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Covenants, Community, and Coequality

09/05/2021 10:21:16 AM


          This weekend, I was blessed to officiate over a Baby Naming. Like many Reform baby namings, it happened a bit later than the 8th day. This year especially, with every gather so uncertain and anything that requires planning feeling so daunting, it has not been uncommon to wait several months to host such a ceremony. And so, it was with so much joy and relief that we gathered this weekend, even among rising concerns of the Delta variant and the possibility of returning to online services after High Holy Days, to finally officially welcome this baby into the Jewish community with a Hebrew name among her vaccinated family and their closest friends.

          In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Nitzavim, Moses announces to the People of Israel that the Torah he has handed off to them, that was given to them by HaShem, is for everyone. Through that Torah the covenant is established between God and the Jewish people: all the Israelites and all the mixed multitudes who received the revelation at Mt. Sinai, all those standing before Moses on the day he is giving this address and all those not standing before him on that day.

          Seemingly all of the Meforshim agree that the line, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deuteronomy 29:13-14) applies not simply to those who skipped out on the meeting - indeed, Rashi specifies, we already know no one skipped out on the meeting because it says “You are standing this day all of you before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 29:9). Rather, Rashi, Sforno, and Ibn Ezra all agree that “those who are not with us here this day” refers to the generations to come.

          I have long believed that this parasha comes to teach that the covenant is for everyone who accepts it. I love the lines toward the end of the parasha that inform us the Torah is not too lofty for any one of us to grasp. It is not in the heavens or beyond the sea. We don’t need anyone else since Moses to hand it to us. He has given it to the Jewish people in perpetuity and now it is ours, all of ours, forever. It connects us and unites us as Jews, and it offers us a firm foundation when all else feels unsettled.

          This year has been a long and difficult one that has certainly strengthened our understanding of the need for community. Although these pandemic baby-namings are happening later than some might otherwise plan for a newborn, they are happening at the right time for these families. Whenever it happens that we welcome a child into the covenant (and similarly, for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah affirming their commitment to the covenant or a ger or giyoret choosing the covenant), it is the right time and this Torah is as much theirs as any of ours. The moment someone comes to understand that our Torah is their Torah, as that new baby will hopefully grow into knowing as she is raised in our Jewish community, they spiritually become among those standing before Moses in this Torah portion, those he acknowledges though they weren’t able to physically be present that day.

          May all who enter into the covenant rest assured in the knowledge that they are safe in the love of family and community, and may Judaism and this covenant always be here to offer grounding and support on our journeys through life.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782