By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
"Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael against the Midianites.'... Moshe spoke to the people, saying, '... to inflict Hashem's vengeance against Midian." (Bamidbar 31:1-3). Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 22:2, Tanchuma #3) point out that G-d sought the vengeance of Bnei Yisrael, while Moshe sought G-d's vengeance:
G-d said, "It is your cause, because Midian caused Me to inflict harm upon you." Moshe replied, "Master of the World, if we were uncircumcised, idolaters, or heretics, we would not be hated. The reason for our persecution is because of the Torah and mitzvot that you gave us. Therefore, the vengeance is yours."
Similarly, Rashi comments on the pasuk, "Let those who hate You flee from before You" (Bamidbar 10:35): These are the haters of the Jews, because anyone who hates the Jews hates the One who brought the world into existence, as it is says, "Those who hate You have raised their head." Who are they? [Those who] "Against Your people, they plot deviously." (Psalms 83:3-4)
The identification of the Jewish people with Hashem is not merely symbolic, but is quite deep. The prophet Yeshayahu says (43:12), "'You are My witnesses,' spoke G-d, 'and I am G-d.'" Our Rabbis explain, "If you are My witnesses, then I am G-d; if you are not My witnesses, then (figuratively speaking) I am not G-d." Hashem's desire is that He be revealed in the world, "G-d desired a dwelling place in the lower realms." This requires a nation that will accept upon itself this difficult task, and we, the Nation of Israel was created for this purpose, as it says, "This nation I created for Myself, that they might declare My praise." (Yeshayahu 43:21) To quote Rav Kook, zt"l, "The Jewish people clothe the aspect of G-d that is revealed in the world." A person will not appear in public unless he is dressed in his clothing; likewise Hashem does not appear in this world unadorned. We, the Jewish people, are the clothing that allow G-d to reveal Himself to our world.
The war that the nations fight against the Jewish people is actually directed at G-d. However, since they cannot fight Hashem directly, they shoot their arrows at us, His representatives in this world. "Why do nations gather, and regimes talk in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, against Hashem and against His anointed." (Tehillim 2:1-2) So too we can say regarding all of the Jewish victims who have fallen through the centuries, "For Your sake we are killed all the time." (ibid. 44:23)
Chazal vividly expressed this connection by way of analogy (Talmud Yerushalmi Ta'anit 2:6):
G-d joined his name with Israel. To what is this similar? To a king who had a small key to a palace. The king said, "If I leave the key as it is, then it will surely get lost. Rather, I will attach a chain to it, so that if it should get lost, the chain will still be on me." So too, G-d said, "If I leave the Jewish people alone, they will eventually be lost amongst the nations. Instead, I will attach My Name to them." What purpose will this serve? [As Yehoshua prayed (7:9),] "The Canaanite and all the inhabitants of the land will hear and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. What will You do for Your Great Name" which is joined with us?
The simple understanding is that Hashem joined His name with us in order to be close to us and thereby protect us. However, based on the analogy, the Maharal explains this passage with a more profound understanding. The palace, representing the world, has a small key. The key itself has little value, but only it capable of opening the palace -- only through its use can G-d enter and appear in this world. This is the basis for the shared destiny and the mutual dependence of Israel and G-d.
We, figuratively, carry G-d on our shoulders; if we fall, He (as it were) will fall with us. Then, as the Ramban writes, "the purpose of the creation of Man would be completely lost." Therefore, G-d bound His Name in ours -- YisraEl. As such, even when we are dispersed in exile, the Divine Presence is with us, and when we will be redeemed, G-d shall be redeemed as well. "Whom You have redeemed from Egypt, a nation and its G-d" (Shmuel II 7:23) ... The Jewish people said to Hashem, "You have redeemed Yourself." (Yalkut Shimoni 146) This is the message that Yehoshua conveyed when saying, "What will You do for Your Great Name" that You share with us? If our enemies destroy us, Your loss will be greater than ours, since if we are not here, You are not here! (Abuseulah supercommentary to Ramban Shemot 29:46)
"I shall return vengeance upon My enemies, and upon those that hate Me I shall bring retribution." (Devarim 32:41) -- "Because they did all the evil to us out of hate towards G-d!" (Ramban)