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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy