The Covenant As Process

The covenant reflects the ongoing relationship between God and the Jewish people.

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This sense of being part of the chain creates the emotional commitment to Jewish survival even in people and generations who do not know the reason for this drive or indeed the reason for Judaism at all. What appears to be blind sentiment or "tribalism" is really an urgency communicated between generations. This tradition is too important to lose, especially since the efforts of countless people--some of whom gave their very lives for the vision--would be lost along with it.

The covenant is binding, not just because it is juridical (that is, commanded) but because people continually accept its goal and become bound to its process. The present generation is neither the slavish follower of the tradition handed down by past generations nor an autonomous community free to tamper with past practices or to reject past goals. Each generation is a partner entering into the covenantal responsibility and process and thus joining the transgenerational covenantal community.

This is the basis of the rabbinic tradition that all Jews who ever lived or who ever will live stood at Sinai and heard the proclamation of the covenant. It is that moment--standing before Sinai to accept the covenant--that is symbolically recreated every year on the morning of Shavuot.

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).