Vayelech: The lodestone of Jewish life

Moses predicts what will happen.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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Moshe (Moses)’s fixation with the covenant between God and Israel, so evident in the Torah readings of the past two weeks, continues apace this week. Only now there is a note of desperation in Moshe’s words and tone. He bluntly states that he knows that after his death the Jewish people will shirk the obligations of the covenant and fall prey to worshiping false gods and non-Jewish values.

No matter how strong his teachings have been and how stern his warnings about the consequences of violating the covenant, he sadly realizes that the Jewish people will not withstand the allure of pagan cultures and decadent societies.

Moshe is powerless to stop this process and he only tells them how it will play itself out. Eventually Israel will realize the error of its ways, repent and return to the obligations of the covenant and obey the rules set forth in that agreement between God and Israel.

It is almost as though the covenant can have no real validity unless it is breached and the consequences forecast for such a breach actually occur. Only then will Israel truly value the terms of the covenant and understand how significant that agreement is. Only when disasters strike and bad things happen do they truly appreciate the binding commitment between God and Israel, as represented and defined by the commandments and value system of the Torah.

Jewish societies may be more observant or less observant from time to time but any reading of Jewish history shows us that the covenant is always in force. And that is the sobering message that Moshe delivers to the Jewish people at the end of his life and leadership.

While the consequences of violating the covenant can be viewed in a negative light, and all of Jewish history tells of those negative aspects of violating the covenant, in its essence the covenant is the positive lodestone of Jewish life. It is the guarantor of our survival no matter what our shortcomings may have been or may be now. He promises us that the Lord will never forsake us.

We are the necessary partner in this historic endeavor but God, so to speak, is the ultimate facilitator of the covenant and purveyor of its consequences. And even though Moshe knows that the Jewish people will stray, he does not give up hope about their eventual fate and role in human history.

They will never completely forsake the Torah and its covenant and even if they are found wanting in their behavior, there will always be enough spirit left within them to resiliently cling to the covenant, no matter the difficulty. In the midst of all of the backsliding and assimilation that is afflicting the Jewish world today; there is a countercurrent of Jewishness.

Many who would have been alienated from observance are now seeking the threads of their heritage. I am certain that that is also part of the vision that Moshe saw and communicated to all later generations at the end of his life on earth.





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