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Parsha and Manuscript: Nitzavim and Vayelech - ‘G-d in Exile’

Thursday, 10 September, 2020 - 10:43 pm

MS. Canonici Or. 35 (Nitzavim).pngIn the Torah portion of Nitzavim it states:[1]

 

And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where the Lord your G-d has banished you, and you will return to the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children, then, the Lord, your G-d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your G-d, had dispersed you.

 

The idea that ‘G-d will bring back your exiles’ is expressed in a way that gives rise to a number of interpretations. The simple interpretation is that G-d will bring back or cause to return the exiles of the Jewish people. The fact that Ibn Ezra doesn’t comment at all on this verse implies that he views the meaning of the verse as above without any need for further extrapolation. 13th century French commentator Chizkuni[2] agrees with this interpretation, as does German Rabbi Yaakov Tzevi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) in his commentary Haketav Vehakabbalah (published in 1839).[3] Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809 –1879), known as the Malbim,[4] interprets the verse to mean that G-d will return to the exiles, to be with the Jewish people, as they return to G-d, after being distant due to sin.

 

The Talmud and the Midrash however interpret the verse to mean that G-d is in exile with the Jewish people and He will return from the exile together with the returning of the exiles of the Jewish people. This is based on the use of the phrase: ‘veshav - and the L rd your G d will return,’ instead of ‘veheshiv - He will cause return. In the Midrash Mechilta this teaching is taught in the name of Rabbi Akiva:

 

R. Akiva said:[5] Were it not explicitly written, it would be impossible to say it, Israel saying before the L-rd, as it were, "You redeemed Yourself!" And thus do you find, that wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence was with them. They were exiled to Egypt — the Divine Presence was with them, viz. "Did I not reveal Myself to your father's house when they were in Egypt?[6] They were exiled to Bavel — the Divine Presence was with them, viz. "For your sake I was exiled to Bavel."[7] They were exiled to Eilam — the Divine Presence was with them, viz. "and I set My throne in Eilam."[8] They were exiled to Edom — the Divine Presence was with them, viz. "Who is This coming from Edom, His garments crimsoned, from Batzrah?"[9] And when they return in the future, the Divine Presence will be with them, viz. "And veshav the L rd your G d."[10] It is not written "veheshiv" ("He will return" [you]), but "veshav" ("He [Himself] will return.") and it is written: "With Me from Levanon (the Temple), My bride (Israel); with Me from Levanon come."[11] Now is she (Israel) coming from Levanon? Is she not ascending to Levanon? The intent is: You and I were exiled from Levanon and we will ascend together to Levanon.

 

A similar teaching is found in the Talmud in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai:[12]

 

It is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: Come and see how beloved the Jewish people are before the Holy One, Blessed be He. As every place they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them. They were exiled to Egypt, and the Divine Presence went with them, as it is stated: “Did I reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt?”[13] They were exiled to Babylonia, and the Divine Presence went with them, as it is stated: “For your sake I have sent to Babylonia.”[14] So too, when, in the future, they will be redeemed, the Divine Presence will be with them, as it is stated: “Then the Lord your G-d will return with your captivity.”[15] It does not state: He will bring back, i.e., He will cause the Jewish people to return, but rather it says: “He will return,” which teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, will return together with them from among the various exiles.

 

MS. Oppenheim 35 (Nitzavim).pngRashi

 

In the commentary of Rashi it appears to bring also the interpretation from the Talmud in two parts that firstly, G-d resides with Israel in their exile and secondly, when they return from exile, G-d will return with them:

 

Then the lord your G-d will return your captivity: To express this idea it ought to have written “then He will bring back your captivity”. But our Rabbis learned from this that, if one can say so of G-d, His Divine presence dwells with Israel in all the misery of their exile, so that when they are redeemed, He had made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself (i.e. He makes it state that He will be redeemed) that He will return with them.

