Rabbi Eli Blum
Former Rosh Kollel, Cleveland (2007)
Parshat “Nitzavim” is, in effect, the beginning of the end of the book of Devarim, and deals with the renewed covenant that the nation enters into on the basis of the principles, which we find throughout the entire book.
Included in this framework are the well-known verses on repentance (Teshuva), which deal with the Teshuva of both the individual and the nation, and the return of our exile by Hashem. These verses deal with, in the words of Rav Y.D. Soloveichik zt”l [based on Rambam’s words in Hilchot Teshuva] – “Teshuva of redemption” (Teshuva shel geula).
“It will be that when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – that you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, your God, has dispersed you; and you will return unto Hashem, your God, 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 God, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has dispersed you” (Devarim 30: 13).
At first glance, these verses appear to contain a futuristic description of the reality in exile and Am Yisrael’s comprehension of the reason for the exile. Once we have internalized the afflictions of the curse, and out of a sense of the historical reminiscence of the good days, in which the nation flourished, there will come a genuine and honest return to our roots (chazara bitshuva).
But there may be a deeper principle at stake here. After the experience involving the blessing and the curse (Parashat Ki Tavo), Am Yisrael is meant to reach an internal awareness of the truth that its entire daily existence and raison d’être is the fulfillment of the Divine Will and the forging of a connection with God. Such a high level of awareness is created by a deep experiential internalization of the link between Am Yisrael and Hakadosh Baruch Hu, which also includes the link between the individual and his God. This type of internalization is rendered possible after a lengthy period of development of sensitivity towards and contemplation of the paths of Providence and its influence on the individual and on world history. An awareness and internalization at this level is the highest level of Teshuva (see in this regard “Orot HaTeshuva,” end of Ch. 2 and beginning of Ch. 11).
Therefore, the second verse speaks of a return “unto your God” and of Teshuva in every heart and soul. And, indeed, the Sforno explains “And you shall return unto Hashem your God – your Teshuva will be solely for the purpose of fulfilling the will of your Creator” – i.e. a deep awareness of the goal of Teshuva and its value and of our purpose in this world.
In this light, it can be understood why the Rambam cites these verses in relation to the general Teshuva of Am Yisrael in the course of Chapter 7 of Hilchot Teshuva – this being the place where the Rambam deals with the highest and innermost levels of Teshuva.
This message is especially important for us. For sometimes in the many and varied Kehillot in which we find ourselves throughout the Diaspora, Teshuva is able to take root, with the clearest possible awareness and in its most qualitative form.