“You, too, must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
In Parashat Eikev, Moses reminds the Israelites of all the good things God did for them in the desert, even as he reminds them of all the bad things they did. The obvious question is why does God continue to bail out the Israelites?
One answer is found in the opening verse of the parasha (portion): ”If you hearken to these rules and observe them faithfully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the brit (covenant) and chesed (kindness) sworn to your fathers.” (Deut. 7:12) Read at face value, the verse doesn’t explain the continued support and care that God gives the Israelites; after all, they fail repeatedly to follow God’s commands. One answer can be found recognizing the difference between a brit and a contract, and by understanding the relationship between brit and chesed.
According to Danny Elazar, (1934-1999; a leading political scientist and specialist in the study of the Jewish political tradition, Israel and the world Jewish community) a contract is a mutual promise, essentially private, in which each side gives in order to get. Each side is motivated to minimize what it has to give and to maximize what it gets. When the term of the contract expires, the parties have no obligation to renew if they feel it is not to their advantage.
A brit work differently. A brit is a public agreement rooted in chesed. Chesed is the principle of doing more than the minimum specified. Doing more than the minimum is what keeps a brit from descending into mere legalese and distinguishes it from a contract. That’s why chesed is best translated as “covenantal kindness.” God maintains the brit through chesed: doing more than promised even when the Israelites do less.
The goal of the Torah is a just and lawful world. Brit and chesed, which are the starting point for Jewish communal life, are the vehicles for doing so.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,