Friday, September 4, 2009

Ki Tavo- What Does Making a New Covenant Mean?

ט וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה וְהַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, אֶל כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 27:9 And Moses and the priests the Levites spoke unto all Israel, saying: 'Keep silence, and hear, O Israel; this day thou art become a people unto the LORD thy God.

In this week's parsha we see Moshe telling the Jewish people that they should follow in the ways of G-D and to listen to His words. If they do then they will be blessed and if they do not then they will be cursed. Not exactly a big chiddush (new idea) here. However, what does interest me in this parsha is this verse that I quoted at the top. The interesting aspect of this verse is that when Moshe is telling the Jewish people to keep the Torah and if they do they will be blessed and if they don't they will be cursed, he is not the only one talking. It says that Moshe and the Kohanim, (who are) levites told this to all of Israel. Why in the world does Moshe need "backup" to tell the Jewish people these curses and blessings? Also, why does the Torah single them out as Levites? What is so special about the Levites, specifically in regards to telling other people to follow G-D?

The Seforno tells us why it is that the Kohanim have to be mentioned here when it comes to teaching the nation about the curses and the blessings. It is because the Kohanim are supposed to be the teachers of the nation. This is why it is so important for them to be there along with Moshe teaching the Jewish people the Mitzvos and what one should or should not do. This was their purpose within Klal Yisroel (when not in the Bais hamikdash). They were given the all important responsibility of educating the nation in the mitzvos (commandments) and the reward and punishment for keeping or transgressing those mitzvos.

The reason why Moshe and the Kohanim had to be specified as Levites is a wild idea from the Meshach Chachma. Are you ready? He says that we learn in the Midrash Tanchuma and the Yalkut in parshas Netzavim that there were 3 covenants made between the Jewish people and G-D. One was when they left Egypt, one was at Mount Sinai and the third was right here with Moshe before the Jewish people entered the land. The reason that there was a third covenant, the one with Moshe in this week's parsha, was because the second covenant, the one at Mount Sinai, was battul (voided) because of the sin with the Golden Calf. Therefore, the Meshech Chachma thinks that this is the reason that Moshe and the Kohanim are specified as Levites, because Levites did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf. Since the Levites did not sin by the Golden Calf, they did not need to make a new covenant with G-D. This might also be why Kohanim (priests) are designated as the ones to teach all of the Jewish people the law, because they had a stronger covenant than the rest of the Jewish people, according to this Meshech Chachma. The Levites had the covenant of naaseh Venishma (we will do and then we will hear), but the covenant now was listen to what I say and then accept it.

The part that I find wild about in this Meshach Chachma is that he is willing to say there was a new covenant after Mount Sinai. I mean, I don't know what the repercussions should be, but to say that a sin, even if it was the Golden Calf, causes us to need a new covenant, well that is just scary. If the Jewish people are in Galus now and we have had two temples destroyed, doesn't that mean that we should have to have a new covenant now? What would be the difference between the sin of the Golden calf and all the Jews who have completely rejected G-D's existence?

I think the answer is as follows. Notice how the Meshech Chachma says there were three covenants. One was at the exodus from Egypt. In what way was this a covenant? Also, in Megilas Esther chazal tell us that there was a new covenant that was made between G-D and the Jewish people. What does this all point to when we talk about covenants? It seems like, to me, that these covenants are promises from G-D to the Jewish people that as long as the Jewish people follow the Torah and commandments then they will live in peace and prosperity. That is why after the Exodus the Jews were able to go receive the Torah. That was the first covenant between G-D and the Jews (the reason for this covenant was because of the previous covenant made with Avraham because of the 10 tests that he had passed). Then after the Jews received the Torah, the fulfillment of the first covenant, they were going straight to Israel, but they sinned with the Golden Calf and the Meraglim happened. Now, the Jewish people were stuck in the desert for forty years that acted as an atonement and right before we go into the land we get to make a new covenant which leads to Jewish prosperity in the Land of Israel. However, once there was rampant sinning the Jewish people were kicked out of the land. After several years of atonement the Jewish people made a new covenant with G-D and got to come back to Israel. Many years pass and then there was so much sinning going on again, the Jews were again kicked out of Israel. Still, we are in the stage of atonement. There have been many people who have speculated as to why we are still in exile and why the Moshiach (Messiah) has not come.

Personally,the way I see it, when the Jewish people either had learned their lesson or cried out to G-D that there would be no more Jews, only then was a new covenant made. By Egypt, the Torah says that G-D came to save them because He heard their cries for help. Also, chazal tell us that many Jews were assimilating into the Egyptian culture and had G-D not taken them out then, there would be no Jews left. Therefore, that was the proper time to make a new covenant with the Jews. By the sin of the golden calf, after forty years in the desert the Jews had done proper teshuva (repentance) and were now allowed to enter the land because they had overcome their previous sin. The same thing happened with the return of the exiles from after the destruction of the first temple, they had done proper repentance. However, our current situation was caused by Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred of one another. It seems like this sin has existed throughout the Jewish community ever since the destruction of the second temple. We, as a people, have not overcome this and we are not desperate enough yet to say that we can not survive in galus. Therefore, there is no reason why G-D should make a new covenant with us until either we are in dire need or we actually start to respect and love one another. Unfortunately, the later has not occurred, even though we have been in exile for thousands of years, and hopefully we will not need the Moshiach to come because of the former.

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