Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim - Shekalim 5759 The Fiery Covenant
Whenever a "Brit," or Covenant, is involved, the game is for high stakes. In fact, if one examines the Hebrew letters of the first word in the Torah, "Bereshit" (Beit, Resh, Aleph, Shin, Yud, Tuf), one notices that its structure is the word "Brit" (Beit, Resh, Yud, Tuf) surrounding the word "Aish," or Fire (Aleph, Shin).
The Torah is sometimes compared to fire, as when it is described as "aish shechorah al gabei aish levanah," letters of black fire "written" on "parchment" of white fire. Perhaps there is suggested here that the original Creation was "al T'nai," on condition, that humanity live with moral constraints. When his entire Generation became corrupt, except for Noach himself, G-d returned the World to water, saving only Noach and his family. But when the Torah describes the restoration of the World (Bereshit 9:9-17), in these nine verses there are seven references to "brit," as if to say that Hashem had to strengthen each Day of Creation and the Shabbat, itself a Creation, with a new covenant.
The Brit of Torah was entered into by Hashem and the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai some 3,300 years ago. It was there that the immortal words, the secret of the Angels, "Naaseh V'Nishma," "We accept it! Afterwards, we will understand it," were spoken by Man for the first time. As it is written, "And he (Moshe) took the Book of the Covenant and read from it into the "ears" of the People; And they said 'Everything that the L-rd commanded, we will do and understand.' " (Shemot, 24:7)
But the Jewish People were not able to sustain the Brit of Torah, falling into the pattern of sin which caused the Destruction of the First Temple, but they were given a chance, according to the Talmud, at the time of Purim, to renew the Covenant, as it is written, "And the Jews accepted what they had already begun to do " (Megilat Esther 9:23). And in the Section of Megillat Esther describing the establishment of the Holiday of Purim, where the Jewish People reaffirmed their commitment to the Torah, the word for re-establishment, "kiyum," or variations upon it, appear again seven times, giving an extra strengthening to the Structure of Creation.
The presence of blood seems almost to be a constant when a brit occurs. The most obvious example is the "Brit Milah," the Covenant of Circumcision. This indeed was one of the merits which the Jewish People had, which allowed them to be saved from Egypt, in addition to the blood of the Pesach Sacrifice.
At the "Brit bein HaBetarim," the Covenant Among the Pieces," which G-d contracted with Avraham with regard to Eretz Yisrael, blood was present as well, explicitly as well as implicitly. It was present in the cut pieces which Avraham was commanded to set on the ground. And Avraham had to drive off the vultures, representing the enemies of the Jewish People who would attack the Jewish People in every generation. Blood is implicit in this Brit as well. Certainly if Israel sinned, they would have to fight, and bleed, and die in the struggle to implement this great gift of G-d, the Land of Israel. This was true in the Biblical phase of our history, and it has been true, time after time, in our own day.
How can we ever break the cycle? How can we be faithful to the Brit of Torah and the Brit of Eretz Yisrael sufficiently that we are not driven out again? Perhaps this is part of what Moshe couldn't understand when he questioned the Master of the Universe as to the meaning of the "Machatzit HaShekel," the Half-Shekel. And when Hashem showed him a "matbea shel aish," "a coin of fire," perhaps drawn from that fire that was in the midst of the Original Covenant of G-d with the World, Moshe understood.
Moshe understood that the destructive fire residing in the word "Bereshit," preventing the full realization of our Covenant, had been transformed as a reward to Avraham Avinu, the partner with G-d in the Brit of Eretz Yisrael, for the Aish HaAkeidah, the Fire of Akeidat Yitzchak. With that merit, let us anticipate that Hashem will send the Mashiach, and build the Third temple, in the spirit of "Ba'Aish Ata atid livnoto," "In fire will You build it."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU