You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers, that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your G-d, and His oath, which the Lord, your G-d, is making with you this day,
It is the last day of Moses’ life. He’s not taking care of his bank account, retirement plan or even writing a will for his family. He is busy with the Children of Israel as they prepare to cross the Jordan River for the Land of Canaan.
In his final address, Moses convenes the Israel nation, millions of them. They stand in front of the ark of the Tabernacle, which represents G-d. Most of them are Jews but there are many gentiles, whether those from Egypt or who joined Israel under false pretenses. There are the prominent — doctors, lawyers, tribal chiefs — and the plain folk, including women and children.
Moses’ message is direct: From now on, you are responsible for each other. You are committed to the physical and spiritual welfare of your fellow man. That wasn’t required during the last 40 years in the desert where G-d provided everything. There was food, water, clean and pressed clothes and no need to run to the toilet. When the Jews step into the land they will make their own, they will live as every other people. They will have to grow crops, build cities, fight poverty and establish a system of governance and justice.
The need for mutual responsibility would not stop with Jews. The gentiles in Israel would be committed to abandon idol worship. In public, they would be required to observe the tenets of the Sabbath and other laws. The Jews could not be afford to be lax without severing their bond with G-d.
As Moses put it, every one in Israel must assume responsibility, regardless of his station in life. A chief would be responsible for his tribe, a patriarch for his family, a mother for his children. They must protest sin and injustice. Ordinary Jews must care for converts who enter the fold with little practical knowledge of their new faith.
And that is the covenant that Moses established: a pact that builds a nation and ties it with G-d; a move that would not be limited to the generation of the desert, rather would apply for all time.
Moses was realistic. He knew that there might be those in the throng with no intention to obey. They would follow their desires, worship idols and violate the Torah. They would pretend piety and keep their evil a secret.
But G-d would know.
And the Lord will separate him for evil, out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant, written in this Torah scroll.
Mutual responsibility has been virtually unknown in mankind. In other religions, there is no requirement to support the foreigner. He is not part of the community and can be ostracized. When 50 Venezuelans were flown to the richest part of America — an island called Martha’s Vineyard — they were not greeted with food, clothing or job offers. The supe-rich merely called the military and the illegal migrants were flown away for incarceration.
In Torah law, everybody who lives in a Jewish-controlled area must be supported regardless of race or creed. But the recipient also harbors responsibility for his behavior. It is not a one-way street. He, too, must be committed to respecting Jewish law even if he is not under any formal commandment. Mutual responsibility demands mutual respect.
In Moses’ covenant, Jewish women and children must be cared for. They cannot be abandoned to become beggars or prostitutes. In turn, they, too, must obey the Torah and rabbinical authority.
Throughout history, the gentiles who lived in Jewish communities understood this better than their hosts. They understood that the mission of the Jewish people was to follow G-d’s ways and bring redemption to the world. They were able to spot the arrival of the Messiah before the Jews.
The gentiles also realized the consequences of a Jewish nation that severs its commitment to G-d and each other. The Land of Israel becomes a smoldering mass where nothing can grow, similar to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Jews will pay for their sins though other nations continue to perform the same acts. The Jews will be exiled while the gentiles remain in their land. It is all about the covenant that G-d made exclusively with the Children of Israel when they were taken out of Egypt. That contract does not contain an escape clause.
And all the nations will say, Why did the Lord do so to this land? What [is the reason] for this great rage of fury? Then they will say, It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, G-d of their fathers, [the covenant] which He made with them when He took them out of the land of Egypt, For they went and served other deities, prostrating themselves to them deities which they had not known, and which He had not apportioned to them. And the Lord’s fury raged against that land, bringing upon it the entire curse written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from upon their land, with fury, anger and great wrath, and He cast them to another land, as it is this day.
But the covenant allows for repentance and mercy. Every day is an opportunity, but on the Jewish new year, or Rosh Hashanah, G-d is listening closely. Rosh Hashanah contains an accounting for the previous year and a timeline for the one to come. The two-day holiday allows for a do-over as well as a make-over.
Penitence doesn’t merely turn the clock back. It transforms sins into good deeds. When done sincerely, it prods G-d to end the exile and bring the final redemption.
Go find that in traffic court.