Insights into “Word Concepts” in Torah: Brit - Covenant

This Torah Portion of Lech Lecha Genesis 12:1–17:27.

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Brit milah (illustration)
Brit milah (illustration)
צילום: PR

We are told of the Brit -Covenant that Hashem enacts with the descendants of Abraham;

On that day, Hashem formed a BRIT- Covenant with Abram, saying,

"To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates river.”( Genesids 15:18)

 The first half of the Covenantal promise was to be fulfilled when the children of Israel were to become slaves in the land of Egypt. The other part of the Covenant was partially fulfilled when the Israelites a conquered and settled most of the land of promise. Though the Israelites were then sent into exile the fullness of that promise, will be fulfilled and will yet be achieved in the manner yet to be revealed.

We will yet read of another Covenant.

And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and G-d appeared to Abram, and He said to him, "I am the Almighty G-d; walk before Me and be TAMIM ( wholehearted). And I will place My BRIT-Covenant between Me and between you, and I will multiply you very greatly."      And Abram fell upon his face, and G-d spoke with him, saying, "As for Me, behold My BRIT-Covenant  is with you, and you shall become the father of a multitude of nations.  And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”( Genesis 17:1-7)

Rashi explains about this Covenant the following;

And I will place My Covenant: A Covenant of love and the Covenant of the land, to give it to you as a heritage through [your fulfillment of] this commandment. 

The commandment Rashi is talking about was "walk before Me and be wholehearted"(Genesis 17:1) So does that help us understand what the word BRIT or Covenant truly mean? What does walking before Him and being wholehearted have to do with the fulfillment of the Brit-Covenant?

In order to understand  that let  us explore other examples of a BRIT--Covenant.

We see the Brit formed with Noach and all his descendants

"And I will establish My Covenant with you, and never again will all flesh be cut off by the flood waters, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth."    G-d said: "This is the sign of the BRIT Covenant, which I am placing between Me and between you, and between every living soul that is with you, for everlasting generations.(Genesis 9:11-12)

Then there is the Covenant in this Torah portion of Lech Lecha called"the Brit bein HaBetarim, the "Covenant Between the Parts"( ibid 12:7)  This is followed by the circumcision or Brit Milah, the external sign of a Covenant and with Abraham and his male descendants and by inference all of their family

We see the concept declared again “'And now, if you obey Me and keep BRIT-My Covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel."(Exodus 19:5-6).

Then again in  the book of Deuteronomy at the revelation at Mount Sinai.  As a corollary Hashem declares that as a result of that BRIT ,His people would be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation"(Exodus 19:6) and thereby act as witnesses and examples for all of mankind.

G-d also calls the Shabbat the permanent sign of this Covenant. (ibid 31:12–17) and also declares a Brit for the Kohanim( Priests) and for the line of King David.

Therefore  what doies the term BRIT-Covenant really mean  . Does it necessarily involve two sides? Is it by nature of the two sides a fragile and delicate bond or is it firm and unshakeable?

The word Brit seems to be rooted in the Hebrew word Bar which means pure, revealed,

Who will ascend upon Hashem's mount and who will stand in His Holy place?He who has clean hands and a pure ( BAR)  heart, who has not taken My name in vain and has not sworn deceitfully.(Psalm 24:3-4)

For something to be Pure is needs to be free of impediments and obstacles. It is purely what it is. A Covenant is an expression of pure intentions, or if it lacks pure intentions it is at least made up of clear expectations.

When two individuals create a Covenant they are declaring clearly their mutual expectations. That is the basis of the Salt Covenant. The concept of the Salt Covenant appears twice in the Tanach and is implied in the book of Leviticus as well.

In the book of Numbers we read "All the heave-offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto Hashem, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, as a due for ever; it is an everlasting Covenant of Salt before Hashem unto thee and to thy seed with thee.' ( Numbers 18:19)

Then again in the Book of Chronicles we read ;"ought ye not to know that Hashem, the G-d of Israel, gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a Covenant of Salt? " ( 2Chronicles 13:5)

Similarly we read in the book of Leviticus of the use of salt on the altar; "every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the Covenant of your G-d to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt." ( Leviticus 2:13)

That then is the point of Covenants.

Like Salt, they are to be clear, preserved and unchanging.

But is it always everlasting?

In essence a Covenant represents a relationship based on mutual commitments and promises.  Among human beings it is understood that if a Covenant is broken by either side then the  other side is not bound any more to that Covenant.

This is not the case when G-d, the “Constant and Eternal One” makes a Covenant, His side will always stand. The side of the mortals may waver and may wander away from its responsibilities, but G-d's side is everlasting.

 It awaits for the mortal side that has wandered to return.

That side  will return when they master the ability to “walk before Him,” that is to say into the unknown, and “to be wholehearted” ( with faith and vision)

And I will establish My Covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting Covenant, to be a G-d unto thee and to thy seed after thee.....'9 And G-d said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My Covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations.(Genesis 17:7-9)_) .

The words “everlasting Covenant” are critical. G-d knew the twists and turns that would befall this developing people. Yet He knew that in spite of their wanderings off the path and detours from the vision the Covenant from His side would be an Everlasting Covenant.

Yet this everlasting Covenant was to impact, direct and instruct all the nations of the earth ,“and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him (Genesis 18:8:).

 Yet this simple truth of an Eternal Covenant being truly unchanging would not be easily recognized in the world. This will be so until the final acts in the play of destiny will have been played out. The world will have to see it played out with the people of Israel before they can truly understand . Only then will it be commonly understood that an Eternal Covenant is just that, Eternal.

The prophet Ezekiel goes on to explain that even if the people of Israel lose their way and falter, G-d’s promise would not and could not be curtailed;

“And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. ...And I will sanctify My great Name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am Hashem-is the declaration of Hashem G-d-when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your land. ( Ezekiel 36:19-24)

The facts will be made clear for all to see.

That is the lesson of the word Brit. It gives a hope, a direction and instructions all at once. The Zohar describes the first word of the Torah BREISHIT ( In the Beginning) as being made up of two words. The first two and the last two letters spell out BRIT or Covenant. Take those four letters out you are left with AISH (fire). Understanding and revealing the everlasting Brit will enable one to reach its purpose. Without that BRIT we are left with fire and destruction.

 “And I will establish My Covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting Covenant((Genesis 17:1-2)

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Esther