In what must have been an extremely emotional address, Moshe has to tell the people that he is about to leave them and they will no longer have his guidance as they continue on their journey to take possession of the Land of Israel.
He speaks, at one and the same time, as a leader, as a parent and as a prophet. As a leader he reminds us of everything that we’ve experienced, the miracles we witnessed and the covenant we entered with G-d. As a parent he tells us to take care, רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד – to look after ourselves, not just physically, but spiritually as well, not to forget what we have been taught. And as a prophet he foresees that the longer we live in the Land the greater the danger of corruption as our original enthusiasm, engendered by the awareness that we are G-d’s chosen people, will turn to complacency when we take our possession of the Promised Land for granted וַעֲשִׂיתֶם הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי־ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לְהַכְעִיסוֹ – and we will do what is evil in G-d’s eyes to anger Him.
Moshe warns us that the consequence of that is we will eventually be exiled from the Land, scattered amongst other nations and left few in number. But Moshe is not a prophet of doom because he also leaves us with an inspiring message of hope. וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ וּמָצָאתָ- from there you will seek G-d, your G-d, and you will find Him, כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ – for you will seek Him with all your heart and all your soul.
All is not lost. Despite being in exile, we will still be motivated to search for G-d and we will be able to find Him. As the Seforno explains: even though we will not have a Temple once we are exiled, nevertheless G-d will not be totally hidden from us.
And the reason why we will be able to find our way to G-d is that our conditions in exile will be so tough that we will turn to G-d sincerely with all our heart and all our soul.
Does that not sound counter-intuitive? Why would the harshness of exile prompt us to turn to G-d?
The Darashos HaRan explains that in days of tranquillity we do not discriminate things correctly because of the imagination implanted within us, which preys upon us and always places before our eyes this world and its desires. But when things are bitter for us, we cannot be enticed in this manner. As a result, we have a clear perception of the truth, and we seek G-d, not just to escape affliction, but with our whole heart and soul. For the intellect, in the absence of a deterrent, follows its natural inclination, and that inclination causes us to cleave to its object and confers upon us the joy of basking in the Divine radiance.
Similarly, the Ohr HaChaim explains that there are two paths of teshuvah – two ways back to G-d. One is motivated by pain, on account of the suffering inflicted on us by our enemies. The other way is when we are self-motivated to return because we recognise our obligations and subdue our inclinations. According to the Ohr HaChaim, this what Moshe is referring to here. Our hearts will inspire us to seek G-d and we will find Him even though we have not yet committed to a fully observant life, our return is sufficient. Why? Because we did it with all our heart and soul. We put everything we have into it.
That is why Chazal tell us: ‘G-d desires the heart” – our future may be in our hands but it certainly depends upon our hearts.