Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Nitzavim
To dedicate this lesson

Connecting Teshuva & the Final Redemption

Rav Yaakov Moshe Harlop, a venerated student of Rav Kook and one of the heads of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav after his teacher's death, often spoke of the contemporary phenomenon of baalei teshuvah, returnees to Torah observance. The problem was that this was far from a widespread trend at the time – 80 years ago, give or take – and his students wondered what he was referring to. On the contrary, it seemed that society in the Land of Israel was deteriorating towards secularism...

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Rabbi Netanel Yossifun

Elul 27 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Rav Yaakov Moshe Harlop, a venerated student of Rav Kook and one of the heads of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav after his teacher's death, often spoke of the contemporary phenomenon of baalei teshuvah, returnees to Torah observance. The problem was that this was far from a widespread trend at the time – 80 years ago, give or take – and his students wondered what he was referring to. On the contrary, it seemed that society in the Land of Israel was deteriorating towards secularism.

Two students of Rav Harlop met each other a few years ago [as recounted in his great-grandson's work, Shirat HaYam], and brought up this memory. They marveled at the fact that Rav Harlop had been able to foresee so long ago what has now become a commonplace occurrence of returning to observant Judaism – and that he talked in the present tense about what was to take place in the future!

Certainly Rav Harlop had a form of prophetic spirit. But it would seem that what he meant when he talked of the teshuva movement so early was not simply a prediction. Rather, he was speaking of a movement that actually existed in his day. While others saw this movement only for what it stood for externally, he was able to see more deeply, that it would actually sprout forth decades later many returnees to Torah Judaism.

I am referring, of course, to the Zionist movement – the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews to our Holy Land. Yes, it was accompanied by a measure of estrangement from Torah life. But Rav Harlop saw that it would lead to a great movement of Jews back towards teshuva and Torah.

How did he know?

The Talmud discusses whether or not the final Redemption, geula, is dependent upon Israel's repentance. Maimonides concludes that "Israel will be redeemed only via repentance – and the Torah has promised that Israel will, in fact, do teshuva, and then they will immediately be redeemed." As proof, he cites verses from this week's Torah portion of Nitzavim: "When all these punishments [of the Exile] have come upon you… and you will return unto Hashem your G-d… and G-d will restore your exiles…"  A straightforward chronology: First teshuva, then return to the Land.

However, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook noted that later verses in Nitzavim indicate that parts of the teshuva process will take place once we're already home in our Land: "G-d will bring you to the Land… and He will circumcise your heart… to love G-d." Thus, the teshuva and geula processes will apparently parallel each other.

Why should this be? The answer is that the essence of the Redemption is that G-d's name should be known throughout the world, and that the world should cleave to Him. The Rambam says this clearly: "The Prophets and Sages yearned for the Messianic period… only so that they could be free to learn Torah and wisdom… In those days, the entire world will be involved only in seeking the knowledge of G-d." Thus, the progress towards Redemption is actually progress and movement towards the A-lmighty.

And this is also the precise issue of teshuva. Its entire essence means getting closer to Hashem – thus that the Redemption movement and the teshuva movement are one and the same.

We can see this idea in the words of Rashi to our Parashat Nitzavim. The Torah refers to the Ingathering of the Exiles with a word relating to teshuva: "G-d will return/restore your exiles." Rashi cites the Sages' question: "Why does the Torah use the form of this word implying that G-d Himself will return? Why does it not use the transitive form of the verb, indicating that He will return the exiles to their Land?"

Rashi answers that the Sages derived from here that G-d Himself is as if found with Israel in the tortures of their exile, and that when they are redeemed, He too will be redeemed and will return along with them.

Given that Hashem returns with us to our Land, it is clear that when we see this happening and we thus witness G-d's revelation, we will then return to Him in complete teshuva. For the return to the Land and the return to G-d are, essentially, the very same. For within every Jew is a Divine soul, meaning that the Divine Presence dwells within us – and when we return, He returns. The return is mutual.

And this is the idea of the famous verse: Hashivenu Hashem eilekha v'nashuvah, "Return us to You, O G-d, and we will return." The Midrash says:

Israel said to G-d, "It is up to You, Master of the Universe: 'Return us.'"

G-d responded: "It is up to you, as is written in Zechariah, 'Return to Me and I will return to you, says G-d.'"

Israel again answered, "G-d, it is up to You, as is written in Psalms 85, 'Restore us, O G-d of our salvation,' and that's why it is written, 'Return us, G-d, to you – and [then] we will return.'"

And as a previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, said, "Straight away to teshuva! Straight away to geula!" When we return, Hashem returns to us. And together we will merit to see the entire nation return and ascend to our Holy Land, and we can be certain that the entire nation will do total and complete teshuva!

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