If G-d is everywhere, how can exile be possible?

Philosophers speak of two fundamental modes of verification: Coherence and Correspondence.  Coherence tests whether something is true by whether it emerges from the proper use of an intellectual system; correspondence tests whether something is true by whether its results match something we know reliably.

Netziv’s minimalist theory of Oral Torah suggests that textual interpretation often combines the two modes.  We evaluate the legitimacy of a Torah interpretational tool by whether its results correspond to what we already believe; then we use that tool to produce new truths, which in turn become the basis or evaluating new tools, and so on.  Netziv suggests that in this way the vast corpus of Oral Torah could have been generated from one data point, a single Revealed correct interpretation.  If only one tool could generate that interpretation, then the tool was verified; it could produce other presumably correct interpretations; other tools could be evaluated by their capacity to produce interpretations consistent with those; and so on.

A generally accepted “truth” of Rabbinic theology is that the Divine presence goes into Exile together with the Jewish people.  This principle, found inter alia on Megillah 29a and variously derived, can then legitimate subsequent interpretations that presume it, and thus produce even more astonishing theological propositions.

My interest this week is in Vayikra 25:23 -24, which concludes a section setting forth the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.

והארץ לא תמכר לצמתת

כי לי הארץ

כי גרים ותושבים אתם עמדי:

ובכל ארץ אחזתכם

גאלה תתנו לארץ: ס

The land must not be sold permanently

because the land belongs to Me

because you are gerim vetoshavim  with Me

and in all land that is achuzatkhem

you must give redemption to the land.

The statement that “you are gerim vetoshavim with Me” can plausibly be read as  consequence of the preceding clause – since the land belongs to Hashem, we Jews are only resident aliens in His territory, and therefore cannot sell the land permanently.

However, the principle that the Presence goes into exile with the Jewish people allows the interpretation that we and He are resident aliens together.  This may be first asserted by R, Menachem Recanati (1250-1310).  The problem with this interpretation is that it seems completely irrelevant to the literary context.

The Baal HaTurim (1269-1346), however, argues that it derives directly from the immediate context.  He reads across the verse break – “you are gerim vetoshavim with Me and in all land”.  Reading across verse breaks in a sense relieves one from the burden of overall context, as it is looking for embedded code rather than primary meaning.  R. Recanati as well describes his reading as following the method of remez.

But what if one does take the context seriously?  Baal haTurim actually quotes one more word of the verse – “you are gerim vetoshavim with Me and in all land that is achuzatkhem”.  Perhaps this was accidental, but R. Tzakok Hakohen of Lublin assumes otherwise.  How, he asks, can Baal HaTuirm use achuzatkhem to refer to exile, when it generally means “hereditary land”, i.e. Israel?  Furthermore, how can Hashem be a resident alien anywhere when the verse has just said that all land is His?

R. Tzadok responds that achuztkhem here does not mean the land that you have a hold on – rather, it means the land that has a hold on you.  This, he argues, refers to exile, which always in some way lays hold of the Jewish people.  We cannot be anywhere without developing a genuine relationship with our surroundings.

And Hashem is with us as we do this.  Why?  Well, in the Messianic era the entire world will be considered Israel, he argues – after all, all the land is really His.  So any land that is exile for the Jews is by definition in exile itself.    The purpose of our going into exile is to bring G-d to that land, and bring that land to G-d.  In other words –

because you are gerim vetoshavim with Me (in Israel) and all land that lays hold of you –  

you must give redemption to the land (that lays hold of you).

A section that apparently deals with Laws that Apply Only in the Land of Israel thus ends up being about the purpose of exile and the ultimate extinction of the distinction between Israel and other lands.

Now one can argue that this is so fantastic that it undermines our initial validation of the method – perhaps here it is not legitimate to read “with Me” as referring to the Divine Presence accompanying us in Exile, and so all subsequent deductions are invalid.  I have always been fond, however, of a third truth criterion – “coolness” – and by that standard perhaps R. Tzadok’s reading passes with flying colors, and we can only look forward to what yet more imaginative methods it will ultimately legitimate, and what truths they will generate.


Shabbat shalom


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