The Secret of the Word “Covenant”

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The Secret of the Word “Covenant”

Michael Berg
February 4, 2024
Like 17 Comments 5 Share

This article was previously published in 2018.

The portion Mishpatim is a continuation, in some regards, of Yitro, the previous portion, in which the revelation at Sinai, the revelation of the totality of the Light of the Creator and the Light of Immortality, took place.

“The word ‘covenant’ is really a promise.”

Chronologically, there was the Revelation at Sinai, the Ten Utterances, leading to Moses going up to the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights and receiving the rest of the Torah, the rest of the Light and the wisdom of the revelation. But there is a moment at the end of the portion Mishpatim where it says Moses writes down what he received, wakes up the next morning, and builds twelve altars for each one of the twelve tribes – which represents a coming closer to the Light of the Creator – and they make sacrifices on the altars for each one of the twelve tribes. And Moses takes half of the blood and pours it onto the altar, and then takes what is called the Sefer ha-Brit, the Book of the Covenant, and reads it to the Israelites, saying, “Anything the Creator says, we will listen and will do.” Then Moses takes the blood and sprinkles it on the Israelites, telling them it is the blood through which the Creator has made a Covenant with them, the Israelites, on all these things.

So, I want to focus on this concept called the Sefer ha-Brit, the Book of the Covenant, and more importantly, on what the secret of the word brit, literally translated as “covenant,” means to our spiritual work. In chapter eight of the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Formation, it talks about the Creation of the world, and it says that within it we find the secret of the meaning of brit. And the great kabbalist, the Gaon of Vilna, in his commentary on the Book of Formation, discusses this secret. 

We find brit, covenant, very often in the Torah; for example, Abraham’s circumcision is called a covenant. A covenant can be compared to an individual who loves somebody very much and wants to do to something to guarantee that they will never separate. As such, how is it possible, the Gaon of Vilna asks, to at least try to create a bond that can never be separated? What can a person who loves somebody very much, but has to separate from him physically, do to make sure that they create a bond that will remain forever? 

One of the ways to do this is for the individual to give that person whatever the most important thing to him or her is. Let us say, for example, an individual has been collecting diamonds for his entire life, spending the last 50 years travelling the world collecting them, and has the ten most expensive, beautiful diamonds in the world. If someone asked him what the most important thing in his life is, he would say his collection of diamonds. And now he has a friend who is going away, who he is not going to see for five years, and he gives his friend his most precious diamond. So, what the Gaon of Vilna teaches is that it is not actually the physical object - in this case, the diamond - that is important; it is the giver's mind and heart that is attached to the diamond so that now his friend will always be thinking about him, and vice versa.

“The Creator took of His essence and put it in this package called the Zohar and the Torah.”

The Gaon of Vilna is explaining this person has given over to his friend something that has all of the focus of his thoughts and heart; therefore, the word covenant is really a promise. The concept of a covenant, he says, is when the most important thing to us is being given over to somebody else, and by that giving over, no matter what else happens, we will always care for this person. It is a promise, because that other person has what is most important to us, and we will always, therefore, want to make sure they are safe and taken care of. And so, we come to understand that the word covenant is really an action that is done which creates the promise that no separation can occur between these two people. This is why we find the concept of a covenant so often in the Torah, because now we understand it to be an action done which creates a promise to never separate. 

The first covenant we learn about is when the flood occurs in the world, and the Creator creates a covenant with Noah and the rest of humanity that the world will never be completely destroyed again. And the secret is that the rainbow is the covenant. Because the rainbow, as the Zohar explains, is actually an aspect of the Light of the Creator given over to this world.  The rainbow is an important element to the essence of the Light of the Creator, and therefore, the Creator, in giving over some of His essence by giving the rainbow, can never destroy the world. 

Understanding this, we can come to now see that the real gift of the Torah, the Ten Utterances, and the Zohar, is the Light within them. It is like the Creator cut away a part of His essence and Light and gave It to us, through those things. And then the Creator says to anybody who makes it their life's focus to take that gift that He has to take care of them, protect them, and give them Light and blessings, because they now hold something that is the most important thing to Him. 

So, we can begin to understand what the covenant is that the Creator gave to the Israelites. And this needs to give us a whole new understanding around what we call the study or the connection to the Light of the Torah, the Light of the Zohar. The Creator has given us His essence and Light inside them, something that makes it so if we hold onto them, we almost force the Creator to care for us. We almost force the Creator to have to protect us and give us blessings, because we now have taken what is given to us: the most important thing to the Light of the Creator. 

What the Torah is, and most importantly, what the Zohar is, is the Creator literally taking away the essence of His Light and giving us the opportunity to grab it. And unlike in the case where one friend is giving something over to the other friend, here it is up to us to take it. So, what happened at Sinai, through the Ten Utterances, the revelation of the Torah, and later in the manifestation of the Zohar, is that the Creator took of His essence and put it in this package called the Zohar and the Torah. And the Creator says to the individual who grabs most of the Light of the Zohar, “You have forced me now to be attached to you, to protect you, to shine Light and blessings down to you.” The Creator has put into this world places where His essence exists, and we have the opportunity to hold onto that essence. Once we do, it is not simply that we receive Light or blessings; we now have within us the most important aspect of the Light of the Creator, and no matter what else we do, we have brought the protection and blessings of the Light of the Creator onto ourselves. 

This is the secret behind where it says in the portion Mishpatim that there was a covenant created. Because up until the time of Mount Sinai, the essence of the Light of the Creator was something that could be drawn through spiritual work, but could not, for lack of a better word, be held onto. Up until the Revelation at Sinai, we could draw some of the Light into our life and into the world, but then came the manifestation of what is called the Torah and the Zohar, into which the Creator put His essence and said, “I am now putting myself in your hands. I am now making myself available to be held onto by you.”  

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