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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                              Shabbat Announcements Yitro 5780
         especially the Pilgrim Fathers, the first European settlers in   The two central institutions of modern Western liberal
         North America. It lay at the heart of the Mayflower Compact   democracies are both contractual. There are commercial
         (1620) and John Winthrop’s famous “City upon a Hill” speech   contracts that create the market; and there is the social
         aboard the Arbella in 1630. Over time however, and under the  contract that creates the state. The market is about the
         influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the word “covenant” was  creation and distribution of wealth. The state is about the
         gradually supplanted by the phrase “social contract.” Clearly   creation and distribution of power. But a covenant is about
         there is something similar between the two, but they are not   neither wealth nor power, but rather about the bonds of
         the same thing at all. In fact, they operate on different logics   belonging and collective responsibility. As I put it in The
         and they create different relationships and institutions.   Politics of Hope, a social contract creates a state. A social
                                                              covenant creates a society. A society is the totality of
         In a contract, two or more people come together, each   relationships that do not depend on exchanges of wealth and
         pursuing their self-interest, to make a mutually advantageous   power, namely marriages, families, congregations,
         exchange. In a covenant, two or more people, each    communities, charities and voluntary associations. The
         respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come   market and the state are arenas of competition. Society is an
         together in a bond of loyalty and trust to do together what   arena of co–operation. And we need both.
         neither can achieve alone. It isn’t an exchange; it’s a moral
         commitment. It is more like a marriage than a commercial   The reason that the concept of covenant proved helpful to
         transaction. Contracts are about interests; covenants are   the Anglican bishops on the one hand, and the American
         about identity. Contracts benefit; covenants transform.   Enterprise Institute on the other, is that it is the supreme
         Contracts are about “Me” and “You”; covenants are about   example of a bond that brings together, in a single
         “Us.”                                                co-operative enterprise, individuals and groups that are
                                                              profoundly different. They could not be more different than
         What makes the Hebrew Bible revolutionary in political terms   the parties at Mount Sinai: God and the children of Israel, the
         is that it contains not one founding moment but two. One is   one Infinite and eternal, the other, finite and mortal. In fact,
         set out in 1 Samuel 8, when the people come to the prophet   the very first human relationship, between the first man and
         Samuel and ask for a king. God tells Samuel to warn the   the first woman, contains a two-word definition of covenant:
         people what will be the consequences. The king will take the   ezer ke-negdo, meaning on the one hand “a helper” but on
         people’s sons to ride with his chariots and their daughters to   the other, someone “over-and-against.” In a marriage,
         work in his kitchens. He will take their property as taxation,   neither husband nor wife sacrifice their distinctive identities.
         and so on. Nonetheless, the people insist that they still want a   At Sinai, God remained God and the Israelites remained
         king, so Samuel appoints Saul. Commentators have long been   human. A symbol of covenant is the havdalah candle:
         puzzled by this chapter. Does it represent approval or   multiple wicks that stay separate but produce a single flame.
         disapproval of monarchy? The best answer ever given was   So, covenant allowed the Anglican Communion to stay
         provided by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes, who explained that what   together despite the deep differences between the American
         Samuel was doing at God’s behest was proposing a social   and African churches. The American covenant held the nation
         contract precisely on the lines set out by Thomas Hobbes in   together despite, in Lincoln’s day, a civil war, and at other
         The Leviathan. People are willing to give up certain of their   times, civil and economic strife, and its renewal will do
         rights, transferring them to a central power – a king or a   likewise in the future. In Moses’ day it allowed the Israelites
         government – who undertakes in return to ensure the defense   to become “one nation under God” despite their division into
         of the realm externally and the rule of law within. The book of   twelve tribes. Covenants create unity without uniformity.
         Samuel thus contains the first recorded instance of a social   They value diversity but, rather than allowing a group to split
         contract. However, this was the second founding moment of   into competing factions, they ask each to contribute
         Israel as a nation, not the first. The first took place in our   something uniquely theirs to the common good. Out of
         parsha, on Mount Sinai, several centuries earlier, when the   multiple Me’s they create an overarching Us.
         people made with God, not a contract but a covenant. What
         happened in the days of Samuel was the birth of Israel as a   What made these two experiences in Canterbury and
         kingdom. What happened in the days of Moses – long before   Washington so moving to me was that they showed how
         they had even entered the land – was the birth of Israel as a   prophetic Moses’ words were when he told the Israelites that
         nation under the sovereignty of God.                 the Torah and its commands “will show your wisdom and
                                                              understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these
                              Great Neck Synagogue            decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023   understanding people’” (Deut. 4:6). Torah continues to
                                  516-487-6100                inspire not only Jews but all who seek guidance in hard
                                                              times. So, if you find yourself in a situation of conflict that
                                                              threatens to break something apart, whether a marriage, a
                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi      family, a business, a community, a political party or an
                       Rabbi Aron White, Intern Rabbi         organization, framing a covenant will help keep people
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus     together, without any side claiming victory or defeat. All it
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor              needs is recognition that there are certain things we can do
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus    together that none of us can do alone. Covenant lifts our
                     Rabbi Sholom Jensen, Youth Director      horizon from self-interest to the common good. There is
                  Zehava & Dr. Michael Atlas, Youth Directors   nothing wrong with self-interest. It drives economics and
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director        politics, the market and the state. But there are certain
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director     things that cannot be achieved on the basis of self-interest
                          Erran Kagan, President              alone, among them trust, friendship, loyalty and love.
                   Harold Domnitch, Chairman of the Board     Covenant really is a life- and world-changing idea.
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