The two rituals at the beginning of the sidra are interesting for a number of reasons – the first because they actively involve the Israelites in affirming the covenant relationship with God, and also because they allow them to rehearse and participate in the history of the Jewish people. From being a passive recipient of God’s goodness and Moses’ leadership, they begin to be responsible for their own religious identity.
Two other phrases stand out for me in this sidra – “you shall rejoice before the Eternal your God” (27:7) and “Keep silence and hear Israel, today you have become a people to the Eternal your God” (27:9)
In his speech to the people about their entering the land, Moses uses a variety of techniques to get his message across – the message that they are dependent upon God, that they are required to follow the commandments or God will turn away from them, the importance of remembering the Covenant and following the path of right behaviour. Carrot and stick come to mind. But embedded in all of this is the message that now the people are growing up religiously, that their behaviour is becoming their own responsibility, that the lessons of their history must be used into their future, and most of all that religious responsibility and covenantal relationship with God is not punitive or a burden, but it is something that causes simchah – joy.
They are now a people, they have obligations to look after each other, they have the support of each other looking after them too. Most importantly, religious life is not about being alone, or about seeking the best for oneself, it is about being in relationship with others and with God. We are now very close to Rosh Hashanah. Each of us is responsible for our own lives and how we are living them. And each of us is responsible for each other – none of us are alone, all of us are part of the Covenant, and this is a not to be experienced as a burden but as a joy.