|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
כִּי תֵצֵא ● Ki Seitzei
● Why was a new covenant necessary? What would the new covenant add to the original event of Kabbalas HaTorah? ●
“Kabbalas HaTorah & the Covenant of Secrets”
In preparation for the the B’nei Yisrael’s imminent entry into the Promised Land, the Torah describes a single event in time, an assembly that must take place. At this assembly, the nation would enter into this new Bris or covenant with Hashem in a ceremony which would require the nation to be divided into two groups, each standing atop of the two mountains, Har Gerizim and Har Eival to hear a series of blessings and curses.1
A New Covenant?
What was the reason for this new covenant? Had the B’nei Yisrael not already been entered into and bound by an eternal covenant at the scene of Kabbalas HaTorah at Choreiv when they stood the foot of Har Sinai2? When the B’nei Yisrael entered that covenant once upon a time, they committed to devote themselves to G-d’s word and observe of His Torah. What then would be the need for this new covenant? Why was another covenant necessary? What would this new covenant possibly add?
The Parallel Co-Covenants
What is striking is that if one looks at the thematic components of this other covenant, it resembles the original Kabbalas HaTorah in many ways.
The first and most obvious parallel is that both covenants involve the grandiose scene of a national gathering in the mountains.
Furthermore, paralleling the Aseres HaDibros—the Decalogue or “Ten Commandments” which were conveyed at Sinai, the new covenant features multiple declarations of various statements before the nation, almost all of them relating to the ideals of the original Aseres HaDibros.
For example, the new covenant features the prohibition of idolatry, a command protecting the honor of parents, a law pertaining to the upkeep of judicial justice, a charge demanding respect of the rights and property of fellowman, and a warning to maintain marital purity.
- Engraved in Stone
Interestingly, just like the Aseres HaDibros were inscribed on stone tablets, along with this new covenant, the Torah was to be written on large stones.
- A Treasured People
And an additional, but perhaps more subtle reminder of the old covenant is that people were here told at the onset of this covenant that they were to be Hashem’s “Am Segulah”-“treasured people”3 exactly as they were told prior to Kabbalas HaTorah.4
Now, if none of the above elements are compelling enough to bring one’s attention to the original Kabbalas HaTorah, after the final speech of this new covenant which consists of the curses of the Tochachah—the passage of Admonition, the Torah makes explicit and conspicuous mention of the original Sinaitic covenant as it concludes, “Eileh Divrei HaBris Asheir Tzivah Hashem Es Moshe Lichros Es B’nei Yisrael B’Eretz Moav Milvad HaBris Asheir Karas Itam B’Choreiv”-“These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe to cut with the B’nei Yisrael in the land of Moav aside from the covenant that he cut with them in Choreiv.”5
Indeed, the Torah didn’t need to tell us that this covenant was “aside from” the first covenant if this one was clearly commanded here at Moav while the other one occurred a generation ago at Choreiv. Apparently though, the Torah wants the reader to look at the two covenants side by side. The question is: Why?
Covenant I vs. Covenant II
With a deeper and slightly more advanced analysis of the apparent relationship between Kabbalas HaTorah and this other covenant, one will discover that although the two covenants share many striking similarities, the differences between them are all the more glaring.
- Under One Mountain vs. Atop Two Mountains
On the one hand, during the original Kabbalas HaTorah, the entire nation stood at the foot of the mountain while the commandments were presented to them from the top of the mountain, while here, the nation themselves were standing atop two mountains while the commandments were being delivered upward from the valley below.
- Stone Tablets vs. Large Boulders, Concealed vs. Revealed
While in the first covenant, it was only the Aseres HaDibros—a summary of the Sinaitic covenant—which were engraved onto stone tablets, and those tablets were to be hidden in the Aron HaKodesh, never to be removed, in the second covenant, the entire Torah would be plastered onto massive boulders for all to see.
- Commandments vs. Curses
While many of the laws that are referenced in the new covenant resemble the ones that were conveyed in the Aseres HaDibros, the format of these commandments completely changes. They are written in the fashion of curses; for example, as opposed to a simple command forbidding the practice of idolatry, the new covenant declares that “Cursed is the man who makes a graven image…and places it in secrecy…”6 Instead of merely prohibiting murder, the new covenant warns that “Cursed is the person who takes a bribe to smite a soul of innocent blood…”7
- Monologue vs. Dialogue, G-d vs. Man
Moreover, while the Decalogue was a really monologue issued from G-d to the people, this new covenant featured an interactive dialogue between only human parties, in which the Levi’im would pronounce the cursed behaviors whereupon the nation would have to respond and affirm, “Amen”-“It is true.”
Now that we have called out both the similarities and differences between the two covenants, we can begin to ponder our question once more. What is the meaning of the new covenant? Moreover, what is the nature of the covenant in its relationship with the original Kabbalas HaTorah? In order to answer these questions, we have to get to explain the basis behind the similarities and differences between the two covenants.
