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לימוד תורה

The Declaration of Independence, the covenant and the destiny

Parshah and its implementation - for Parshat Nitzavim 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

In recent months, there was a public rejuvenation of the Israeli flag that was carried proudly in the streets, and the Declaration of Independence, which for many years did not receive any public attention.

The blue and white Israeli flag was devised by Herzl, as a reminder of the Tallit's light blue stripes, and on it the symbol of the Star of David, which for many generations was the Jewish symbol of the synagogues and a symbol that distinguishes the Jews from other nations. This symbol joins the symbol of the State of Israel - the Temple Menorah in Jerusalem.

The Declaration of Independence is a declarative document, intended for a solemn historical moment, for the status of the 'proclamation of the state', by the representatives of the Jewish community (who were appointed and not elected in democratic elections), for a miracle that took place after two thousand years of exile, in which the Jewish nation survived, despite countless attempts to destroy it and cause its assimilation.

This is an essential document that expresses the rise of the Jewish people and its transition from the status of a 'community' to a 'sovereign state', and the beginning of its political sovereignty over the land immediately upon the end of the British Mandate (in the Declaration, the borders of the state are according to the 'Partition Plan' from 1947).

Contrary to what has been said about it recently, it does not have any signs indicating that its authors intended it to serve as constitutional law for the newly born state. And certainly not to give it legal status in excess of the decisions of the 'Constituent Assembly' of the people's representatives. On the contrary, it mentions that the 'constitution' according to which the government will be run will be determined later, something that has not happened to date.

The Declaration was finalized by David Ben-Gurion, it was written on drawn parchment, the pages of which were sewn together in a deliberate manner, so that it resembled a Torah! In the Declaration there are eighteen paragraphs, in which the word 'Jew' is mentioned in various inflections, twenty-two times, and 'democracy' not even once.  On purpose. It defines the 'State of Israel' as a 'Jewish State', without additions!

"אנו מכריזים בזאת על הקמת מדינה יהודית בארץ ישראל, היא מדינת ישראל"


It mentions, one single time, that the State will maintain equality of rights for all its citizens, and clarifies that the source of inspiration for the State's values will be the ones envisioned by the Prophets of Israel:

"תהא מושתתת על יסודות החירות, הצדק והשלום לאור חזונם של נביאי ישראל; תקיים שויון זכויות חברתי ומדיני גמור לכל אזרחיה בלי הבדל דת, גזע ומין".

"…It will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex".

Ben-Gurion knew by heart the 'vision of the Prophets of Israel' as detailed in the Bible, which includes among other principles of morality and justice, based on the Jewish faith, the observance of Shabbat and the commandments, especially in the public sphere, the prevention of mixed marriages, and more.

Is this what those who seek to make it the 'Constitution' of the State want?!

In this week's Parasha, we find the first 'proclamation' in the history of the people of Israel, in preparation for the establishment of the kingdom of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. The entire nation gathered together, as one man, before entering the land:

אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י ה' אֱלֹקיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

"You stand this day, all of you, before Hashem your G-d, your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, every householder in Israel" (Devarim 29:9).

The purpose of this was:

לְמַ֣עַן הָקִֽים אֹתְךָ֩ הַיּ֨וֹם ל֜וֹ לְעָ֗ם וְה֤וּא יִֽהְיֶה לְּךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹקים...

"in order to establish you this day as G-d’s people and in order to be your G-d… (29:12). This also determined the unique national destiny.

This status also included a 'binding covenant'. Not only what they receive, but also what they commit to:

לְעׇבְרְךָ֗ בִּבְרִ֛ית ה' אֱלֹקיךָ וּבְאָלָת֑וֹ אֲשֶׁר֙ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ כֹּרֵ֥ת עִמְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם׃

"to enter into the covenant of Hashem your G-d, which Hashem your G-d is concluding with you this day, with the curses that covenant violations will entail". (29:11)

In this situation according to G-d, Moshe promised the people that as long as the people keep the covenant, they will be rewarded that their kingdom in the land will exist and prosper. And if, G-d forbid, the covenant is broken, they will be exiled from the land. There was also a promise that if they correct what they have distorted, they will return to the land with renewed strength, from all exiles, they will bloom the desolated, and they will be blessed with spiritual prosperity:

"וְשָׁב ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ שָׁמָּה. אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ. וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ. וּמָל ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְאֶת לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ לְמַעַן חַיֶּיךָ"

"…then Hashem your G-d will restore your captivity and take you in; restore your standing.” [G-d] will bring you together again from all the peoples where Hashem your G-d has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there Hashem your G-d will gather you, from there [G-d] will fetch you. And Hashem your G-d will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and [G-d] will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors. Then Hashem your G-d will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your offspring—to love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live".  (Ibid. 30:3-6).

"From the moment when they took upon themselves the oath on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and had thus become responsible for one another committed to the absolute mutual guarantee between all parts of the people, without conditions". (Rashi Devarim 30:28).

The covenant also included all the following generations:

וְלֹ֥א אִתְּכֶ֖ם לְבַדְּכֶ֑ם אָנֹכִ֗י כֹּרֵת֙ אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את ... כִּי֩ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֶשְׁנ֜וֹ פֹּ֗ה עִמָּ֙נוּ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד הַיּ֔וֹם... וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵינֶ֛נּוּ פֹּ֖ה עִמָּ֥נוּ הַיּֽוֹם׃

"I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day… and with those who are not with us here this day". (29:13)

This formative moment was sealed with the 'freedom' of free choice and the call to the individual and the nation to choose life:

רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע... וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃

"See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity… Choose life—if you and your offspring would live" (30:15,19)

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