Parshiyot Nitzavim-Vayelech: Redeeming Our Inner I

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Picturing our lives outside of America — removed from our homes where skyscrapers illuminate a skyline or suburban homes line our streets — can feel surreal. We often forget that living outside of Israel is not the ideal; it’s the reality of our galut (exile). In Parshiyot Nitzavim-Vayelech, Bnei Yisrael is first told about the then-future galut and reminded about their fundamental mistake: forgetting their inner I.

Moshe Rabbeinu warns Bnei Yisrael that if they deny their true essence and fail to live with Hashem in their lives, they will bring desolation onto the land and themselves. However, the light at the end of the tunnel still awaits, as he says, “Then the LORD your God 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 God had dispersed you” (Devarim 30:4).

Despite the ultimate self-betrayal, the rejection of living mitzvot and actualizing our inner godliness, we will ultimately recover. Bnei Yisrael will, in fact, return to Eretz Yisrael and function as the beating heart of the world. But, they won’t come back alone.

Commenting on this pasuk, Rav Soloveitchik explains that upon Bnei Yisrael’s self-actualized banishment from their land, Hashem was consequently banished as well, so to speak. When we are redeemed from our exile— gathered, unified, and led back to Eretz Yisrael — Hashem will redeem Himself from the very same exile. (The Lord is Righteous, p. 177-178).[1]

While this idea sounds powerful, there are numerous questions to unpack: What does it mean that Hashem was exiled? Why was He exiled with us, and what do we do now? Rav Kook beautifully articulates this message, capturing a profound insight into this very point.

“‘I am in the depths of exile’ (Yechezkel 1:1). This refers to the inner, essential ‘I’ — whether individual or collective,” Rav Kook writes. “And so the world continues, descending into the destruction of every ‘I’ — of the individual and of the collective… And little by little, the ‘I’ becomes forgotten. And when there is no ‘I,’ there is no ‘He,’ and how much more so is there no ‘You’” (Orot Hakodesh 3, p. 140-141).[2]

When we were exiled from Eretz Yisrael, we lost not only our national identity but a central component of our individual identity. We are each like a leaf on a tree, interconnected with one another in an unbreakable bond, sharing Hashem as the Source of our very selves. Our exile not only physically removed us, but it distilled our self-awareness, forgetting our inner godliness and the binding ties we share with Am Yisrael and the world.

The ultimate remedy to our galut is self-awareness: recognizing our connection to Hashem and the world and living that through our thoughts, speech, and actions. When we left Eretz Yisrael, as a collective nation, we threw Hashem out of our lives, so to speak, and blocked off the Sunlight from the garden, which, in that case, was Am Yisrael. Now, it’s time for change.

Redemption will come when we reclaim our identities as souls, actualizing our inner godliness every day and accomplishing this on a national scale, too. The first step in redemption starts with us: It begins with redeeming our inner I and living our truest lives as divine souls.

[1] As seen in The Neuwirth Edition Chumash with commentary based on Rav Soloveitchik’s teachings, p. 240-241

[2] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 12-13

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, including the weekly parsha and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
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