parasha

Nitzavim-Vayelech 5777

Desolation, Flourishing, and Then…
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This Shabbat we will read two short parashot – Nitzavim and Vayelech – describing the covenant ceremony Moshe held for Am Yisrael before the nation entered the Land of Israel.  In this ceremony, Moshe speaks about the anticipated process of settling in the land, after which there will be a long exile followed by the merciful return of the nation to its land.
In his description of the future state of the land during the long years of exile, Moshe describes utter desolation and destruction:
And a later generation, your descendants, who will rise after you, along with the foreigner who comes from a distant land, will say, upon seeing it sulfur and salt have burned up its entire land! It cannot be sown, nor can it grow [anything], not [even] any grass will sprout upon it.
(Dvarim 29, 21-22)

And in describing the end of the long exile, Moshe says the following:then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles…He will once again gather you from all the nations… And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you [too] will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.

And the next stage is:And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart…[so that you may] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul...(Ibid 30, 3-6)

The sages of the Talmud, who could see the future flourishing of the Land of Israel, said that when the land will bear an abundance of crops, “there is no greater end to the exile than this” (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin, page 68).  Meaning, the Torah gives a manifest sign of redemption: when the land goes back to flourishing and giving fruit.  This will happen, of course, only after the nation returns to its land.Interestingly, American author Mark Twain provided us with a description of the Land of Israel during the years of exile in 1869 in his travel book, The Innocents Abroad.  His description of his visit to the Land of Israel is harshly worded: “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think [the Land of Israel] must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.”  Later he writes: “nowhere in all the waste around was there a foot of shade, and we were scorching to death.” And he added: “But alas, there is no dew here, nor flowers, nor birds, nor trees.”  In short, he describes the land as “a silent, mournful expanse.”This description, penned by someone who visited the Land of Israel only a few years before the First Aliyah (Immigration to Israel) of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement, matches Moshe’s prophecy precisely.  During the times in which the Jewish nation is not settled in its land, “the foreigner who comes from a distant land” would see “sulfur and salt have burned up its entire land. It cannot be sown, nor can it grow [anything], not [even] any grass will sprout upon it.” A few years after Mark Twain’s visit, the nation began its return to the land, causing the barrenness to flourish, building settlements and cities, and developing modern agriculture.  Thus, the continuation of Moshe’s prophecy came to be.  “And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you [too] will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.”Just as this prophecy came to fruition through the tremendous efforts of the immigrants to the land who settled it with “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”, so the rest of the prophecy we anticipate – “And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart…[so that you may] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul...” – is up to us.  Now we must invest all our strength in the next stage: deepening and examining the values, the customs, and aim of Judaism.

All Torah weekly sections