Continuous Covenant

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We are in the middle of Moshe’s final talk and teachings to Bnei Yisroel before his death, forty years after leading Bnei Yisroel out of Egypt. There is a sense of urgency in Moshe’s message as he emphasizes his message by interspersing his words with the phrase, “Hayom/this day.” While Rashi’s explanation is beautiful and logical for every mitzvah Moshe here tells Bnei Yisroel, that each time you perform the mitzvah it should be as fresh and exciting to you as it did the first time, this explanation does not quite fit the total context of the following verse: “Moshe and the Kohanim, the Levites, spoke to all of Israel, saying, ‘Be attentive and hear O Israel. Hayom hazeh/This day you became a people to Hashem your God...”

Didn’t Bnei Yisroel become a nation, one people, when they camped at Sinai and accepted the Torah? What makes this experience thirty nine years later different? Why does Moshe here validate that today you became a people to Hashem?

Rashi elaborates on this question. True, Hashem had given the Torah to all of Bnei Yisroel at Sinai, but the transmission and teaching of the Torah afterward was mostly to the Kohanim and Leviim who would be tasked with teaching the laws to the rest of the people, write Letitcha Elyon citing the Netziv. Here the people came and demanded that they too want a share in toiling in Torah along with the Kohanim and Leviim. In other words, adds Letitcha Elyon, on this day we now claimed the Torah as our own, solidifying our place as part of the nation dedicated to Hakodosh Boruch Hu and His word. We wanted not only to learn, but also to teach, to observe and to do. We wanted to toil in Torah, that the Torah should define our essence.

True, Bnei Yisroel were “born” when Hashem took us out of Egypt, but this day we were reborn as the chosen, exalted nation, writes the Sifsei Chaim, citing the Sefas Emes. Hashem saw potential in us and gave us the Torah. But it is only through struggle and toil that one can realize one’s inherent potential. It took forty years of struggle and growth, of overcoming challenges, to make the Torah our own and realize our innate potential identified as Torah Jews by claiming Torah as our own.

Extrapolating from this idea, Rebbetzin Smiles notes that approaching Rosh Hashanah also requires preparation. One cannot enter Rosh Hashanah and expect to immediately have the sense of awe these days require, with the deep commitment to return to Hashem, with full remorse over our transgressions. This requires the preparation of the full month of Elul at the very least. When you’ve been through the struggle, you are worthy on this day to become a people to Hashem your God, just as  Bnei Yisroel were on that day.

Hashem is here reestablishing His covenant with Bnei Yisroel. Although He had already established a covenant with us at Sinai, we abrogated that covenant when we formed the golden calf and accepted it as our Elohim/god. Here Hashem presents consequences through the curses that follow should we fall away from this covenant again, writes Rabbi Rebibo in Minchat Michoel.

This covenant on the plains of Moav was different from the earlier covenant at Sinai. At Sinai, writes Rabbi Munk z”l, each of us took responsibility for our own individual actions. Here, we took responsibility for each other, collectively, as a nation, and each day is a renewed responsibility for the other and for his needs adds Rabbi Weinberger z”l in Shemen Hatov.

Indeed, that responsibility must be taken on each day anew. This point is reinforced by the knowledge that the first Man, Adam, was created as a single individual. Why? So that we can internalize the idea that each individual is important, that each individual embodies a complete world. As our Sages say, “He who saves one person, it is as if he saved an entire world.”

If this applies to saving a person physically, how much more so does it apply to saving a person spiritually, writes Halekach Vehalebuv. After all, the adage refers to saving a nefesh/soul, spirit, not to saving a physical life. On that score, how much can we accomplish by inspiring another Jew, by giving new life to his soul? As the serpent brought death to the world, so do we have the ability to bring life to the world. When I bring another Jew back to spirituality, I am bringing him back to life. After all, our hearts are on our left side rather than on the generally more important right side because as important as the heart is for the individual, it is even more important to be sensitive to the needs of the of the person facing us. Our mission as the nation of God is to make Hashem beloved to others as our forefather Avraham did with the souls he “made” in Charan.

