Saturday, August 31, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

Today is the last Shabbat of 5773, and the Torah portion is the last of the double portions, Nitzavim and Vayelech (Deut. 29:9-31:30).  It begins with the words spoken by Moses, “You stand here, all of you, today, before Adonai your God.”  A few lines later, in verses 13-14, Moses says, “And not with you alone do I make this covenant, but with the one that stands here with us this day before the Eternal our God, and also with the one that is not here with us today”.  The great medieval commentator Rashi explores the meaning of “the one that is not here with us today”.  Obviously, he says, it cannot mean someone who just happened to be absent, since verse 9 clearly states that “all of you” were present.  Rashi and most other commentators believe that Moses is speaking to future generations, to all those who will come after, to us.  The covenant that our ancestors made with God is our heritage.  

But inherited things grow old and stale, and our covenant with God must not grow stale.  A thought from Midrash Sifre on Deuteronomy focuses on the word “today” in the first verse, “Take to heart these words that I charge you today—Hayom—Today—these words are not to be in your sight like some old ordinance, to which no one is paying attention any longer, but they are to be in your sight like a new ordinance toward which everyone is running.”  

Every generation lives in a world different from the generation before it.  We must renew and refresh the covenant with God to make it our own, not some relic from a distant past.  As we face the New Year, may we find strength and meaning in this covenant and may our lives be enriched by it.

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