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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Read more at Rabbi Sacks

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

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy