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    Jewish keywords – Nitzavim

    Some Jewish keywords are clear enough in Hebrew but can create problems when used in old-fashioned translations.

    It used to happen, for example, that when we taught children the blessings and came to the words melech ha’olam, they would misread the English as “King of the university”. When we came to the word b’rit, it became not “covenant” but “convent”.

    These thoughts are evoked by the impressive opening words of Nitzavim: “You are standing this day, all of you, before the Lord your God… that you should enter the covenant of the Lord your God” (Deut. 29:9-11).

    A covenant is a form of contract. But because the word specially indicates an agreement between God and human beings, recorded in the Bible, it carries a sense of something higher and more spiritual than the banal contracts that govern what happens on earth.

    Because we are a covenant people, the rabbis refer to us as b’nei b’rit – a term which in the 19th century became the name of a great Jewish service movement.

    Rav Soloveitchik reminds us that there is more than one covenant that bind us. There is b’rit goral, the covenant of destiny. There is also b’rit Sinai, the Sinai covenant.

    The first is the historic bond that unites us as a people, the second the religious bond that unites us with God.

    For some, the religious bond is somewhat problematic. They are (as yet) unable to apprehend the presence of God or accept His word. But every Jew belongs to the covenant of history, and we do not write off anyone or write them out of Jewish memory, identity or destiny.

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