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Secrets of the Unifying Covenants
by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

>>> Listen to Audio Lecture here (length: 27:24 min) 

Everybody would like to emulate God and to have the ability to influence Divine Providence. The keys to both these lofty aspirations are hidden in this week's Torah portion. In this audio lecture, Rabbi Ginsburgh delves into the two covenants between God and Abraham -- and his descendants. When we apply the inner meaning of these covenants in our lives, we can merit to bring God true joy and pleasure in His creation.  

Two Covenants

The main image in the Torah portion of Lech Lecha is of the two covenants that God makes with Abraham. A covenant is a superational act of connection. It is a pact that the parties will be faithful to and forgive each other no matter what -- even when on the conscious plane one of the parties behaves negatively. In our Torah portion, God first makes a covenant with Abraham in which he gives him the Land of Israel. The second covenant is the covenant of circumcision.

The "Covenant of the Pieces"

In ancient times, a common method of making a covenant was to cut animals into pieces, and for both partners in the covenant to walk between them. In the first covenant, called the "Covenant of the Pieces," Abraham walks through the pieces of animals that he has cut, together with a Divinely dispatched torch. This covenant was God's promise to Abraham to give the Land of Israel to him and his descendants.

The Covenant of Circumcision

In the second covenant, God commands Abraham to circumcise himself and all his male descendants. Our sages explain that the covenant of circumcision is the pact in which God chooses the Jewish body to become unique in its holiness. Female Jews are already spiritually circumcised, and no physical act is required. When God made this covenant with Abraham, he changed his name from Avram to Avraham and his wife, Sarai's name to Sarah. Both Abraham and Sarah entered the covenant of circumcision simultaneously.

The Singular and the Consummate One

Abraham is the first Jew and the first believer. God refers to him as "one." Abraham, the "one" is the person with whom God chooses to make two covenants that are the point of one and its consummation:

In the "Covenant of the Pieces," the word "covenant" appears only once. The essence of this covenant is singular. It is the point of oneness of the Land of Israel.

In the Covenant of Circumcision, the word "covenant" appears thirteen times. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for "one," echad, is 13. 13 is the full expression of 1. The covenant of circumcision brings the singular point of the covenant of the Land to full expression and consummation in the sanctified flesh of the Jew.

Covenant Numbers

Beside the two covenants that God made with Abraham, the word "covenant" also appears in the Torah in relation to Noah and in relation to the Torah itself.

In relation to Noah "covenant" appears seven times, corresponding to the seven commandments that God gave Noah and his descendants. This is not a personal covenant with Noah, but rather a covenant between God and all creation, in which God promises never to destroy all of creation again.

The word "covenant" appears in conjunction with the Torah three times. Our sages conclude that because the word "covenant" appears only three times in conjunction with the Torah, and a full thirteen times in conjunction with circumcision, there is something about circumcision that is more essential to a Jew than the study of Torah.

The numbers of times that the word "covenant" appears in each context form an important quadratic series called the "covenant numbers." They appear with disproportionate frequency in the Torah units on covenants.

The "covenant numbers are:

  • 1 (Land covenant)
  • 3 (Torah)
  • 7 (Noah)
  • 13 (circumcision)

The formula of this series is n squared plus n plus 1. The next numbers in this series are 21, 31, 43, ..

The Cutting Covenants

As opposed to the other covenants in the Torah, the two covenants that God made with Abraham both involved cutting. The very word for "pieces" in the Covenant of Pieces, betarim, is a permutation of the word for "covenant," brit.

The simple difference between the two types of cutting in these covenants is that in the Covenant of Pieces something is being cut apart so that it may be used in a different manner. In the covenant of circumcision, negative, profane energy that conceals the fact that this body is chosen is cut away from the body and discarded.

The Road to Inheritance of the Land

The pieces that Abraham cut in the covenant of the Land must be experienced in our psyche as the borders of the Land of Israel. We walk through these pieces with God, and they define our presence in the Land. The Land of Israel was divided into portions of the tribes, and in our day -- into cities. Each piece is important and indispensable. The Land of Israel is like a body. Every piece is a limb of the body. The roads that connect the pieces of Israel are like the blood vessels that connect the limbs of the body. Blood is the essence of the soul and the soul is a part of God. Whenever we travel the roads of Israel, we are in a small way passing as Abraham through the pieces of the Land with God and taking our inheritance in the Land. This is why we are taught that it is a mitzvah ("positive deed") for a Jew to walk four cubits in the Land of Israel.

The Perfect Age

In the Torah we learn that Abraham followed God's directive to settle in the Land of Israel at the age of 75. Our Sages teach that Abraham had actually been in Israel five years prior to this directive, at the age of 70. It was then, that he entered into the Land covenant with God. Abraham was 99 years old when he entered into the covenant of circumcision. The sum of 70 and 99 is 169, which is an exact square, representing perfection or consummation of two numbers that complement each other and produce a perfect phenomenon. Significantly, 169 is the square of 13, the value of echad, "one" as above.

The Diagonal Perspective

There is a deeper phenomenon reflected by the ages of Abraham at the time that he entered the two covenants. When working with natural numbers, we know that 2a squared can never equal b squared. This is because the square root of 2 is not rational. The closest that we can come to the secret of the square root of 2 is when 2a squared is plus or minus 1 the square of b. This rare mathematical phenomenon occurs with the squares of the ages of Abraham. The square of 70 is 4900. The square of 99 is 9801. 9801 is 2 times 70 squared plus 1. This phenomenon, the secret of the square root of 2, is the secret of the diagonal of the square. In Kabbalah and Chassidut we learn that the diagonal is a 45-degree angle of perception on reality. There is deep significance in the fact that this diagonal perception of reality is reflected in the two crucial covenants -- inheritance of the Land and removing negative energies -- (especially negative sexual desires) – that God made with the first Jew.

Walking With God

When we traverse the roads of the Land of Israel, we are walking through the pieces of the Land with God. In our service of God, the covenant of the Land is the ability of the Jewish soul to emulate God. The 612th (the numerical value of brit, "covenant") commandment in the Torah is (Deuteronomy 28:9): "And you shall walk in His ways."

Our sages explain that to walk in God's ways is to emulate His characteristics – just as He is merciful, patient, strong, etc. so we must strive to be so, as well. This consciousness is predicated on the consciousness that God has given us the Land of Israel and that we walk together with Him.

Walking Before God

In our service of God, the covenant of circumcision is the ability of the Jewish soul to walk before God. When God introduces the covenant of circumcision to Abraham, He says (Genesis 17:1): "Walk before Me and be perfect."

To walk before God is the ability of the Jew to influence Divine Providence. This is the ability to initiate and innovate new revelations of Torah and good news in the world. Abraham first walked parallel to God in emulation of Him. He then walked before God, preceding Him. A person can precede God, as it were, only if his body is perfect, with no foreskin. Then not only is his soul a part of God, but his body is also a sanctified part of God. In that state, he can initiate Providence and revelation in the world.

We are taught that a tzadik, a consummately righteous person, can make a decree that God fulfills and alternately can annul a decree made by God. The deepest desire of our Father in Heaven is that His children ascend to the sanctified level at which they can direct Divine Providence. This is the real joy and pleasure God takes in creating and choosing the Jewish People.



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