Last week, after Noah emerged from the ark, God made a brit, a covenant, with him and all humanity. God’s promise, in the form of a rainbow, was to never again flood the earth so thoroughly. What was our end of the bargain? We were now permitted to consume the flesh of animals, perhaps as a concession to our innate murderous instincts. But we were and are forbidden to consume their blood.
This week, in Parshat Lekh-Lekha, God makes not one but two covenants with Avram, who becomes the founding father of a new nation. The brit with which we are more familiar is Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision. But there’s also Brit Bein Habetarim, in which Avram is instructed to cut up several animals and walk through a corridor of carcasses. In this ceremony, Avram is informed that his offspring will, in the future, be enslaved in a foreign land. But eventually, they will return home to this land, which is promised to them in perpetuity.
These two covenants are reflections of the two major elements of Jewish identity–what Rabbi Donniel Hartman calls the covenants of being and doing. Do these covenants render the one made with Noah obsolete, or does that universal agreement continue to inspire the content and form of the two particular, Abrahamic, “Jewish” covenants?
I think this question is particularly relevant as we observe Veterans’ Shabbat this week. I’ll explain why on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise