My Second Marriage
This week’s Torah reading has us near the end of Moshe’s epic speech he delivered to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land without him. He gathers them all together – every last one of them from every rank 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 these final words of their leader.
Moshe had an important job that he needed to do before he passed. And that was to bring them into a brand new Brit/covenant with God. We don’t use the word covenant too much these days in our daily language. But it suggests something beyond a simple agreement and is more akin to a pact or pledge between two parties. A marriage in fact.
The question that arises is what kind of covenant was Moshe now creating for the Jewish nation? Didn’t they already make one 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 element 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 marriage between God and Israel, to its purpose and to its destiny.
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 that arise from earning a living, creating a home, community and society.
But that was all about to change. Once they begin life in Canaan/Israel they would no longer have the cushy and easy lifestyle they were used to in the desert but will have to take more initiative for themselves. They are about to enter into a phase where their life would transition from the supernatural into the more normal and natural state of affairs.
Along with this, their lives are about to become more complicated as they now will have to look out for themselves as well as for one another. Up until now they didn’t need to because God was doing it all 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 each another. As such, there had to be a reassessment of what was and a pivot to what will be.
The fact that Moshe introduces this new layer to the previous covenant they already assumed at Sinai 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 (see my piece, The Biggest Mistake Couples Make) but we also have to reassess it once new situations arise. A marriage without kids, tuitions, mortgage payments and all those things that tax our time and energy is a different animal than those early years before all that. 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 and 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 lessons of Torah wisdom and lovely Mitzvot they contemplated in the desert would amount to nothing if the Jewish people didn’t make a strong commitment to each other with this new brit/covenant. Their lives were about to become more complicated and messy and hence they now had to start thinking about their neighbours and friends and taking responsibility for each other.
This process never stops. We always need to be mindful of new scenarios and circumstances that take place in the normal course of our lives. And we need to change, tinker, add or subtract to our ongoing relationships as deemed necessary. With Rosh HaShanah just a week away, 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 an ideal time for us to stop, focus and see what new things 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. A new you that builds upon the old you.
‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life
Trying to make ends meet
You’re a slave to money then you die
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down…
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now…
You know I can change, I can change
I can change, I can change