My New Marriage
This week’s Torah reading has us near the end of Moshe’s epic speech he delivers to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land without him. He gathers them all together – every last one of them from all stratas of society: “You are all standing here today before the Lord, your God. (From) your leaders, your elders and officials… (right down) to the woodcutter” which was the equivalent of a supermarket bag boy. Every person had to be present for what Moshe wanted to convey to them.
Moshe needed to bring them into a brand new Brit, covenant with God. We don’t use the word covenant too much in our daily language. But it suggests something beyond a simple agreement and is more akin to a pact or pledge between two parties. The question that arises is what kind of agreement was Moshe now creating for the Jewish nation? Didn’t they already make a covenant with God at Sinai to be his Chosen People, to abide by His Torah and Mitzvot when they said “We shall do and we shall listen” 40 years earlier? What new is added at this late stage of the game? Put another way, if I said, “I do” at the marriage alter, then why the need for another commitment?
As the Artscroll Stone edition Chumash (page 1086) succinctly puts it: What was new about this covenant was the concept of ערבות “arevut”, taking responsibility for one another, whereby every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah. Here, Moshe added a new wrinkle to the purpose and everyday life of the Jewish people.
Up until now, when they travelled in the desert for the past 40 years, the state of the Israelites was likened to a new-born baby or small child. Everything was taken care of for them by their loving parent and they didn’t have to worry about a thing. They were provided with food, drink and protection from the elements by the clouds of glory that accompanied them. They didn’t have the normal demands and tensions of everyday life in earning a living, creating a home, community and society.
But that was all about to change, for once they began life in Israel, they would no longer have the cushy and easy existence they were used to in the desert but would now have to take more initiative for themselves. As such, there had to be a reassessment of what was and a pivot to what will be. Now their life would be more normal, natural and more complicated, and they needed to look out for one another. Up until now, they didn’t need to because God was doing it for them. But that was coming to an end and they had to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and, just as importantly, take responsibility for one another.
The fact that Moshe introduces this new layer of the previous covenant teaches a crucial lesson about all relationships. And that is that a relationship, a marriage, a union is never static but evolves and changes. What we committed to in the past no longer suffices for the new demands of today. In a marriage, we not only need to regularly monitor it to make sure that it is healthy and viable (I have written about that previously, The Biggest Mistake Couples Make) but we also have to reassess it once new situations arise. A marriage in its initial years without kids, tuitions, mortgage payments and all those things that tax your time and energy is a different animal than one with them. And a relationship in the 25th year, while it has some basic components that are the same, is vastly different than one in its fifth year.
The same holds true with children. My relationship with my son or daughter when s/he is eight years old is a lot different when s/he is 28 years old. The demands, the interactions and the dynamic between children and parents and among the kids themselves when they are young, just having a good time playing together, is certainly different than when they are adults and have their own lives, jobs and families to manage.
Moshe wasn’t abrogating the covenant made 40 years previously but adding to it. New situations call for new behaviors and Moshe had the foresight to see this and the flexibility to enact it. All those wonderful pieces of Torah wisdom and lovely Mitzvot would amount to nothing if the Jewish people didn’t make a strong commitment to each other with this new brit/covenant. This was the new amendment that was added to the previous covenant.
Similarly we need to be mindful of new scenarios and circumstances that take place in the normal course of life and change, tinker, add or subtract to our ongoing relationships as deemed necessary. And this is the perfect time of year to do that since Rosh HaShanah, by its very nature, is a time of reassessment. It is the time of year when God judges us and we judge ourselves. It is a perfect time where we need to stop, focus and see what new elements we need to add to our lives and to our personal covenants, commitments and relationships.
A New Year is around the corner – it’s time for a New You. Shannah Tovah!
Everyone I’ve ever known has wished me well
Anyway that’s how it seems, it’s hard to tell
Maybe people only ask you how you’re doing
‘Cause that’s easier than letting on how little they could care
But when you know that you’ve got a real friend somewhere
Suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear