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.

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

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy