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    Stand by for the covenant – Nitzavim

    The final Shabbat of the Jewish year tells us that we are all standing before God, about to enter a covenant with Him.

    The Hebrew for covenant is b’rit. Members of the covenant are b’nai b’rit.

    It sounds like the name of the brotherhood movement B’nai B’rith and of course this is where the movement got its name. Long before B’nai B’rith emerged in the United States in the 19th century, the covenant bound Jews to each other and to the Almighty.

    The human covenant had two basic principles: I have duties to you as a Jew and you have duties to me.

    Between us we form a mini-community. Neither of us can hide from the other and say, “Leave me alone!” If one is in pain the other hurts; if one has a simchah the other rejoices.

    That’s why we take it for granted that we all come when anyone is, God forbid, sitting shivah. It’s why we all feel involved if there is a happy event. Historically everyone was welcome at a wedding, not just the close friends and relatives (and the bank manager).

    What about the covenant with God? That’s where it really becomes serious. No-one needs to be reminded that we have duties to God… but about God’s duties to us?

    We cannot help thinking that there are times when He seems to let us down, when, to use a phrase from Megillat Echah, He seems to have become like an enemy.

    I had a colleague who was a Holocaust survivor. He told me, “Where I come from they used to say, ‘If God lived in my village I’d break all His windows…’.”

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