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Commitment, Covenants, and Civic Duties

09/25/2020 12:06:33 PM


           Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Ha’azinu, which means “Give ear” and records the final song of Moses as he calls down heaven and earth as witnesses to the Israelites final acceptance of the covenant before he dies and they enter the holy land.

            We stand now on a similar, though hopefully less dramatic, precipice. Much has happened in this year that highlighted and accelerated issues our country has long faced. We may soon see a transition of power like that of Moses to Joshua, but regardless of who is at the head of the nation, we are all responsible for ensuring justice for everyone, and promoting peace among our neighbors.

            At the beginning of the parasha, Moses starts by calling out, “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!” Rashi explains Moses’s thinking here: “Tomorrow I shall be dead. If the Israelites will once say, ‘We have never accepted the covenant’, who can come and refute them?” Therefore, he called heaven and earth as witnesses against them — witnesses that endure forever. The Israelites did have trouble keeping their faith and holding to the covenant but ultimately, we know that they accepted it for all eternity, because here we are today. We continue to read this Torah and relate our lives to our ancestors, and we continue to struggle to understand and uphold Jewish values as we understand them.

            So too, have we as Americans struggled to live up to our professed values of freedom and equality. But we must ask ourselves, do we as a nation still commit ourselves to our founding doctrines the way we as Jews still commit ourselves to Torah? As time passes and society evolves, we have needed to update our understandings of who is included when we say “all men are created equal” and how we apply that concept of equality, just as we've had to update our understandings of how we relate to the Divine in the post-Biblical eras. It hasn’t always been easy for laws or interpretation of The Law to keep up with the social morals of the moment. However, at our core, the keystone has been our belief that this is a place for freedom to flourish, for all people to be safe from persecution, for equality and democracy to reign, that as American Jews we take this to heart as we know what it is to flee from persecution and to be in search of safety, freedom, and equality.

            As we enter a new year as Jews and potentially a new era as Americans, let the heavens and the earth be as our witnesses again to call us to account for our neglect of our covenants. Let us continue onward bravely as did our ancestors and wrestle with the laws and world as we know them, so that we can truly embrace them. May we find ourselves in a healthier and fairer world in 5781. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, October 23 2020 5 Cheshvan 5781