The Berit: Count Me In
Most stories we tell our children start off with ‘once upon a time,’ ‘at the dawn of time,’ and ‘in a place far far away.’ These stories are fantasies, similar to mythologies, and take place outside of time and tangible place. Our Torah, in contrast, specifically tells us the times and places of our important events. The creation of our nation at Har Sinai, arguably the most important event in our history, took place specifically on the third month from when we left Egypt. “In the third month of the children of Israel’s departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai (Shemot 19:1).” Then the Torah gives even more particular detail of where: “They journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain (Shemot 19:2).” Indicated along with the date which includes the year, month, and day are the place which includes the city, the desert, and a specific address, across from the mountain. The writing of the date and place reinforces the berit’s credibility as a legally binding document.
It was on this day, the year we left Egypt, on the third month, on that day, that we began the process of nationhood. We were engaged in creating an alliance with God to be his role models on earth, to be the model nation. This pact was made in real practical terms, similar to alliances, agreements, and contracts which we are all familiar with. To really understand the Torah, the berit, we need to study it as a real document, an agreement that we signed with the Creator of the world. This document is not a story, a legend or myth, it took place in real space and time, and both parties, our nation and God, are legally responsible to uphold its terms.
When asked ‘why should I keep the Torah?’ I usually start with asking whether one needs to fulfill their agreements and contracts. While we were not physically at Sinai, Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel, entered into this agreement. As a citizen of the nation we are responsible to fulfill the national contracts, just as a U.S. citizen is bound by the national constitution.
Upholding the terms of the berit is termed qiyum misvot. The word qiyum here means fulfilling a term of an agreement, which is our responsibility. Our Hakhamim described Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Har Sinai experience, as a marriage between the newly established nation of Israel and God. Our Torah, like a marriage agreement, defines the responsibilities of the partners. The carrying out of our agreement should not be contingent on our emotions, so that when we feel like being loyal we are and when we do not feel like being loyal we are not. Ahaba, the Hebrew term for love, whether between a man and a woman or man and God, veahabta et hashem elohekha, is a commitment. Love in Judaism is not an obsession as it is understood in our surrounding culture. The way one ‘loves’ a sports team or a food is not Ahaba, it is an obsession, an intense desire, or a craving. This obsession, desire, or craving can come and go, which is not so with Ahaba. The term Ahaba, love in Judaism, means that one is primarily committed, and secondarily feels an emotional closeness. There is an emotion, but the primary is the commitment. This is an important point, since one cannot be in love and then out of love, a commitment is a commitment. We have a responsibility to take care of our partners whether we are feeling the emotions at the moment or not. When our nation signed the berit at Sinai, and entered into the relationship with God, we took on a responsibility as the partner of God.
The key to this agreement is the proposal which defines the roles and responsibilities of the parties. In the case of our berit, the two parties are Benei Yisrael and God. The broker of the agreement is Moshe, known as the messenger of God. The initial proposal is made in the Sinai desert in front of the mountain, neged hahar, on this day, bayom haze, during the 3rd month, bahodesh hashelishi, from when Benei Yisrael left Egypt. God proposes that if Benei Yisrael choose to follow his laws, the agreement He will soon make, then Benei Yisrael will be God’s treasured nation, am segula. This nation will be designated to be a model nation, mamlekhet kohanim vegoy kadosh.
This agreement, the berit, is later ratified by the next generation [Bemidbar 33, Devarim 28:69 and 29:9-11] and made binding on all future generations. As a citizen of the nation of Israel, being part of Am Yisrael, one is bound by this national constitution, the Torah, contracted in previous generations. Similarly, American citizens are bound by the U.S. Constitution signed September 17, 1787. Each individual is bound by the agreement by virtue of being part of the nation. These points become clear when we recognize that our Torah is a national contract, a national alliance, which took place in real space and time. The Torah becomes clearer, and is properly recognized as being tangible and practical when we view it as our national berit, our national constitution. Our national berit, the model constitution, was established for the benefit of its citizens. We may not always see the benefits, but if we recognize God as the Creator of the world, and accept him as our master, then we should at least trust his instructions as a student of karate would trust that the instructions of his master are meant to benefit him as a student. The same analogy can be seen with a business mentor who guides his mentee. The mentee may not always recognize how the direction will help, but if he has chosen the right mentor, knows that the mentor is guiding him towards success.
Rabbi Meyer Laniado
 The Torah states ‘on this day’ and does not say exactly which one. I believe this was so that we do not apply astrological significance to it.
 See More Nebukhim 1:12
 This is true also of veahabta lereiakha kamokha (Vaqikra 19:18). Note that one is responsible to take care of them and their property as one would take care of ones own, regardless of ones ‘love’ for them. See Sefer Hahinukh, Mitzvah 243 and Rambam Hilkhot Deot 6:4
 Note the movie Karate Kid. The student learned that the rituals, such as painting the fence and waxing the floor actually did train him in karate, although he did not recognize this until later.