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'You are standing today before G-d… so you may pass into the covenant with G-d.' (29: 9,11)
This section introduces a climax to the Book of Deuteronomy. Up until now, the fifth book of the Torah has recounted the Israelites' years in the wilderness, and emphasized the observances and duties as they are about to enter the Promised Land - reinforced with the details of the Divine Blessings for those who abide, and the Curses for those who flout.
Only afterwards comes the Covenant - that all Israelites are responsible for one another - emphasized in the words: 'In matters known, it is on us and our children to ensure that the words of the Torah are carried out - for ever' (29:28).
This is the second major national Covenant in the Torah. The first took place forty years previously - at Mount Sinai. The Israelites accepted on themselves to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Ex. 19:6) with the words 'All that G-d says we will do' (ibid. 19:8).
But one fundamental difference is at what stage the Covenant took place. At Mount Sinai, it was before the Ten Commandments, and the Receiving the Torah. On the threshold of the Land, however, it was not before, but after the Receiving of the 'Repeated' Torah (Mishneh Torah in Hebrew) - and right on the tail of the spine-chilling curses for those who persistently refuse to co-operate. Why did the Covenant take place right at the end and not before Moses' final address?
It may be because the first Covenant was on an idealist base, and the second was on a practical base. For the first Covenant was based on the love of G-d - after witnessing His Intervention on behalf of the suffering Israelites in Egypt and at the Red Sea. That acceptance of the Covenant through love led to coming even closer to G-d - at the actual Revelation at Mount Sinai. That was a spiritual high, but, as the Torah indeed relates, it did not last long. There was love, but no real fear - and forty days later, the Sin of the Golden Calf.
By contrast, the second Covenant took place after the 'Repeated' Torah - and specifically after the curses which (following the Midrash) caused the faces of the Israelites to 'turn green', and were to panic-strike King Josiah (Kings II 22:10-11) some six centuries later. The Covenant was set in fear, not love. In other words, co-operate - or else! Love by itself was - and is - something cerebral and ephemeral. Indeed, people do 'fall in love' but the mature know that unless it is backed with respect and working on the relationship, it will be precisely that - temporary, cerebral, and ephemeral. Respect and fear first, love later…
That suggests an insight in the succession of forthcoming Festivals. The emphasis of Rosh Hashanah is what is said after the Blowing of the Shofar in the Additional Service: 'Today the World was conceived, today all creatures stand before Judgment'. G-d is King - His decrees give everyone what they deserve - without mercy. Indeed, we hardly mention our shortcomings on that day so as not to turn His attention to them. That is the basis of Rosh Hashanah - fear and respect of G-d who on that day is emphasized as being King.
Contrary to popular opinion, the mood on Yom Kippur is somewhat gentler, as on that day we focus on our previous failings and on what we can do to make a better showing next time round. We are not viewed on the basis of strict justice, but according to how we wish to apply our potential for good in the future. Returning to G-d is the main message - fear, respect - yes: but also love: 'Forgive us, pardon us, find atonement for us: For we are Your People and You are Our G-d'. Fear, yes; respect; yes - but 'We are your people' - we belong to You - love as well.
By the time the festive season is completed, fear goes in background and love dominates the foreground. The seven days of Tabernacles are for everyone - Israelite and Gentile (c.f. Zach. 14 16-19). But the final day - the Eight Day of Assembly - is for the Israelites only. Communal sacrifices, as Rashi points out (to Num. 19: 35-36) are not for the humanity at large, but for the Israelites only. G-d is effectively saying to the Israelites - 'You - my special people - stay with me for one day longer'.
That is the message of the setting of the second Covenant in this week's Parasha. It is set in fear. For, as the succession of Festivals shows, fear sets the background for respect, and respect for the highest level of all - love…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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