By Daniel Chejfec
At the end of the reading of the Torah in the synagogue or temple, we always have this unusual ceremony-within-a-ceremony in which a congregant lifts the Torah scroll and the congregation intones the words “Vezot Hatorah asher sam Mosheh lifnei Bet Israel al pi Adonay b’yad Mosheh” – “This is the Torah that Moses put forth to the House of Israel, from the mouth of God by the hand of Moses”. What does it mean?
“This is the Torah that Moses put forth to the House of Israel …” Moses brings the Torah and presents it to the people; the people could choose to accept it or reject it. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is only one part of the equation, the reception and acceptance of the Torah is the other part. Simply put, the Torah belongs to the people, not to God and not to Moses; it is a covenant with God, but also a covenant of the people. It binds the people together through its collective acceptance of mutual responsibility.
“From the mouth of God by the hand of Moses” Moses is presented as an intermediary between the higher purpose represented by God and the People which accepts the Torah. The leader is a conduit between the higher purpose, the lofty goals of an existence bound to the Law and the common people in the tents of Israel .
So how does that play in modern times? No Sinai experience today, that’s for sure…Maybe we could rephrase it –forgive my irreverence- to reflect today’s issues:
“This is the community that the leadership puts forth to the rank and file, guided by the goals through the thoughtful use of the institutions”
As the Torah belongs to the people, so does the community, and as in the Sinai story the people must accept it for the covenant to be completed. And as in the Sinai story, the leadership is not above the people but provides a conduit for the fulfillment of the goals by managing the resources (institutions) of the community.
Without the involvement of the common folk, the community becomes an empty shell; without responsible leadership the community is rudderless. Leadership and constituency require each other’s commitment to the community and to the common task, pretty much as Moses and the people of Israel needed each other to fulfill the Covenant. The community exists for a higher purpose of meeting the needs of the people, pretty much as the Covenant exists to fulfill the collective obligations to God, and as the people derives benefit from the Torah, the Jewish community derives a benefit from an open and transparent administration of the community resources…
The community is yours. Speak out and get involved. Accept the Covenant.