At Sinai, the Jewish nation entered into its second covenant with God, a pact based not on the family-nation of the descendants of Abraham [per Gen. 15], but rather on the common religious commitment of adherence to the word of God revealed at Sinai. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik taught that the Torah contains two covenantal experiences: the former, our national covenant of fate; the latter, our religious covenant of destiny [“Kol Dodi Dofek”].
There are special circumstances when fate and destiny become intertwined. One such moment was in September 1970 in Riga, Latvia, where I was on a special underground mission for the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. with a daunting and marvelous request. Two brothers, one just 8 days old and the other one week prior to his bar mitzvah, were about to be circumcised. Since the Soviet regime severely punished those who participated in such religious rituals, the two “operations” were to take place in the dead of night at the Rombula cemetery outside Riga.
Words cannot describe the feelings of eeriness, queasiness, admiration and privilege that all converged within me while intoning the circumcision blessings that dark, freezing night in the cemetery. But the most poignant moment of all was yet to come.
After both circumcisions, I uttered the traditional phrase: “Just like [ke-shem] this child has entered the covenant, so may he enter Torah, the nuptial canopy and a life of good deeds.” Suddenly, from the depths of silence that one can only sense in a cemetery, the father of the boys emitted a strangled cry in Yiddish: “Nein ‘ke-shem’!” (“Not ‘just like’!”) “I do not want their brises, bar mitzvahs and weddings to be just like this, in hiding, in a cemetery. I want them to be in the open, with pride, in our Jewish homeland, in Israel!”
Indeed, the two children I circumcised nearly five decades ago celebrated their weddings in Israel. Both of them, but particularly the young man just before bar mitzvah, were expressing not only their Jewish fate, but their Jewish destiny. To a certain extent, this is true of every parent who has their child circumcised. And I believe this is also true with regard to living in the Land of Israel.
The destiny of the nation of Israel can only be fully realized in the Land of Israel dedicated to the Torah of Israel. The Land of Israel is an integral part of the destiny we accepted at Sinai. We may have returned to Israel as a result of our determination and prayers, but we shall actualize our destiny in Israel only as a result of our efforts and actions.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat.