This week’s parasha includes the celebrated “law of the birds nest”, the observance of which is associated in the Torah with long life. But what kind of long life is meant here? A case can be made that what is at stake is not the life of the individual but of the society as a whole.
A secret is concealed in the juxtaposition of Parashat Ki Tavo and Nitzavim. We are told how to relate to our history, and that we will not face it alone. “When all this has come upon you…” The procedure for bringing the first fruits contains a holographic image of all of our history. It is the model for the period in which we now find ourselves, now that all of this has come upon us.
Civilizations tend to peak and then die out without a trace. In fact, often enough the success of a nation is a sign of its imminent demise. And yet, we’re still here. The Jewish people was a “nation” long before the invention of the modern nation. It reached its peak of power and, by all the rules governing the evolution of civilizations, should have peaked and collapsed. And yet, that isn’t the way the story ended. Could it be that the dire prophecies at the end of our Torah were a blessing in disguise?
For Diaspora Jews, fluency in the Hebrew language may mean the difference between raising a generation of knowledgeable apikorsim and a generation of ignoramuses, destined for cultural oblivion.
We’re used to hearing that this or that halakhic impasse can be resolved only by the authority of a new Sanhedrin. The problem of course is that a Sanhedrin cannot be set up without a unanimous decision of all the “greats” of a single generation–something that is unlikely to happen in the near future. But is re-establishing the Sanhedrin really such a great idea, even if it were doable?
We hear a great deal about the need to pull back from the precipice of assimilation, the need to halt the tide of intermarriage which threatens to engulf Jewish communities in the United States. But what we don’t hear much about is why. Why resist assimilation? Why not become absorbed into the body of human civilization the way countless other nations have done over the course of history? Why do we take it for granted that Jewish continuity is a good thing? Perhaps because we have an intuitive sense that the world needs us.
“By clinging to our names, our distinctive dress, and our language, we merited rescue from Egypt.”
The connection between these three things and the redemption from Egypt appears nowhere explicitly in our texts. On the other hand, the Chatam Sofer singled out these three behaviors as a recipe for maintaining our national identity. But why these particular things? And can we, after all, apply his filter to the Egyptian Exile?