Punishments, Land, And People
Even during their long exile from the land of Israel, the Jewish people will retain their covenant with God, despite the punishments God exacts against the land.
Clearly, this could not have been the original state of the land; this must have been the result of Divine intervention, punishment for the sins of the people of Israel.
In verses 23-27, the nations will ask, why did the land suffer for the sins of the people, and why was it so severely treated? The generation will counter that, while it is true that their forebears "forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their fathers," He had "made (it) with them when He took them out of the land of Egypt," long before their connection to the land. The future generation will share the stranger's amazement that the land is made to bear the punishment of the people. At first, Hashem turned His wrath against the land, and then, after exiling the people, He increased His punishments.
The Importance of God
However, despite all this, the people will retain their importance to Hashem. They will not have been absorbed into their exile. Although the exile will have occurred many generations before, they will appear "as at this day," as if the exile had just transpired.
Still, says Moses, there will be no answer to the essential question: Why will the land have endured these afflictions? Therefore, Moses provides this answer in advance, which the future generation will say to the nations: The full understanding of the exile will remain unrevealed, known only by Hashem.
Revelation & Exile
On the other hand, "the revealed matters"--namely, the Torah and the commandments--remain, even in exile, "for us and for our children forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah" to preserve us. Finally, when we will repent, the land will be healed of its afflictions. The land will not respond to anyone else, and will wait, like a woman whose beloved husband has traveled far away, for our return.
Malbim explains that this passage is a crucial postscript to the previous chapter of admonishments. The people might have thought that, once those horrendous and terrifying punishments will have been executed in full measure, the covenant with Hashem would have come to an end. On the contrary, Moses teaches, Providence will make the land absorb the brunt of Hashem's wrath, while the people will retain their distinctiveness in exile, so the covenant will still be in effect.
If while in Galut (exile) the Jewish people repent and are faithful to the Torah then Hashem will remain with them in exile. They will yearn to return to the land, where all the commandments can be fulfilled. They will then be able to return to the land, and to Him, in love.
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