"Standing Together" - D'var Torah for Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-14) - September 19, 2014
What does it mean to
For the Israelites,
poised to enter the Promised land,
the nature of their
unity was clear.
The beginning of this
week's Parashah depicts the scene that included all of the people
who were gathered as a community to declare their acceptance of a special
relationship with God:
"You stand this day
All of you
Before the Eternal your
You tribal heads, you
elders, you officials,
You men, women and
The stranger who is with
you in your camp
From your woodchopper to
your water drawer
To enter into the
covenant of the Eternal your God."
Everyone had a common
sense of purpose: to reaffirm the original experience at Mount Sinai , when
they perceived that God, who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, was
offering them rules that would
guide them in their lives.
This section proclaims that
even members of future generations who hadn't yet been born would be a part of
this timeless relationship.
And today, all branches of Judaism speak of the B’RIT, the covenant,
each in their own way, but with a sense of the biblical foundation that
encompasses all Jews today and in the past.
This past Wednesday marked
the 227th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. There is no description in
the annals of our nation’s history of a scene where "all the people"
were standing together to accept this newly created document that would direct
our national life, outlining rights and responsibilities for America's
citizens. What we do have is the written Constitution
itself with signatures of those who met to craft its contents. The Constitution's signers
included some of most prominent members of the founding generation of leaders
of the United States. We know more
and more about how some of them vehemently disagreed with one another on certain
issues. We also know that
they deeply cared about their respective visions for our country as a land of
freedom. And now, one would hope
that the symbols, customs and practices of our nation, including the run-up to
national elections, continue to affirm that we do still stand for the value of
E PLURIBUS UNUM – “out of many, One.”
Some Americans have suggested that our understanding
of the constitution should reflect what they call "the intent of the
framers" and nothing more.
That assertion echoes passages in the Torah which declared, "You
shall not add anything to this law, nor shall you take anything away from
it." Even with that statement
in the Torah, rabbinic Judaism and contemporary Jewish movements developed
their own understanding of Jewish law, arriving at new interpretations and
adding practices not contained in the original Torah text. The call of sages
like Rabbi Akiva, who reportedly suggested that the rabbis "go out and see
what the people are doing," recognized how a body of law could gradually
and organically grow. In
Judaism, the "intent of the framers" may be claimed by one group or
another, but most Jewish movements believe that even the rabbis of old wanted
future generations to make Jewish law their own. The term used in relation to interpreting the American
constitution, "loose constructionism," would apply in a Jewish
context not only to Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, but to some
modern Orthodox rabbis as well.
scholars, judges and many Americans continue to discuss how we can enable the document signed
on September 17, 1787 to grow as our nation continues to move forward with
changing demographics and newly-developing economic and geo-political realities. When it comes right down to it, we need
to stand together as citizens of the United States in the way that the
Israelites stood together so long ago.
We are part of a covenant of community in this country, reflected in the
prayer for our country that we recite in our worship. So may we find new ways of taking a vision of unity in the
Torah and sharing it with our fellow citizens so that a vision of America will
be one that reflects equality, inclusiveness, wisdom, justice and hope.