The Secret is Secrecy
Aside from the series of unique features of the covenant which we have identified above, is there any rhyme or reason behind the specific contents of this new covenant? Though we argued that the commandments referenced in the new covenant clearly have a resemblance to the Aseres HaDibros, if one looks closely, one will notice that they do not precisely match up the Aseres HaDibros. As was mentioned, some of the commandments are echoed, but they’re presented differently here. One example of the difference in presentation, as was mentioned earlier, is the new format of “curses.”
Beyond that difference, the new covenant features quite a few declarations that were not present in the Aseres HaDibros such as taking bribes, removing another’s boundary marker, misleading the blind or perverting the judgment of the orphan, widow, and convert. Clearly, this covenant means to emphasize something different or more than that of the original Aseres HaDibros. What exactly is the criteria for the laws that are referenced in this covenant?
Rashbam and R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch among others point out that the common denominator of the laws mentioned in this new covenant is the emphasis on secrecy in perpetration of these sins. These particular sins, as they are described here, are easy to commit without being caught in the crime and ultimately tried for in a court of law. For example:
- If a boundary marker is moved, it can easily go unnoticed.
- If one misleads the blind or unsuspecting, one might never know that the perpetrator meant any harm.
- Even the abominable crimes of bestiality and the different forms of incest are mentioned here because anyone left in seclusion with either their own animal or one of their close relatives can easily walk the streets after such a time without ever being accused of having committed any licentious crimes.
- In the same vein, R’ Hirsch points out that a person can outwardly perform “respectful” acts for his parents but slight his parents in a subtle way (perhaps through passive aggression).
- Moreover, because individuals such as the convert, orphan and widow lack immediate relatives to champion their cause, it is easy for one to take advantage of them in court.
And if the collection of laws themselves were not suggestive enough of the theme of secrecy, a couple of the referenced laws actually emphasize openly the element of secrecy in the sin; as was mentioned the new covenant references manufacturing and arranging of a graven image, “BaSaser”-“in secrecy”6 [בסתר]. Similarly, it mentions even smiting fellowman “BaSaser”-“in secrecy.”8 Evidently, the secret to this covenant is secrecy.
The question is why this new covenant specifically calls our attention to these secretly committed sins? If the goal of this new covenant was to somehow mimic but perhaps improve on the covenant of Kabbalas HaTorah, what makes secrecy the item that this covenant chose to highlight?
The Secret Origin of the New Covenant
In order to understand the direction of this covenant and its focus on secretly committed sins, perhaps we have to look at some of the other unique aspects of this covenant which were highlighted earlier. As was mentioned briefly, this covenant differs from the one at Choreiv in that this one involves the declaration of more than just one party. The tribe of Levi would stand in the valley below and pronounce the curses for each of the respective sins committed “in secrecy” and the people would answer “Amen.”
Now, might all of these elements together strike anyone as being somewhat familiar? To review, this new covenant features:
- Possible sins that would have been perpetrated “BaSaser”-“in secrecy,”
- The declaration of a curse (“Arur”) by leadership figures from the tribe of Levi, and finally,
- An affirmation of “Amen.”
If one thinks about it, all of these variables have appeared together in the Torah one time before in a quite specific context, in a particular law topic. What is that secret law topic?
The topic in question which this new covenant might be hinting to is that of the Sotah, the wayward wife.9 Back in Parshas Nasso, the Torah described a wife who secluded herself with a man other than her husband, “V’Nisterah,” and was “secretly” defiled through marital relations.10 If the seclusion was seen by witnesses, her husband must bring her to the Kohein—a leader from none other than the tribe of Levi, for a trial to determine if she is indeed a Sotah, a wayward wife. In this trial, the Kohein declares the “curse” that befalls a guilty Sotah. The Kohein would give her to drink from the Mei HaMarim HaMe’arerim, bitter waters of the curse11, only after she would have respond in the affirmative, “Amen Amen.”12, 13
The parallels to Sotah are unmistakable, but the question remains as to what relevance the topic of Sotah has to the topic of the new covenant. What’s the deeper relationship between the two?
The Sotah Trial & Kabbalas HaTorah
In order to understand the connection between this new covenant and Sotah, one has to return to the original covenant of Kabbalas HaTorah. Back in Sefer Shemos, soon after the momentous scene of Kabbalas HaTorah, everything quickly goes downhill, or rather down-mountain. With Moshe not around, still atop Har Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Covenant, the nation panicked in the heat of their fear and ultimately created a molten calf quite similar to the abominable, idolatrous molten images which the covenant in our Sidrah frowns upon.
In response to this crime, Moshe took a couple of drastic measures. Perhaps the most famous of Moshe’s responses was his smashing of the original Tablets to smithereens.14 Once the trust was broken, so was the covenant, in a sense. The less famous, but perhaps more peculiar action that Moshe took at that point was that he pounded the Golden Calf down and literally forced the people drink it15, the most conspicuous resemblance to the Sotah trial we’ve seen yet.