As we have noted, as we perform each mitzvah, it should be as new, fresh and exciting as the first time we did it. But how does that translate to keeping the covenant fresh, asks Chochmat Hamatzpun? In truth, every time we do a mitzvah, we are creating and reinforcing our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, our covenant with Hashem. But that covenant is not for me alone, but for the continuation of the Jewish people, of the Nation. I must keep the mitzvoth fresh and exciting so that my children, the next generation will want to continue on that path. Even a small deviation can have devastating effects on future generations.

To validate this point, Chochmat Hamatzpun cites what our sages say, that pesel Michah/Micha’s idol crossed the Red Sea with Bnei Yisroel. How, when that idol was only created generations later? Although the physical manifestation of the idol was only formed generations later, explains Chochmat Hamatzpun, the idea was already hidden within Bnei Yisroel as they crossed the Red Sea, only to become actualized so many years later. That is how a negative idea we may harbor can be planted and grow in our children and in future generations. Our responsibility is to pass the torch and remain one nation.

This is the day we became a nation, says Moshe Rabbenu. Is this only on the day Moshe died, as he transmits this message, asks Rabbi Goldstein in Shaarei Chaim? No, it is a covenant that must be recreated each day, for, as our blessing states, Hashem is notain HaTorah/giving the Torah, in the present.

Rav Asher Weiss relates that the Piasetzna Rebbe hy”d lamented the fact that since he was born a Jew, he could not show his love of and commitment to Hashem and to Torah and mitzvoth by converting to Judaism. For someone to choose Judaism by conversion, he must show a commitment to every detail of Torah. But, continues Rabbi Weiss, we do indeed have the symbolic ability to convert each day by rededicating ourselves each day to His covenant with us.

Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi provides additional insight into this concept. Rabbi Ezrachi cites the Gemarrah in Berachot that says that if someone forgot to say Shema today, it’s as if he never recited Shema. This does not mean that he doesn’t get rewarded for having recited Shema on all previous days, explains the Birkat Mordechai; rather it means that if you haven’t said Shema today, you have created a void in the day that can never be filled. For this day, you are less under of influence of Hashem, you have lessened your commitment to the yoke of Heaven. We are part of the Jewish people. We were here yesterday. But woe to us if we rely only on yesterday and don’t recommit on a daily basis. We cannot rely solely on our commitment to the covenant at Sinai.  Every day we must recommit to serving Hashem. Just as Hashem renews creation every day and renews the world each Shabbat, so must we renew our commitment to Him each day.

Why is the concept of renewal so important to us? Letitcha Elyon cites Rabbi Shimon Shkop z”l in explaining that Hashem created mankind with a constant desire for newness. That’s why societies create new ideologies and new “isms” all the time, nationalism, socialism, etc. Our task is to take this inborn desire for newness and use it to transfer it inward and constantly create a new spirit and love for Juda-ism.

 Rabbi Shraga Grosbard develops this idea further. While we are naturally wired to desire newness, we are equally wired to perceive newness in all our physical requirements. For example, just because we have eaten earlier in the day, we still desire food again, and food, even if it’s the same food we’ve eaten before, gratifies us. So too with sleep. We crave sleep each day, and it rejuvenates us. This craving for the necessities of life that maintains its newness should extend to the necessities of our spiritual life as well. Our eyes are capable of seeing the spiritual, and our ears to hearing words that are spiritually arousing. We should not dull the newness of Torah through cynicism and negativity.

If a person would taste the sweetness of Torah, writes Tiv Hatorah, he would not stop chasing it, for all good is contained therein. When we have contaminated our spiritual taste buds and put sores in our mouth, writes Rav Shteinman z”l, we no longer taste the sweetness of Torah. In our thirst for Torah, we should be like fish who, although surrounded by water, come to the surface whenever there is rain and try to capture new water droplets.

Hayom/This day” is used pointedly in two other contexts in the Torah, writes the Netivot Shalom. One is used three times in reference to the manna that will not fall Hayom, on Shabbat. The other is in reference to Rosh Hashanah when we yearly stand before Hashem as we were standing before him now with Moshe warning us of the curses that would befall us if we stray from the path of Torah. Just as Hashem recreates the world each Shabbos and each Rosh Hashanah, so do we have the opportunity to recommit to our covenant with Hashem. But this commitment is not limited to these days only. We must recommit to this covenant on a daily basis, and reinforce it every Shabbat and every Rosh Hashanah. Hashem keeps the covenant with us; it is our responsibility to keep the covenant with Him on a daily basis, both individually and as a national unit.