B’rit, Chesed and Chayim
It is not common to find in a single Parsha, a synthesis of what Judaism means and what it means theologically to be Jewish, as in this week’s Parsha: Parashat Eikev.
Moshe’s long speech, telling the story, is in itself a value. It is as if symbolically saying: To be a Jew is to tell the Story. To be a Jew is to be a witness. To be a Jew is to have memory.
Along with this symbolic structure, three elements appear in this Parsha that synthesize, in my opinion, the essence of our condition. The first of them has to do with the word B’RIT, which means “Pact.” To be a Jew is to accept the Torah covenant. It requires us to take on the challenge of being able to do our part, if we want God and life to do the other.
This is not always very clear to us. We do not always believe that it is our actions that define what life we will live. We don’t always realize that we reap what we sow; that we must be “deserving” of happiness. Sometimes we delusionally believe that this merit is for who we are. But it is not, it is always because of what we do or do not do.
The pact is between two parties. In the case of the Parsha, between Israel and God; but always in pairs. The very idea of the covenant denotes the acceptance of otherness: understanding that I should do not only what sounds appealing to me, but also what I must.
Even if I make a pact with myself, I have to be faithful and loyal to the guidelines that have been established, almost as if it were with someone else. It is as if the “me” of my values and ideals and the “me” of my daily reality with their miseries included, had to agree.
So the “B’rit” has to be a “B’rit Emet” = “A true and authentic pact.”
The second element is the content of that covenant. The Rabbis speak of 613 precepts, but interestingly, the Torah does not speak of compulsion or rigidity, much less guilt.
Included with the B’rit is the value of “Chesed,” which in Biblical Hebrew means love.
This suggests that no covenant can endure without being sanctified by the love we are able to give and receive. Even though from time to time we need to review the conditions of the agreements, if there is no affection, there will be neither intensity, nor depth, nor transcendence.
It seems that for this reason the Torah insists on “veyadata im levavecha” = “You will know with your heart”; or “Veahavta et hager” = “You will love the foreigner and the stranger”, and ends with: “Umaltem et orlat levavchem” = “You shall circumcise your hearts”; that is to say: You will have to open the soul with sensitivity, if you want to give the covenant its true dimension.
This is also what being Jewish is all about. It does not have to do with religious behaviorism, but rather with softening our being and recognizing ourselves as sensitive and permeable, fragile and truly human.
The Parsha talks about B’RIT, CHESED and also CHAYIM = Life.
“Kol hamitzvah asher anochi metzav´cha hayom tishmerun lema´an tichyun”
“All that Mitzvah that I order you today, you will keep, to live.”
The ultimate purpose of the Mitzvot is to honor life.
The ultimate goal of all Judaism is to give quality to our days.
The Rabbis, in the Midrash, also understood it that way. They say: “The Mitzvot are given to live by, not to die by”. It is the sacred value of life that counts the most, when we realize that it is more than biology, or as it says in our Parsha: “Ki lo al halechem levado yichieh ha’adam” = “Man does not live by bread alone”.
What does God want from us? B’rit, Chesed and Chayim.
- To accept the covenant and fulfill it with joy.
- To be sensitive in our souls and to be able to love.
- And to live with all our strength, with all of our heart, that plus that makes us human.
As Moshe did before his departure, from time to time we have to recount history, to remember who we are, to know where we’ve come from, and to be clear about where we want to go, especially in times of crisis and challenge.
God bless us in this search, with a pure mind and heart, with the company of our loved ones, even those who accompany us from the distance of memory, or who are far away and we cannot meet in person, and with the faith and courage to add to our existence: B’rit, Chesed and Chayim = Covenant, Love and Life.