 

A further lesson may be learned from the unusual form of the verb which expresses “to bring back the exiles”: The day on which Israel’s exiles will be gathered is so monumental and this ingathering will be such a difficult procedure, as it were, that it is as though G-d Himself must literally take each individual Jew with His very hands, taking him out of his place in exile. We see the same concept brought up in Scripture, when the verse says, “And you will be gathered up, one by one, O children of Israel.”[16] That verse refers to the ingathering of Israel’s exiles from Babylon. However, we find this idea also regarding the ingathering of exiles from the other nations, as the verse says, “And I shall bring back the exiles of Moab.”[17]

 

MS. Michael 384 (Nitzavim).pngRashi manuscripts

 

In the manuscripts of Rashi there are however a number of variants, indicating that the version of Rashi in the printed edition above is suggesting a slightly different interpretation than the Talmud. The above version is how it is found in MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225),[18] MS. Huntington 425 (1403),[19] MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396)[20] and MS. Michael 384 (1399)[21]

 

In MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401–1425)[22] it states, instead of: ‘that the Divine Presence (Shechinah) resides ‘sheruyah’ among Israel, as it were, in all the misery of their exile,’ it uses the term: rests ‘shoreh’ with them, and also without stating ‘Israel.’

 

In MS. Oppenheim 14 (1340),[23] it states that G-d rests (shoreh) in exile but omits the phrase that ‘G-d resides in all the misery of their exile.’ Furthermore, instead of writing in the passive: ‘when they are redeemed He had made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself (previously), it states: ‘when they are redeemed He writes (katav) “redemption” of Himself.’

 

In two of the manuscripts: MS Leipzig 1 and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[24] it first brings the plain interpretation, as Chizkuni: ‘It is like it states:[25] ‘I will return the captivity of the children of Ammon.’[26]

 

MS. Canon. Or. 81 (Nitzavim).pngScenarios of the impact of exile on G-d

 

Based on the variants in the manuscripts, we may delineate a number of possible scenarios of the suffering of G-d due to the exile of the Jewish people. In the plain meaning of the text, G-d cares for the Jewish people in exile and will fulfil His promise to return them from their exile. This does not however imply a share suffering on behalf of G-d Himself. As the Midrash Mechilta states: if not the Midrashic teaching it would impossible to say of G-d such a concept.

 

A second scenario is that G-d does not only fulfil His promise to redeem Israel but He protects them from harm while in the exile, similar to the statement in Esther Rabba:[27]’Great is the sheep that survives amongst the seventy wolves.’

 

A third scenario is that not only does G-d protect Israel from harm but is in distress from the fact that they are suffering. This may be seen as similar to G-d appearing in the burning bush in a display of sharing in the suffering of Israel in Egypt,[28] and Moses sitting on a stone, as opposed to a cushion, while he was praying for Israel during their war against Amalek.[29][30] Similarly, it states in Psalms in this regard:[31] “I will be with him in trouble.”[32]

 

A fourth scenario of G-d in relation to the suffering of Israel is that G-d not only is in distress from the suffering of Israel but resides within and takes part in the same suffering. This concept that G-d takes part in the same suffering of Israel would be the most radical notion of Divine providence that G-d shares in the same suffering as Israel.

 

I would like to argue that it is this tension - to what extent one can say in relation to the Divine that the suffering of a people impacts Him. As mentioned, this tension is indicated in the Midrashic text, though omitted in the similar Talmudic text, that presents this tension: ‘Were it not explicitly written, it would be impossible to say it, Israel saying before the L rd, as it were, "You redeemed Yourself!" And thus do you find, that wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence was with them.’

 

MS. Oppenheim 14 (Nitzavim).pngRashi in the printed edition takes this Midrashic idea to the most extreme: not only is G-d with Israel in exile that may be interpreted as with them but apart, but furthermore ‘His Divine presence dwells with Israel in all the misery of their exile.’ The term used in this respect regarding the Divine in exile is ‘sh’ruyah’ that can be translated as resides or immersed. This term is used in the Talmud: ‘the Sages taught in a baraita: ‘When the Jewish people is immersed (sh’ruyin) in distress, and one of them separates himself from the community and does not share their suffering, the two ministering angels who accompany a person come and place their hands on his head, as though he was an offering, and say: This man, so-and-so, who has separated himself from the community, let him not see the consolation of the community.’