Now, why did Moshe do this? Because the people, in a sense, were like a Sotah16, have betrayed Hashem’s trust and violating their relationship with him.
The utter tragedy forces one to wonder: What happened? Moments after entering the covenant with Hashem, they violated it in perhaps the most major way possible, creating an image resembling an idol. Were the people completely lying to G-d when they entered the covenant or did they mean it wholeheartedly when they declared “Na’aseh V’Nishma”-“We will do, and we will listen [obey]”17?
The answer is: Of course they meant it, but there was something lacking. The lofty display at Har Sinai—the lightning, thunder, the voice and Presence of G-d Himself could not be turned down by anyone. The national commitment for this incredible relationship with G-d was uninamous. With everyone around and G-d’s Presence in plain sight, no one could refuse. But, when the “Presence” was perceived to be gone and Moshe was not around to babysit, like a Sotah, the people cheated on G-d. The covenant was subsequently broken and the people were punished because they, on some level, had convinced themselves that G-d was no longer present and watching. They thought they were in secret and therefore let their own guard down and capitulated to their insecurities. But, as is demonstrated by the laws of the Sotah, Hashem is All-Seeing and All-Knowing. He is well aware of the truth and that truth will manifest itself in a curse if necessary.
All of the above would explain, not only the resonance to Sotah in the new covenant, but the entire basis for the new covenant.
Kabbalas HaTorah 2.0, i.e. “The New Covenant”
The new covenant is a direct response to what was lacking in the old one, preempting and precluding the any repeat of the tragic mistakes that occurred earlier. When the people would enter the land, there would once again be no Moshe and no revealed Divine Presence. There may have been a Kabbalas HaTorah at some point, but how much of a commitment was there when the policeman was not perceivably on sight? One might not openly murder or kidnap another because he is afraid of society, but who will stop that same individual from harming another when his crime will somehow go unnoticed by fellowman? Who will prevent him from misleading another or stealing from another in a secrete way? How committed will a given individual be when he thinks no one is watching him?
These issues are what the new covenant is coming to address head-on. Thus, the new covenant is the truer, more direct and interactive form of Kabbalas HaTorah. It hits the nerves and touches home, putting everyone on the spot, publicly, forcing them to actually look into themselves and decide how much devotion they each actually have as individuals. Thus, the Pasuk emphasizes “V’Anu HaLevi’im V’Amru El Kal Ish Yisrael…”-“And the Levi’im shall respond and they shall say to every [individual] man of Yisrael…”20
Indeed, this covenant is less “lofty” covenant, and that is what makes it more “real” to the people. In this covenant, the people look, not up into the heavens, but down into the valley, in the depths of the earth where all of the action takes place, where the eye of mortal man meets them, or perhaps fails to. As active players in this covenant, the people themselves stand on the peak of mountains in the open where they testify the reality of what it means to be blessed or cursed for obeying or disobeying the Torah.
Perhaps it is for this reason as well, the covenant is not inscribed in mere summary and hidden in the Aron, but is written in its entirety on large stones so that everyone can see it. It is entirely public.
In the same vein, it is not the booming voice of G-d speaking to them in a terrifying lighting storm, but it is the human Levi’im who had remained steadfast to the first covenant21 now standing in G-d’s place, dictating His will.
The question is: Will the people be convinced that even without the thunderous voice from heaven that G-d is still watching them? In this covenant, the Torah makes sure of it, for, now, like the Sotah in question, they are forced to answer “Amen” to divine consequences. They themselves have to admit that their actions, whether they think they can be seen or not, have consequences. Even if fellowman can be fooled, there are no secrets between him and G-d, the Yodei’a Ta’alumos, the Knower of hidden things.
A True & Lasting Kabbalas HaTorah
In the end, the Torah indicates through this covenant what true Kabbalas HaTorah means, that acceptance of the Torah is manifest in one’s every single action, whether one is in public or in private. True Kabbalas HaTorah entails one’s understanding that as far as Hashem is concerned, there are no secrets. This covenant teaches us to face that reality and allow that reality to steer us on the path of Yiras Hashem. If we do so, we’ll be well on our way. We will be protected from the temptation of sin not just in public, but in private too, and we’ll develop full sense of devotion to Hashem and His Holy Torah.
May we all be Zocheh to truly internalize the reality that Hashem notices everything so that our actions will be governed by that reality and Hashem should acknowledge our efforts, fulfill His end of the covenant, and deliver the ultimate Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- See Devarim 27 and Sotah 32A which elaborates on the event.
- Shemos 19-20
- Devarim 26:18
- See Rashi citing Shemos 19:5 and Mechilta to Shemos 12:78.
- Devarim 28:69
- Bamidbar 5
- Perhaps it is no coincidence that the very tractate of the Gemara which describes the procedure of the new covenant of our Sidrah is the tractate of Sotah, 32A.
- Shemos 32:19
- See Rashi who makes this observation there, citing Avodah Zarah 44A.
- Shemot 24:7
- Devarim 27:14
- Shemot 32:26