How American Presidents Re-enact the Torah’s Final Commandments

In this week’s Torah reading of Vayeilekh, Moses—approaching the end of his life—gives the Israelites the Pentateuch’s final commandments. The first (known as Hakhel) is that every seven years the king should gather the people on the holiday of Sukkot and publicly read the Torah to them. The second, as understood by the rabbis, is for every individual to take part in the writing of a Torah scroll. While the first ritual is not mentioned explicitly elsewhere in the Bible, there are multiple instances, notes Jonathan Sacks, where something similar happens, and each constitutes a renewing of the ancestral covenant with God. With this in mind, Sacks explains why these are the last mitzvot in the Torah:

In these last two commands, we are taught what it is to be part of a spirit that has not died in 4,000 years and will not die so long as there is a sun, moon, and stars. God showed Moses, and through him us, how to become part of a civilization that never grows old. It stays young because it repeatedly renews itself. The last two commands of the Torah are about renewal, first collective, then individual.

Hakhel, the covenant-renewal ceremony every seven years, ensured that the nation would regularly rededicate itself to its mission. . . . [T]here is one place in the world where this covenant-renewal ceremony still takes place: the United States of America.

The concept of covenant played a decisive role in European politics in the 16th and 17th century, especially in Calvin’s Geneva and in Scotland, Holland, and England. Its longest-lasting impact, though, was on America, where it was taken by the early Puritan settlers and remains part of its political culture even today. Almost every presidential inaugural address—every four years since 1789—has been, explicitly or implicitly, a covenant-renewal ceremony, a contemporary form of Hakhel. . . .

If Hakhel is national renewal, the command that we should each take part in the writing of a new Torah scroll is personal renewal. It was Moses’ way of saying to all future generations: it is not enough for you to say, “I received the Torah from my parents (or grandparents or great-grandparents).” You have to take it and make it new in every generation. . . .

How precisely timed, therefore, and how beautiful, that at the very moment when the greatest of prophets faced his own mortality, God should give him, and us, the secret of immortality—not just in heaven but down here on earth. For when we keep to the terms of the covenant, making it new again in our lives, we live on in those who come after us, whether through our children or our disciples or those we have helped or influenced. We “renew our days as of old.” Moses died, but what he taught and what he sought lives on.

Read more at Rabbi Sacks

More about: American exceptionalism, Deuteronomy, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Ronald Reagan, Torah

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy