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Standing Together in Covenant

This week’s double Torah portion opens with the words “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 29:9). A covenantal moment is too important to be trusted only into the hands of just the leaders, officials, priests—or board members and paid professionals. Everyone, from the chieftains to “the woodcutters and water carriers,” even “strangers” (non-Israelites dwelling among the Israelites) must be there to witness and affirm it. The wording suggests not an event that happened once, but an ongoing or reoccurring phenomenon. This sense of timelessness is also alluded to in the blessing before the Torah reading when we recognize God “that has given (natan) us Torah….” and then again “…that gives (notain) Torah”.

Traditionally, this teaches that the timeless nature of the covenantal moment includes all who come to stand at Sinai, in every generation—with standing at Sinai meaning embracing Torah and a place among the Jewish people. The Zohar understands this timeless sense of standing at Sinai as an ongoing celebration of the unity the people experienced at that historical moment in time. The sense of solidarity was so powerful that it empowered the people to see and understand more of the divine mystery than even Ezekiel perceived in his vision! Furthermore, the Zohar continues, “this day” is none other than Rosh Hashanah!

We are fast approaching the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It is one of the few days when much of the Jewish world actually stands together, so to speak, and reconfirms its collective commitment to the ancient covenant. It is a powerful moment. Paradoxically, it is also the moment when the question of our unity and solidarity is most suspect. So many variations, so many expectations, so many different styles as well as souls packed into so many different disparate houses of worship. It must be clear to everyone that the notion of unity is either elusive or mythical.

This year let us, the souls who stand figuratively once again at Sinai, each search out the bonds and commitments which link us one to another, so that despite all of the profound difference that exist we can recapture a sense of wholeness, oneness, or as cleverly coded in the name of the season: at-one-ment.

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