Photo Credit: Drew Kaplan / Wiki Commons

Parshat Netzavim, the first of the two portions we read this week, is replete with the message of teshuvah (repentance).

In one place the Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him. The Torah continues, “the Lord your God will bring back your captivity” (Deuteronomy 30:3).


Interestingly, the term used here is not “veheishiv” which literally means God will “bring back” your captivity; rather, it is “veshav” which literally means that God “will return with” your captivity.

The message according to the Midrash is clear. When we are in captivity God is in exile with us (Rashi, Deuteronomy 30:3). God, says the Midrash, first appears to Moshe in a lowly burning bush (Exodus 3:2). Why? Because God felt the pain of the Jewish people in Egypt. As we were lowly, so did God feel that lowliness. God is one in our suffering, empathizing with our despair (Rashi, Exodus 3:2).

This idea yields two important messages. First, God is a God of love who cares deeply for His people. Second, if God cares about us it reaffirms our importance – the infinite value of all humanity.

This concept is found in the mourning process, one of the most profound expressions of pain. When leaving someone sitting shiva, we recite the formula of “HaMakom yenachem etchem — May God comfort you.” But suppose there is only one mourner? Should we use the word etchem (you, plural) rather than otcha or otach (you, singular).

Many rabbis insist that we still maintain the plural subject. According to this view, can it be suggested that even when one is mourning alone, one is not alone. God feels our loss to the extent that He is sitting shiva with us, hence etchem. (From this perspective, God is the comforter and the comforted. Hence we recite, May God comfort you –with the you including God.)

No wonder, then, that when we recite Kaddish we begin with “Yitgadel, veyitkadesh” which means “may God become great, and may God become holy.” With the death of a human being, with a family in bereavement, God, as it were, is not fully great and holy. Thus these true words are in the future tense. Indeed, the Kaddish may be interpreted as our words of comfort to God himself.

As we participate in the teshuvah process on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this idea teaches that God is one with us – caring, leading, and carrying us from step to step, higher and higher.

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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.