 

It is similarly used in the Talmudic statement: ‘When the community is immersed (sharuy) in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul. Rather, a person should be distressed together with the community. As we found with Moses our teacher that he was distressed together with the community, as it is stated during the war with Amalek: “But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat upon it” (Exodus 17:12). But didn’t Moses have one pillow or one cushion to sit upon; why was he forced to sit on a rock? Rather, Moses said as follows: Since the Jewish people are immersed (sh’ruyin) in suffering, I too will be with them in suffering, as much as I am able, although I am not participating in the fighting. The baraita adds: And anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community.’[33]

 

In the above Talmudic text the term ‘immersed’ is only used regarding Israel during their war with Amalek - that they were immersed in suffering, while concerning Moses it only says ‘I too will be with them in suffering,’ as in fact Moses did not participate in the fighting with Amalek – he only requested not to use a cushion to show sympathy with their suffering. In the case of the exile, as implied in Deuteronomy, it states in the printed edition of Rashi that G-d is also immersed (sh’ruya) with Israel in all the misery of their exile. This reflects the most radical concept of Divine Providence that He is immersed in the same suffering of the exile as Israel.

 

In MS. Oppenheim 14 (1340),[34] it, however, states that G-d rests (shoreh) in exile but omits the phrase that G-d is immersed: ‘in all the misery of their exile.’ This manuscript appears to reflect a view that Rashi in fact is not intending to say anything different than the Talmud: ‘As every place they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them.’ This is also reflected in the change from the word: sh’ruyah (immersed) to: shoreh (rests). The latter is a more distant term. This distinction is made by Rabbi Schneuz Zalman of Liadi (1740-1813) in the Tanya in relation to the difference between ten people who study Torah, whereby the ‘Divine presence is immersed (sh’ruyah) amongst them,’ and ten people merely in one place whereby the Divine presence rests (shoreh).[35] This distinction is also subtly made by the changing of the word: ‘sh’ruyah’ (immersed) to: shoreh (rests) in MS. Canonici Or. 35.[36]

 

MS. Oppenheim 34 (Nitzavim).pngThe lessening of the impact of the exile of the Jewish people on G-d is also reflected by the second variant in MS. Canonici Or. 35,[37] whereby instead of writing in the passive past tense: ‘when they are redeemed He had made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself (previously), it states: ‘when they are redeemed He writes (katav) “redemption” of Himself.’ If we accept the idea that G-d is immersed in the same misery of the exile as the Jewish people, He would similarly be unable to extract Himself from captivity, as a captive cannot release oneself without the help of a person who is not a captive.[38] For this reason the text of Rashi in the printed edition states in the passive: ‘when they are redeemed He had made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself (previously),’ arguing that the reason G-d can be redeemed when the designated time arrives, even though He is immersed in captivity Himself, is because He had already, before going into captivity, had made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself.[39] According to the understanding of Rashi as found in MS. Canonici Or. 35 that the intention of Rashi is the same as the Talmud – the intention is not in fact that G-d is immersed in the same exile as Israel, but rather remains to some degree apart, there is no need to say that G-d must have previously made Scripture write “redemption” of Himself, as, since he is remains outside to some degree, He can merely right Himself redemption when the time for redemption arrives.

