Covenant and Embrace
The point of a covenant is the preservation of a relationship. The two parties recognize that they share a bond with each other. The two parties also recognize that the awareness and the appreciation of the bond between them may grow dim with the passage of time, so they seal a covenant. They promise to each other that they will remain faithful to their shared bond and they bind themselves to each other in a union that cannot be broken.
There are different types of relationships that covenants can possibly attempt to preserve. Some of these run deeper than others. An alliance between two nations can be called a “covenant”, but in no way can such a covenant compare to a covenant of friendship between two people who would die for each other. The deepest covenant that exists between people is the covenant of marriage. Not only do the two parties agree to remain faithful to the deep bond that exists between them, but these two parties agree to redefine themselves forevermore on the basis of this union. The covenant of marriage requires that each member of the covenant no longer see themselves as a single person, but rather, they accept that from henceforth forevermore they are to be known as the spouses of their respective partners.
The covenant between God and Israel is such a covenant. This covenant was sealed at Sinai. The closeness to God that Israel experienced at that time sealed their eternal connection to God (Deuteronomy 4:30-35). From that point on, God identifies Himself as the God of Israel and Israel identifies herself as God’s people.
The Divine embrace that Israel experienced at Sinai is not something that is relegated to the past. It is an embrace that we experience today. It is possible to get involved in the petty complications of day to day life and miss life itself – that is what we have a covenant for. No matter how far we stray, the covenant forces us to remain loyal to the bond that exists between us and the Creator of heaven and earth. But the embrace is still experienced. The cycle of the holidays recreates for us the exodus experience in its three primary expressions, Passover – redemption, Shavuot (Pentecost) – revelation, Sukkot (Tabernacles) – embrace. The Sabbath touches us with a holiness that springs forth from the depth of our bond with God (Exodus 31:13). Each of the commandments infuses us with the holiness of God’s love (Numbers 15:40). All of these are only facets of the deepest relationship that is possible in existence – the relationship between Creator and created.
The closest I could come to describing this relationship with words is to echo David’s words: “Whom (else) do I have in the heavens? And with You, I desire nothing on earth, my flesh and my heart yearn – God is the rock of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25,26).
While the fires of this embrace are burning bright, any discussion about devotion to another entity is inconceivable. But, as mentioned, the purpose of a covenant is to keep the loyalty alive even when the fire of the connection is dim. Indeed, every Jew who refuses to identify him or herself as a devotee of Jesus (or any other entity aside from the God our father’s knew) is manifesting an expression of loyalty to this covenant which ties us to God – and that loyalty is beloved by God and will ultimately be rewarded (Isaiah 26:2). But I appeal to you, brothers and sisters (and I am talking to myself as well). Why does it have to be an issue of loyalty to a covenant? Why can’t it be the fire of the embrace? All of our logical arguments can only do so much. Ultimately, it will be our love and yearning for God that will light up the world and dispel all the darkness (Deuteronomy 4:29, 30:2).
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal