וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי אֲנִי
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם, מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם.
with the fate of the Jewish people.
If you answer yes, I’m Jewish, then we need you.
But such a simple question – “Are you Jewish?” – doesn’t always have such a simple answer.
What does it mean to be Jewish? In Parashat Va-eira, we are given an insight into a basic understanding. It is here that we first encounter a different kind of covenantal relationship with God.Sometimes we might ask the question what does a secular Israeli Jew have in common with a religious shul-going Jew In San Francisco? What does a non-observant Jew in Brooklyn have in common with a Haredi Jew in Bnei Brak? Do we really share anything in common?
I’d like to suggest that we do, and it is this exact Biblical notion of covenant.
There were previous covenants with Noah and Avraham, but this is a whole new level, and it’s actually quite simple.
“You will be my People and I will be your God.” because I took you out from under the burdens of Egypt.
So that’s it?
Well, only sort of.
According to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the key figures of 20th Century American Orthodox Judaism, that is only half the deal. As Soloveitchik explains in his landmark book Kol Dodi Dofek, or The Voice of My Beloved Hearkens, this covenant—“And I shall take you unto Me for a people, and I will be to you a God” – is an essential part of being Jewish. This he calls the ברית גורל (Brit Goral) or the covenant of fate.
But Rabbi Soloveitchik goes on to teach that the Holy One concluded not one, but two covenants with Israel.
The second covenant he calls ברית יעוד (Brit Ye’ud) or the Covenant of Destiny. It was given at Mount Sinai: “And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant … and he said: ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord made with you in agreement with all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7-8)
Accordingly, fate signifies our collective existence, plainly, everything that has happened to us, while destiny signifies our values, set of ethics, purpose, aspirations, and mission as a people.
This week when Israel hosted the World Holocaust Forum leading up to Monday’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, it may be easy for many of us to acknowledge that the Holocaust is the shared experience of trauma and suffering of the Jewish people. That is, of course, a critical component, and our memory is a formative element of our identity but that cannot be the only motivating factor for being Jewish.
These two covenants, the Rav explains, embody the essence of what it means to be Jewish:
As Reform Jews building a vibrant Jewish alternative in Israel, we teach that one cannot separate wholly the notion of Jewish Peoplehood, from religion. That fate without destiny is empty and incomplete, and destiny without fate is baseless. And as Reform Jews in North America, we know that to see our Jewishness purely through the lens of religion. While our religious existence is important, seeing Jewish life only through religious lenses fails to forge a connection to our collective existence as a people.
These words are easy to say and often they remain in the realm of the theoretical. However now, we have a unique opportunity to place our fate with the collective fate of the Jewish people and help determine our common destiny.
Participation in electing the Parliament of the Jewish People by voting in the World Zionist Congress elections allows us to affirm our commitment to both covenants; to say that we are an important part of our people, and we stand by and uphold our values.
It’s about saying to Israel that there are different ways of being Jewish and of being religious. It’s about evolving the conversation through covenantal language and firmly placing ours with the fate of the Jewish people in Israel and worldwide.
It’s about a moment in time that is fateful and can help shape the future of our people. That, you won’t want to miss. Please take three minutes and place your vote for the Reform Movement by voting for the ARZA / Reform Slate!
Our future depends on it.