The Covenant Between Man and God

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

In the Torah we find that God established a Brit (Covenant) with Avraham, with Yitzchak, with Yaakov and with the entire Klal Yisrael. These covenants serve as contractual obligations between Himself and the Avot (forefathers), as well as between Himself and the Congregation of Israel. The halakha states that every proper covenant contains obligations by the signatory parties. Two sides participate; each gives and receives something in return.

Rav Soloveitchik found this arrangement quite problematic, it seemed inconceivable that we, mankind should sign an agreement between ourselves and our Creator. For we exist only in Him, through Him, and with Him, and our existence is naught in relation to Him. From this perspective, only God influences, only He gives; for He is the ultimate source. Man is nothing more than a receiver, a passive participant. He has only what God gives him; and what does not bestow, he lacks. If the Master of the universe plays the role of giver exclusively, then what is the role of man in this contract?

The Rav noted that the answer to this is provided by R’ Chaim Volozhiner in his Nefesh HaChaim, where he writes that man must provide “assistance”, as it were, to the Master of the universe. Man must “help” HaShem reveal His presence in the world. This was God’s message when He directed Avraham to “Lech Lech….” “To go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Bereishit 12:1). God was in essence telling Avraham, “Now, I am the receiver and you are the giver. Your assignment and mission is to make My presence known to the world. You must remove the clouds that obscure Me from perception.”

Just as Avraham was charged with this task, we too must continue this mission, a charge that has only increased in urgency in our present day. HaShem is indeed omnipotent, but the task of revealing His Presence is the great mission of His people.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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