Renewing the Vows - כי תבוא

Friday, 16 September, 2022 - 1:43 pm


Renewing the Vows 


In a healthy relationship, there is a time for each party to take the initiative.


Indeed, the Song of Songs, the Biblical romantic poem which is a metaphor for the love between G-d and the Jewish people, contains two very similar verses: in chapter 6, we read: “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me, who grazes among the roses.”, whereas in chapter 2 we read the reverse order: “My beloved is to me, and I am to him, who grazes among the roses.” The commentators explain that both patterns are true. During the season of Passover, we experience “My beloved (G-d) is to me (the Jewish people)”. Passover was the time when G-d initiated. Like a knight in shining armor, G-d led us out of Egypt. Our commitment to Him was a response to His initial expression of love for us. 


By contrast, the High Holidays season is expressed in the verse “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me”, when the Jewish people are called upon to take the first step and return to G-d. 


As the Jewish people prepared to enter the land of Israel, the nature of their relationship was about to shift. Until that point, G-d took the initiative in redeeming the Jewish people  from Egypt and leading them through the desert while providing for all their needs. From the time they crossed the Jordan, they would be called upon to take the initiative, to work the land, and build a morally just society. 


This explains why, in this week’s portion, as they were about to cross the Jordan, Moses commanded them to reestablish the covenant with G-d as soon as they would enter the land. At Sinai, G-d wrote the text of the tablets, in the second covenant, it was the people who were commanded to write the Torah: 


And it will be, on the day that you cross the Jordan to the land the Lord, your God, is giving you, that you shall set up for yourself huge stones, and plaster them with lime. When you cross, you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah. (27:2-3)


When at Sinai, the Jewish people passively heard the voice of G-d speaking the ten commandments, in Israel, at the renewal of the covenant, it was the Levites who spoke the words of the Torah: “The Levites shall speak up, saying to every individual of Israel, in a loud voice”. At Sinai G-d inspired the Jewish people, whereas in Israel the Jewish people were called upon to self-generate inspiration; only then would G-d reciprocate.   


In our Parsha, as an introduction to renewing the covenant, Moses expressed the pattern of “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me,” where the people initiate the relationship. First, the verse states, “you have selected the Lord”, and only then “the Lord has selected you”:


You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him.

And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments. (Deuteronomy 26:17-18)



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