 

A further undermining of this concept that G-d is immersed in the misery of the exile of the Jewish people may be seen in the version of the text of Rashi as found in MS Leipzig 1 and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[40] where they bring, as the first and primary interpretation, as brought in Chizkuni and by omission Ibn Ezra: ‘It is like it states:[41] ‘I will cause to return the captivity of the children of Ammon.’[42]

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, we presented a number of interpretations on the verse:[43] ‘G-d will bring back your exiles.’ Two principle interpretations are that G-d will bring back the exiles and that G-d will Himself return from exile, suggesting that G-d is in exile together with Israel. We presented Rashi’s interpretation, that while it appears to follow the Talmud, referring to G-d in exile with the Jewish people, it indicates a further idea that G-d is not only effected by or resides in the exile but is immersed in the same misery of the exile as Israel is.[44] We demonstrated by surveying the manuscripts of Rashi at Oxford and other places that they in fact suggest a more varied perspective about what the view of Rashi is concerning G-d and exile. Versions that change the text from using the word ‘immersed’ to ‘rests’ and omitting the line: ‘immersed in the misery of the exile of Israel,’ as well as bringing the plain interpretation as the first interpretation, indicate, a hesitancy on behalf Rashi, similar to the Midrash, about the idea concerning G-d that He is immersed in the same misery as the Jewish people.[45]

 

 


 

[1] Deuteronomy 30:1-3.

[2] Chizkuni on Deuteronomy 30:3:1.

[3] HaKtav VeHaKabalah, Deuteronomy 30:3:1.

[4] Malbim on Deuteronomy 30:3:1.

[5] On II Samuel 7:23.

[6] I Samuel 2:27.

[7] Isaiah 43:14.

[8] Jeremiah 49:38.

[9] Isaiah 63:1.

[10] Deuteronomy 30:3.

[11] Song of Songs 4:8.

[12] Talmud Megillah 29a.

[13] I Samuel 2:27.

[14] Isaiah 43:14.

[15] Deuteronomy 30:3.

[16] Isaiah 27:12.

[17] Jeremiah 48:47.

[18] Fol. 111.

[19] Fol. 125.

[20] Fol. 181. In this version it states: ‘when they are redeemedScripture partnered a “redemption” of Himself that He will return with them.’

[21] Fol. 135.

[22] Fol. 223.

[23] Fol. 255.

[24] Fol. 102.

[25] Jeremiah 47:6.

[26] The first word of the quotation of the verse from Jeremiah 47:6 is actually similar to Jeremiah 48:47, stating ‘v’shavti’ – as opposed to ‘ashiv,’ as it states in Jeremiah 47:6.

[27] Esther Rabba 10:12.

[28] Exodus 3:2: ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed.’ Rashi comments: Out of the midst of a bush (a thornbush) — and not from any other tree, in accordance with the idea (Psalms 91:15) “I will be with him in trouble” (Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot 14).

[29] Likkutei Sichot 9:179.

[30] Rashi on Exodus (17:12): A stone and they put it under him [and he sat thereon] — but he did not seat himself upon a cushion or a pillow, for he said, “Israel is in tribulation; I will be in tribulation together with them”. (Talmud Ta’anit 11a).

[31] Psalms 91:15.

[32] According to Metzudat David it refers to the idea that G-d will be with him to save him. However, Rashi on Exodus 3:2 refers it to the idea of distress for the suffering of Israel. Likkutei Sichot 9:179, footnote 32 and 32.

[33] Talmud Ta’anit 11a.

[34] Fol. 255.

[35] Tanya, Igrot Hakodesh 23.

[36] Fol. 255.

[37] Fol. 255.

[38] Talmud Berachot 5b. Likkutei Sichot 9:179.

[39] Likkutei Sichot 9:179.

[40] Fol. 102.

[41] Jeremiah 47:6.

[42] The first word of the quotation of the verse from Jeremiah 47:6 is actually similar to Jeremiah 48:47, stating ‘v’shavti’ – as opposed to ‘ashiv,’ as it states in Jeremiah 47:6.

[43] Deuteronomy 30:3.

[44] Likkutei Sichot 9:179.

[45] Gur Aryeh argues that this is in fact a rebuke of Israel, as opposed to a sign of compassion, that one should take note that by sinning one not only causes oneself to be sent into exile but causes also that G-d should be subject to the misery of the exile. In the view of other commentators, including the Midrash and the Talmud, it appears to be a praise of G-d that He does not abandon the Jewish people. On the contrary He is with them in exile and even experiences the same misery that the Jewish people experience – and will be also redeemed with them.

 

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