In emphasizing once again the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, Moshe addresses his words to the entire nation. All classes of society are included in the covenant – the heads of the people, the judges, the wealthy and powerful, the poor, menial and manual laborers, and those that chop the wood and draw the water. No one is excluded from the terms of the covenant and no one is allowed the luxury of assuring one’s self that Jewish destiny will not apply to him or her.
Judaism does not have two sets of rules, one for the elite and the other for the masses. It is an equal opportunity faith. Its leaders, be they temporal or spiritual, are bound to the same code of behavior. There may be exceptional people in every generation but there are no exceptions to the efficacy of the covenant on all of Israel.
Unlike other faiths that have different rules and mores for their clergy than they do for the lay population, Judaism does not even recognize the existence of a clergy class. There is no separate Shulchan Aruch for rabbis. The covenant binds and governs us all equally.
We see throughout Tanach that kings and prophets were held to the same standards and requirements of the covenant that apply to the ordinary citizen as well. The power of the covenant is all encompassing and embraces all generations – those that have gone before us, those that are currently present and those that will yet come after us. This is the key to understanding the Jewish story from the time of Moshe until today.
The Torah recognizes the nature of human beings. It knows that we all procrastinate and make rational excuses for our shortcomings. Therefore, the concept of the covenant is a necessary facet of all human existence and especially so for the Jewish people.
The covenant of the rainbow exists to remind us of the wonders of the natural world in which we are temporary guests. The covenant of history, of which the Jewish people is the primary example in the human story reminds us of the Creator’s involvement in human affairs, unseen but omnipresent.
The covenant is the great net which encloses us all, even those who somehow have convinced themselves that they swim freely in the waters of life. The binding, and many times, tragic effects of the covenant are part of the Torah readings of this week’s parsha and that of last week as well. The events that befell the Jewish people over the last century amply show that the dread engendered by the force of the covenant is justified and real. But the covenant has an optimistic and hopeful side to it, in its promise of redemption and restitution to greatness and tranquility.
We are a covenantal people. And though we each possess freedom of will, the terms of the covenant control our national destiny and our personal lives as well.
Shabbat shalom and Shana tova,
Rabbi Berel Wein