Rashi: To convey the idea of returning or bring back the exiles from captivity, the Torah employs the word veshav. This is unexpected. Properly, the word should be veheishiv, which means “to cause to come back.” Veshav actually means “he shall return” – as if the Torah were saying that Hashem Himself would return from galus. Chazal2 therefore derive from this usage that the Shechinah follows the Jews into exile; when they return, so does the Shechinah. Another way to account for the direct veshav: Gathering exiles is such a difficult task, that the Torah depicts Hashem as an active participant in the process, as if He had to grasp the hand of every individual scattered across a wide swath of exile, and lead them back to their place. We find that even in regard to the repatriation of exiles of other nations, Hashem speaks as if He, played an unusually direct role, as it were, in the process. Thus, “I will return the captivity of Egypt,” 3 “I will return the captivity of Moav in the end of days,” 4 and “I will return the captivity of the Bnei Amon.” 5
Maharal: The conclusion of Rashi seems to undermine the gemara that he cites at the beginning. If Hashem speaks about “personally,” as it were, returning members of a number of other nations from their countries of exile, how can the gemara conclude that the Shechinah follows the Jews – specifically – into exile?
Here is the best explanation. 6 Hashem created His world to follow a definite plan and design. All important elements in that plan have a place assigned to them. The exile of any people is a violation of His original blueprint; ultimately, things belong in the places they were given. Hashem speaks of involving Himself in the return of other nations from exile, because the return of a people to its land means a resumption of the state of affairs that the Divine Will intended. As such, bringing any part of creation back to its equilibrium is congruent with His interests. When He speaks of His role in accomplishing it, using language to denote His direct “involvement,” so to speak, we understand this to mean that He reset the program to the original factory settings.
The return of Jewish exiles is quite different. The fortunes of the Jewish people are not just cogs in the big machinery of human life. Because of the close relationship Hashem enjoys with His people, any departure from Hashem’s plan for them strikes at His very honor. How could it be that the people with whom He has the closest relationship does not dwell in the special place that He crafted for them – the Land of Israel? If He is the G-d of Israel, and His children are exiled from their land, then His presence is perforce exiled as well!
When we examine the relevant pesukim, we see how the words themselves reflect this difference. In describing Hashem’s role in ending the exile of Amon, Moav, and Egypt, the pasuk simply says, “I will return the exiles.” Returning a people to its land does not occur easily; when it happens, an extraordinary amount of Divine providence is at work, restoring some national group to the place in geography and history that His master plan calls for. In regard to the return of the Jewish people, however, our pasuk speaks of “Hashem, your G-d will return,” using Hashem’s Name. Because the way Jews are treated reflects directly on Hashem’s prominence and standing, as it were, in the eyes of the rest of the world, the exile of the Jewish people is a diminution of His honor. It is much worse than a thwarting of His plan. It strikes, kevayachol, at something much closer to home.
So does our return to our national home. It is not simply consistent with His plan for history. It is a redemption of His Name and reputation.
Torah For Tots? 7
Rashi: Why do the young children come? To provide reward for the parents who bring them.
Maharal: Rashi’s source is the gemara. 8 Its reasoning seems obvious: what other reason could there be to bring small children along?
On second thought, however, the gemara’s assumption does not seem so compelling. Fathers are instructed to teach their children Torah. The mitzvah of hakhel is essentially one of the entire nation engaged in one large study session. It makes perfect sense that the Torah asks fathers to include their children in this Torah study, as it does to Torah study in general.
We need to examine what the Torah means by young children. How young? It cannot mean children so young that they cannot learn at all. If it did, it makes no sense to suppose that the Torah asks people to bring their youngest children along, 9 so as to arbitrarily ramp up the difficulty of the mitzvah, and thus entitle them to greater reward for its observance. The Torah does not act arbitrarily; if it did, there are myriad ways in which to make the mitzvah of hakhel more difficult. Any one of them could have served to generate greater reward.
Rather, we must assume that the young children of our pasuk are old enough to study and to be taught. Thus, they have the ability to take part on some level in the learning going on around them. Including them in communal learning makes sense.
It does make sense, but only to a limited extent. The mitzvah of studying Torah is different from more convential mitzvos. Mitzvos generally generally demand of us the performance of a specified action. That is not the case here. The mitzvah is the study, the pondering and internalizing of some Torah content. That is not something that can be restricted by time and place, and ordered to occur under those conditions alone. Torah study can take place only when and where a person is prepared to apply himself properly.
Now, in regard to the adults, the Torah does in fact specify – as a Divine edict – that the Torah be read in a specific place at the end of the holiday of Sukkos. We can accept such an edict. Extending it to children, however, seems unreasonable. Children cannot be ordered to learn under specific circumstances; learning takes place only when conditions are appropriate.
If the Torah nonetheless orders that the children be brought along, it must be to generate more reward for the parents.
Sources: 1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 30:3 2. Megilah 29A 3. Yechezkel 29:14 4. Yirmiyah 48:47 5. Yirmiyah 49:6 6. Maharal first offers a different explanation. 7. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 31:12 8. Chagigah 3A 9. Ramban, however, understands this to be the position of the gemara itself. (He prefers a position intermediate between the gemara’s assumption of very young children, and the Maharal’s understanding, which is children old enough to learn. Ramban sees the mitzvah applying to children approaching the age at which they are educable.