The Bible Says What? ‘Every Jew who ever lived stood together at the same event’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Every Jew who ever lived stood together at the same event’

Rabbi  Mark Goldsmith takes a controversial passage of text and provides a Reform response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

Just five chapters from the end of the Torah, we hear about the ceremony that took place just before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. 

Moses says all are standing together to enter into the Jewish covenant with God, the basis of our religion. The terms of the covenant are the whole Torah and how we understand the practice and life that it mandates today. 

In exchange, we are brought into eternal relationship with God as
a special people. 

What I find so striking about this scene is how Moses addresses who is there with him: ‘You stand this day all of you before God (Deut. 29:9)’. 

He then lists all the people from the chiefs of the Israelite tribes to the people who do the most menial tasks of the time, water drawers and woodchoppers. Moses addresses men and women together, and children. He then goes even further: ‘I make this covenant not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before God and with those who are not with us here this day.’ 

Judaism is a religion in which everyone is equal, no one is ‘holier than thou’. The picture painted is that we were all there at the same time in the same place to receive Torah and put its lessons into action. 

Once the great first century rabbis Shammai and Hillel argued about who should be taught Torah. Shammai said we should teach Torah to worthy and qualified students only, but Hillel said to teach Torah to anyone, so they can learn and change their behaviour. Hillel won the argument and Judaism lives through our generations today.

  •  Mark Goldsmith is Senior Rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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