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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Va'etchanan 5771 - Covenant & Conversation - Thoughts on the weekly parsha from the Chief Rabbi

It is one of the great stories of all time, and Moses foresaw it three thousand years before it happened. Here he is speaking in this week's parsha:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" . . . What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4: 5-8)

Moses believed that there would come a time when the idea of a nation founded on a covenant with God would inspire other nations with its vision of a society based not on a hierarchy of power but on the equal dignity of all under the sovereignty and in the image of God; and on the rule of justice and compassion. "The nations" would appreciate the wisdom of the Torah and its "righteous decrees and laws". It happened. As I have argued many times, we see this most clearly in the political culture and language of the United States.

To this day American politics is based on the biblical idea of covenant. American presidents almost always invoke this idea in their Inaugural Addresses in language that owes its cadences and concepts to the book of Devarim. So, for instance, in 1985 Ronald Reagan spoke of America as "one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world."

In his Inaugural in 1989, George Bush prayed: "There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen." In 1997 Bill Clinton said: "The promise we sought in a new land we will find again in a land of new promise."

George W Bush in 2001 said, "We are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image." In 2005 he declared, "From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth."

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