Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Torah, a Contract, a Covenant of a Different Kind

In this week’s Torah portion,  Parshat Ekev, D’varim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-8:10, Moshe continues to remind Am Yisrael of the terms of the Covenant that they had entered with G-d at Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah.

Like any contract, written or oral that is entered into between the parties ,  the Mosaic Covenant specifies obligation, the mitzvot, as well as the rewards that result from fulfillment of all obligations and includes  the adverse results of violating its terms and how to deal with such consequences.

There are other Covenants that G-d has entered with Am Yisrael as as the Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant though, those are unconditional. This one is not only conditional, it is one that is not easy to follow. Yet, as we all know, Am Yisrael accepted it verbally and out-rightly when they said,  
   נעשה ונשמע“Naaseh Venishma.” (We shall do and listen).  It is one that is not easy to follow,
A law school professor might tell his students that the Mosaic Covenant is a “CONTRACT OF ADHESION”

A type of Contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

That law professor would also possibly ask his students about its validity.  After all, what choice did the people feel they had about accepting such a contract from an all-powerful G-d who had just freed them from slavery in Egypt?   Moreover, they were asked to accept this deal without having really studied it and without benefit of legal counsel to help them understand its implications. 

In retrospect, would they agree that it was a good deal?  Some, like those who erected he Golden Calf or Korach and his congregation, did not and proceeded to violate the contract’s provisions with disastrous effect.
Now, why have we written about this?  

This story teaches something unique about Judaism and Jewish culture and why Torah should have been studied and seen only in the original Hebrew language.
It, also, illustrates something vastly different between traditional Jewish interpretations of Torah and those of others who have adopted Jewish literature and interpreted it to fit their own theologies.

One example where translations of the Torah from Hebrew has erred, innocently or deliberately, is when one refers to the information that was written on the Two Tablets that Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai as “commandments.” What was inscribed on them is described in the Torah asדברות   (Diberot) literally meaning  “pronouncements,” NOT “commandments” as the translation reads. There is a different word in Hebrew for commandments, מצוות (Mitzvot).

Our Torah, literally “instruction” (not law), in Hebrew, describes what happened at Mount Sinai  as ‘giving’ the Torah as a ‘gift’ (giving and gift in Hebrew  are derived from the same root, נ,ת,נ), implying that the giver is benevolent and loving,  like a caring parent,  caring for the welfare and best interests of its children. Therefore, though it may still be a contract of adhesion, it is one provided in love and concern.  It’s the parent who tells his child “look both ways before crossing the street, because the consequences of not doing so could be horrible”, not to set up the child to be fearful and not to be mean to the child, but out of love and care.   That, too, is a ‘contract of adhesion’, but one based on love and concern.

We are troubled by those who teach that all Abrahamic religions are essentially the same, just versions of the same themes and beliefs with little differences here and there.  Some Jews want to believe that as it makes them feel safer to be like everyone else in what they fear as a hostile world.  Christian Missionaries have for a long time preached that line to Jews to encourage them to convert, to just accept a small change, they claim, for salvation.   The problem is that between Judaism and the other “Abrahamic religions,” there is a theologically wide gulf that makes them almost polar opposites.

Christianity sees the establishment of the contract between G-d and Am Yisrael precisely as that definition above of the Contract of Adhesion.  A cruel and demanding G-d imposing harsh rules on the people with a deal they cannot dare refuse without an opportunity to study it.  They combine that with the Hellenistic belief that mankind is helpless and at the whim of the fates and gods, needing a hero to save them.  (according to Christian theologian Fr. Hans Kung). 

In great contrast, Judaism sees that contract more as directions and lessons (Torah, as we mentioned above, means instruction) from a benevolent kind father, who wants the best for his children and from a Benevolent G-d who wants the best for His People, ones who share the desire to set the standards and warn against what will naturally happen if those standards are not kept.  It’s the parent who warns his children to look both ways before crossing the street because he cares for their safety and welfare. 

Thus, for Am Yisrael and Jews, the Covenant is not the kind of one sided deal imposed by the powerful G-d.  It is lessons given as a gift to those who might benefit. In this case, it is Am Yisrael ONLY.

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind


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  2. 14 Aug 2017/22 M Av 5777.
    "Good noW!".B"H. Torah is not a religion but a way of life. It is not only for us who can benefit. It is for us for the world to benefit. It is all inclusive as an instruction. It is also a manual as to how it is to be applied. The Commandments for us and Seven Noahide Laws for all Mankind, 10+7=17=tov good. [my Book. "The Spiritual Solution", B"H, bli neder is to published soon, B"H].
    Torah is all inclusive. There is no mention of religion, only other beliefs in idols. The first of the Ten C's is a statement, in order that there be one thing in this world that determines G-dliness - free choice, which does not mean free to choose anything. It means to choose to believe in G-d and thus to act according to G-d's expectation only, free of worldly inducements or of immediate gain. B"H.
    As to way of life - in those terms i agree Muslim is a path or way of death, at best political agenda - nothing spiritual in it. It is about rape of virgins in heaven and focussed on death as the way there. Yet no Muslim and many have died, has ever even got close to going there. Xtianity is termed a religion focussed on virgin birth which is totally at odds with "to be fruitful & multiply" through intercourse. It makes a mockery of procreation in order to make celibacy spiritual, creates guilt and doubt. The whole notion is repugnant and the cause of pedophilia, nunneries and orphanages.
    Spirituality through Torah is G-d's solution for Mankind and the Seven Noahide Laws are the Torah's instructions to put the principles of Torah into practice, where Jew & non-Jew function together; the Jew according to the Ten C's, and non-J according to the Seven Noahide Laws, which are for all Mankind, and both according to the Torah principle "do not unto others .." [Hillel Tractate Shabbat 31a], and "love your fellow as self" [Leviticus 19:18], to bring G-dliness into existence in this Garden paradise called Earth, B"H, do "Good noW!"®, 5777.

  3. You raise a valid point about others who adopted Jewish literature to their own know my favourite example and how it goes back to a period just at the start of the Second Temple period...a separate Pentateuch created to give Sanballat more to divide Jews with. How that affected other groups all down the line.

    Stick with the real thing.