What is the difference between a contract and a covenant? Our times require us to examine that difference, and to understand it as a step in reclaiming the higher moral ground in our communities, country and abroad. We need to understand the difference, and we must teach it our children.
A contract is about interest, often self-interest, and has legal implications, while a covenant is an understanding, often spiritual in nature, a pledge people make with one another. A social contract creates a state, and a social covenant creates a society. An example of a religious covenant is between God and the Jewish people. We are to follow his ways and he will give us Israel in return. It is intended to be a relationship of reciprocal love, caring, and loyalty. Individuals can enter covenants, as do two people in marriage. In rarer circumstances, countries can form covenants, such as the United States.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes and speaks brilliantly on this subject. As he points out, “Covenant societies are rare and they happen when a group of people decide they want to create a new kind of social order, to do which they pledge themselves to a set of ideals. That’s what Abraham Lincoln meant in the Gettysburg address, when he spoke of ‘a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal;’ and that’s what American presidents commit themselves to on their inauguration.” Our founding fathers intentionally modeled our new country on a covenantal relationship to create this new social order. The grand experiment, though challenged, continues to this day.
In his video, “The Politics of Hope,” Rabbi Sacks explains the challenges that are facing our communities in these unsettled times, and that the Jews, a covenantal people, can lead the way. It is powerful and instructive. So instead of reading a blog this week, I invite you to view Rabbi Sack’s illustrated talk, “The Politics of Hope,” and to think about how we can be the changes we desire in our communities. It is also important to think about ways we can have conversations with our children about relationships and our roles in supporting our families, friends, and neighbors in the spirit in which covenantal relationships were intended.
It will take all of us to recapture the spirit of America and to also recommit to the Jewish covenant between God and our people. I hope you find this brief, six-minute video meaningful and thought-provoking.