The Second Berith

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Eli Shaubi

Throughout Sefer Devarim, Moshe delivers a long speech in which he continues to teach the Nation of Israel all of the commandments, in addition to preparing them to enter the Land of Israel. In the beginning of Perashath Ki Tavo, that speech finally comes to an end, culminating with a number of commandments relating to crops in the Land of Israel.

After finishing his teaching regarding the final commandment within the covenant (ma’aser sheni), he concludes his speech with the following summary (Devarim 26:16-19):

טז הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, יי אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה–וְאֶת-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ וְעָשִׂיתָ אוֹתָם, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
יז אֶת-יי הֶאֱמַרְתָּ, הַיּוֹם:  לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵא-לֹהִים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וְלִשְׁמֹר חֻקָּיו וּמִצְו‍ֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו–וְלִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ.
יח וַיי הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ; וְלִשְׁמֹר, כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו.
יט וּלְתִתְּךָ עֶלְיוֹן, עַל כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, לִתְהִלָּה, וּלְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאָרֶת; וְלִהְיֹתְךָ עַם-קָדֹשׁ לַיי אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר.

 Followed by a long list of rewards and punishments that the Nation will receive for abiding by or breaching the covenant, Moshe returns to the theme of the last pesuqim (Devarim 28:69):

סט אֵלֶּה דִבְרֵי הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יי אֶת-מֹשֶׁה, לִכְרֹת אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב:  מִלְּבַד הַבְּרִית, אֲשֶׁר-כָּרַת אִתָּם בְּחֹרֵב.

Two things stand out to me in Moshe’s concluding remarks:

  1. The repetition of היום הזה.
  2. The emphasis on the second berith besides the one made on Har Sinai.

The initial berith between God and Israel was established at Har Sinai (Shemoth 24). This berith serves as the basis for the entirety of the Tora. It was our decision as a Nation to enter into a binding agreement with God to follow His Law, and receive the Tora from Him. What makes that berith different from this berith?

The first berith can be understood as the commitment to enter into a special contractual agreement with God, the details of which were to be revealed later. It took forty years to reveal the entirety of the Tora, and some of the commandments even evolved during this forty year time period. The Theophany at Sinai, with God speaking to the entire Nation of Israel, was the catalyst for this covenant. It verified the prophecy of Moshe beyond any doubt, as we heard God speak with him with our own ears. Moreover, it inculcated within the Nation of Israel an intuitive understanding of God gained only via direct experience. With this experience, we were ready to commit to the contract that is the Tora, even without receiving yet all of its details.

The second berith in the desert of Mo’av was the sealing of this deal with all of the commandments and their intricacies. At Har Sinai, God promises us that we will be an עם סגולה and a holy nation if we follow His covenant.

ה וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי–וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
ו וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ:  אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

That happens, however, only *today* at Mo’av. At this point, we now have the Law that makes us a holy nation, if only we abide by it. Upon completing the berith, no more commandments were to be revealed. The two exceptions — Haqhel and Writing a Sefer Tora, both of which appear in Perashath Vayelekh, after the closing of the covenant — are recreations of the two berith events, summarizing the whole Tora. Haqhel recreates the experience at Sinai, and the Sefer Tora includes the entirety of the Law as signed with the completion of the second berith.

It was *on this day* that we received the Law. It is at this point, that we and God signed our final agreement, and put it to ink, putting all our scrolls together and forming the written Sefer Tora that we have to this day.

Each of these covenants symbolizes a unique aspect in our unique relationship with God, the personal and the national. A nation is governed by laws, and we are blessed to have a divine gift, which is the Tora, purely out of God’s חסד. However, a nation is made up of individuals who must each fulfill their commitment on a personal level. This gives the unique blend of a Tora which makes us a nation, by virtue of having a common Law, and allows us to develop individually in our service of God.

May we continue to praise and thank God for the amazing Tora which he has bestowed upon us, and celebrate it all of our days!

Eli Shaubi (SBM 2012) just completed his military service as a commander in the IDF, and will be beginning his MA in Arabic Language and Literature at Hebrew University this coming fall.
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