bring small children along?
On second thought, however, the gemara’s assumption does not seem so
compelling. Fathers are instructed to teach their children Torah. The
mitzvah of hakhel is essentially one of the entire nation engaged in one
large study session. It makes perfect sense that the Torah asks fathers to
include their children in this Torah study, as it does to Torah study in
We need to examine what the Torah means by young children. How young? It
cannot mean children so young that they cannot learn at all. If it did, it
makes no sense to suppose that the Torah asks people to bring their youngest
children along, 9 so as to arbitrarily ramp up the difficulty of
the mitzvah, and thus entitle them to greater reward for its observance. The
Torah does not act arbitrarily; if it did, there are myriad ways in which to
make the mitzvah of hakhel more difficult. Any one of them could have served
to generate greater reward.
Rather, we must assume that the young children of our pasuk are old enough
to study and to be taught. Thus, they have the ability to take part on some
level in the learning going on around them. Including them in communal
learning makes sense.
It does make sense, but only to a limited extent. The mitzvah of studying
Torah is different from more convential mitzvos. Mitzvos generally generally
demand of us the performance of a specified action. That is not the case
here. The mitzvah is the study, the pondering and internalizing of some
Torah content. That is not something that can be restricted by time and
place, and ordered to occur under those conditions alone. Torah study can
take place only when and where a person is prepared to apply himself properly.
Now, in regard to the adults, the Torah does in fact specify – as a Divine
edict – that the Torah be read in a specific place at the end of the holiday
of Sukkos. We can accept such an edict. Extending it to children, however,
seems unreasonable. Children cannot be ordered to learn under specific
circumstances; learning takes place only when conditions are appropriate.
If the Torah nonetheless orders that the children be brought along, it must
be to generate more reward for the parents.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 30:3
2. Megilah 29A
3. Yechezkel 29:14
4. Yirmiyah 48:47
5. Yirmiyah 49:6
6. Maharal first offers a different explanation.
7. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 31:12
8. Chagigah 3A
9. Ramban, however, understands this to be the position of the gemara itself. (He prefers a position intermediate between the gemara’s assumption of very young children, and the Maharal’s understanding, which is children old enough to learn. Ramban sees the mitzvah applying to children approaching the age at which they are educable.
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