“This day you have become a nation to the Lord your God” (Deut/Devarim 27:9)
Our parasha declares that on “this day” we became a nation. Really? The experience of enslavement and exodus from Egypt did not make us a people? The moment of Divine revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai did not form us into a nation? What about the 40-year period of wandering in the desert? How is it that only now, on “this day,” the Torah declares us to have finally achieved the status of peoplehood?
Rashi explains that, originally, Moses intended to bestow the Torah exclusively in the hands of his tribe, the Levites. When the people got wind of this plan (in this week’s parasha), they protested vigorously and demanded to have the Torah in the possession of all, lest the Levites someday claim to be the sole heirs to this legacy. Moses was delighted by the enthusiasm of the people and proclaimed that their assertiveness in insisting on direct possession of the Torah had demonstrated that they had thereby earned the status of a nation of God.
One of the religious/ethnic groups that make up Israeli society are the Druze. Years ago I learned that they divide their community into two parts: the uqqal (“knowers”) and the juhal (“ignorant ones”). The former are the educated elite, whereas the latter follow their traditions in ignorance of their religious meaning. The spiritual truths of the Druze are a secret from everyone but the uqqal, including fellow Druze. Judaism, from its inception, was not meant to be this way. Our religion is more democratic. All of us are not only welcome to learn and understand our traditions and practices; we are religiously obligated to do so. It is noteworthy that there are religious traditions in the world that may be satisfied with only a few initiates understanding the underlying meanings of life. Ours is not one of them. We place so much importance to the Torah being a public document that we refuse to even read it (ritually) without a public presence (a minyan).
Rabbi Mitch Levine