4 Elul 5770
Who Brings Them Home?
Our haftara begins with the words: "It is I, it is I [Hashem] who is your consoler" (Yeshaya 51:12) and ends with "... and He who gathers you, the G-d of Israel" (ibid. 52:12). How does Hashem console the nation, and what is His special role in the ingathering?
The ingathering of the exiles is part and parcel of the prophecies of redemption and consolation. The prophets actually echo and expound upon the words of Moshe, who talked at the end of his life about "He will gather from all the nations" and, "if your scattered will be at the edge of the heaven from there Hashem will gather you..." (Devarim 30:3-5). Some of the many prophecies on the ingathering are found in Yechezkel 36:24; ibid. 11:20-39, Micha 2:12, and Amos 9:11).
How does the return to the Land of Israel occur? Moshe was the leader who took the people out of Egypt, and he was followed by Yehoshua, who finally brought them into the Land. At the beginning of the second Temple period, there were leaders such as Ezra who were involved in the return and the reestablishment of a community. Who will lead the final return? At first glance several of the aforementioned sources refer to Hashem as bringing the people back. Indeed there are many pious Jews who believe with all their hearts that they are to await a Divine Revelation after which the people may return. The Vilna Gaon (Gra) was among the first of the modern era to call on Am Yisrael to return to Eretz Yisrael of their own accord. This is what is known as beginning the redemption process with itaruta d’letata (inspiration from below, i.e., human effort). How does one reconcile the apparent contradiction between the prophecies and the approach of the Gra and other early Zionist rabbinic leaders?
One of the keys to this question is the comment of the Ramban on a pasuk in this week’s parasha. "You shall certainly appoint a king, whom Hashem, your G-d, shall choose" (Devarim 17:15). Yet the Torah then limits the matter: "from amidst your brethren you shall appoint a king; do not place upon you a foreigner." The commentators ask how there can be a question of whom to appoint if it is Hashem who is described as choosing? The Ramban explains that the people will go through the process of choosing the king, just that every human king is ordained by Hashem. He gives a similar explanation for the place of the building of the Beit Hamikdash which the Torah describes as the "place that Hashem will choose" (ibid. 12:5). He says that the simple meaning is that whatever Bnei Yisrael will chose will prove to have been the Divine Will.
This, taken as a general idea, explains our contradiction. The people will successfully toil to return to the Land, while it will prove to have been the work of Hashem. It need not be accomplished by one leader, as groups of Jews from Europe, North Africa, and Asia left their communities and homes (even if motivated by oppression) in a sign of the revelation of the Divine Presence. This is how Hashem is our consoler and our gatherer.
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