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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

Best wishes for ktiva v’chatimah tova to Achaynu Bnei Yisrael, wherever they may be.


Twice Hashem established a covenant with Abraham in Sefer Breishit. At the first covenant, known as Brit Bayn HaBetarim, Abraham was 75 years old. The theme of that covenant was the contract between Hashem and Abraham granting his descendants the land of Canaan after their 400-year sojourn and servitude in a foreign land. The second covenant was reached with Abraham when he was 99 years old. The participants in that covenant were Hashem, Abraham and his future generations. In addition to the land, the second covenant included the obligation on his progeny to observe the commandments. Why was it necessary to establish the second covenant if the first was still in force?

The parties to Brit Bayn HaBetarim were Hashem, Abraham and the future land of Israel. In addition to obligating Abraham’s descendants to endure the Egyptian exile, it obligated the land to remain loyal and wait for the Jewish People to return, no matter how long their exile. Chazal interpret Hashem’s promise to devastate the land, V’Hashimoti Et Ha’Aretz, as a good omen for the Jews. By remaining desolate, the land demonstrated her commitment to the people by not allowing others to colonize her. Throughout post-Temple history, many groups attempted to colonize the land. In the middle ages, the Christians and Moslems engaged in a tug-of-war over the land. One crusade succeeded only to be subsequently repulsed by the Moslems. The Germans, who were known to be successful colonizers, failed in their attempt to colonize Eretz Yisrael in the Nineteenth Century. The land remained faithful to the people and only opened up to the Jews who began to return to it in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.

The second covenant between Abraham and Hashem included the obligation to observe the commandments. Where the first covenant obligated the land to wait for the people, the second covenant obligated the people to wait for the land and to maintain their adherence to Mitzvot in preparation of returning to it. An aguna is defined as a woman who cannot remarry after the disappearance of her husband who did not grant her a divorce and whose death remains unsubstantiated. Just like a woman may not remarry, a man must also wait where the wife disappears. (The Rav said he never signed a Heter Meah Rabbanim as the obligation to wait applies to both spouses.) Eretz Yisrael and Bnei Yisrael are chained to each other and must wait for each to return to the other. The second covenant added the aspect that even when separated from each other, the obligation to perform mitzvot preserves the bond between them. Eretz Yisrael as a vacation destination does not provide a valid reason for our possessing the land. With the second covenant, everything about Jewish life became different from other nations. Jews lived in Poland for a thousand years yet remained distinct. The Jewish commitment to Israel against overwhelming odds and Anti-Semitism is another example of our paradoxical uniqueness. Our unique existence and mission links us eternally to the land. Our ability to wait for the land is a greater wonder than the land waiting for us. The correlation between lack of mitzvah observance and declining support for Israel among American Jewry is unsettling.


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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at [email protected].