The Covenant and the Land

Nitzavim Vayeilekh By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Sep 19, 2014 / 5774 | Israel

At the opening of Parashat Nitzavim, the Israelites stand rooted before Moses and God. A captive and diverse audience, they are recipients of a message that is both immediate and transcendent in nature. They are told, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here today before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deut. 29:13). In addition, the Israelites “enter into the covenant . . . to the end that God establishes . . . as God promised to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deut. 29:12). What is the precise nature of the covenant to which Moses and God refer? And what is the end or goal that God is establishing for this covenant?

Professor Ze’ev Falk writes,

The question is: what precisely was sworn to our ancestors? Does this refer to the covenant in general or to the selection of Israel as a nation and the God of Israel becoming their God? Accordingly, it seems to me that this must be understood with a verse that is parallel: “For I have taken you to me as a nation and I will be unto you God . . . and I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 6:7–8). In the context of our parashah, it refers to the same notion. The verse is simply presenting it in an abbreviated form but its intent is to allude to the oath given to the ancestors regarding the promise of the land. One also sees this in the continuation of the Torah’s narrative: “to settle upon the land that was sworn by God as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:20). See also in Jeremiah 11:4–5 and Ezekiel 36:28. (Divrei Torah Ad Tumam, 471)

Falk’s commentary underscores that the observance of the covenant ideally leads to the people dwelling in their homeland—the nation embraces God and God embraces the Jewish nation. Moreover, Falk’s well-crafted words prove quite timely. In a year of myriad diplomatic challenges for Israel, Professor Falk’s words apply to all of us—those of us standing here today as well future generations of Jews—and highlight that the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is not the invention of a 19th- or 20th-century nationalist movement. Our historical connection goes back four thousand years. It is rooted in the historic consciousness of the Jewish people. From the person of Abraham to the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt, to the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to Henrietta Szold, the dream of Israel is a tie that binds us together making us an eternal nation. And it represents a divine promise that has stood by our people throughout the ebb and flow of our collective history. May these words of Torah give us strength and hope in the challenging weeks ahead.

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