The following is an adaptation of small part of a Yohr Tzeit Shiur given by the Rav in 1966. It is strongly based on the transcription copyrighted in 2001 by Josh Rapps and Israel Rivkin. I have made minor stylistic changes.
Ezra enacted a rule that we should read the ברכות וקללות of ויקרא in פרשת בחוקותי prior to Shavuos and the ברכות וקללות in דברים) פרשת כי תבוא) before ראש השנה (Megila 31b). The Rav ז’ל asked:
- According to our order of reading the Torah, במדבר is always read the Shabbos prior to Shavuos and נצבים is always read the week prior to ראש השנה. Why do we deviate from the Takanas Ezra?
- The גמרא distinguishes between the ברכות וקללות in תורת כהנים) ספר ויקרא) and ספר דברים —משנה תורה (for example, in the ברכות וקללות of תורת כהנים, one person reads the entire set, while the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה may be subdivided among several people). Why is there a distinction between them?
The Rav explained based on a רש’’י דברים 14:2
… כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך
רש’’י explains כי עם קדוש as קדושת עצמך מאבותיך, you possess inherited sanctity from your forefathers. However there is another type of sanctity that Moshe mentions:
בך בחר ה’ אלוקיך להיות לו לעם סגולה
describes an amazing principle, that a Jew has two forms of sanctity, קדושת ישראל through יחוס מאבות. There is a second individual קדושה granted to each Jew, קדושת עצמך, your individual holiness, based on our selection as בני ישראל by Hashem.
The Rav asked what is the status of a משומד (someone who has become an apostate)? Does he retain complete קדושת ישראל or not? On the one hand there are sources in the גמרא that he remains a complete Jew (for instance his Kiddushin is valid, see Yevamos 47b). On the other hand, there are other sources that exclude him from various religious tasks (Shechita, Kesivas Stam and others, see Gittin 45b).
Which קדושה does the משומד lose? The Rav said that the inherited קדושה of a descendant of the patriarchs is irrevocable. However, the Rav felt that a משומד forfeited the second קדושה that is based on their personal selection as the chosen people of the Jewish nation.
A convert has both קדושות, as the הלכה says, he recites the פרשת ביכורים and he says אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו based on Abraham being called the father of a multitude of nations, אב המון גויים. He has an inherited קדושה from Abraham and he acquires the קדושת ישראל when he converted.
If there are two קדושות inherent in Jews, and every generation has these two קדושות, they must be based on two separate כריתת ברית (enacted covenants). קדושה is based on the obligation to fulfil מצוות. The Rambam (הלכות מלכים 9:1) describes the observance of מצוות among the generations prior מתן תורה as the historical map of sanctity among the Jewish people. Each higher level of sanctity could be attained only through the acceptance of additional מצוות. Even though they underwent Milah and Tevila in Egypt prior to the Korban Pesach and the Exodus, בני ישראל needed an additional Tevila at Sinai. The Rambam says that since they attained new מצוות at Sinai, they had to undergo another conversion process. In short, Mizvos are built upon כריתת ברית, the enactment of a covenant with all the obligations therein.
A Jew has two distinct sources of obligation. The first is based on the original ברית at הר סיני that derived from the patriarchs and was then expressed through Moses. This covenant obligates all successive generations, through our lineage connection—Yichus—to fulfil the מצוות. There is a second כריתת ברית that is based on individual קדושה and is entered into by each and every generation.
Where do we find these two covenants? The first covenant is in בחוקתי and the second is in כי תבוא. Why do we need both covenants*?
פרשת נצבים is the continuation of the ברית in כי תבוא (according To Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon). At מתן תורה, Moshe read the ספר הברית while the Jews stood at הר סיני. What did Moshe read to them? חז’’ל tell us that he read the Torah from Breishis through the story of the Exodus. The Sinaitic covenant was built on the Exodus that was in turn built on the covenant with the Patriarchs. In תורת כהנים, Hashem mentions that He will recall the original covenant with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. In other words, the entire Sinaitic covenant is based on, and is the continuation of, the covenant of the forefathers and transfers from generation to generation.
Therefore Shavuos, the holiday of Matan Torah, is associated with the ברכות וקללות in בחוקתי that were given at הר סיני. Even though the ברכות וקללות are recorded in בחוקתי, they are referred to and are connected to פרשת משפטים, when Moshe sprinkled the people and read the ספר הברית to them. These ברכות וקללות were part of the ברית enacted with the Patriarchs. We read פרשת במדבר prior to Shavuos, because the entire concept of Yichus, Jewish lineage, is based on פרשת במדבר. The entire concept of counting the people derives from the sanctity of the Patriarchs and the lineage of the 12 tribes who trace that lineage back to Abraham. As it says in the Parsha,
למשפחותם ולבית אבתם, ויתילדו על משפחותיהם
חז’’ל say that each one brought his lineage documentation (Shtar Yuchsin) proving that he descended from the patriarchs and their children.
The different levels of sanctity attained by each of the twelve tribes was derived from their connection to the קדושת אבות of the previous generations. This is the Kedusha of כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך. In Bris Atzeres read on Shavuos, we find the fulfillment of the statement כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך, the sanctity of each Jew based on his lineage. The Midrash says on the verse זה קלי ואנויהו, that Moshe emphasised that the קדושה did not begin with him (Moshe), but rather it began long ago through our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as expressed in אלוקי אבי וארוממנהו. This is the essence of Shavuos, מתן תורה and ברכות וקללות of בחוקותי. Ezra established that they should read about this covenant, the covenant that mentions the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt that led to קבלת התורה at Sinai, before Shavuos each year.
How do I know that this covenant extends to subsequent generations? I would not know it from פרשת בחוקתי alone. The Yichus, lineage described in פרשת במדבר teaches that the covenant also extends to me based on that Yichus.
The covenant based on ברכות וקללות in נצבים was not only given to the generation that stood before Moses prior to his death. Rather, this set of ברכות וקללות was, and is, given to each and every individual generation. We are not bound to this covenant through lineage, or through the patriarchs. It is our own responsibility. As רש’’י explains ובך בחר השם אלוקיך, Hashem has selected you and endowed each generation with a קדושה that is separate and distinct from the קדושה of the Avos.
רש’’י explains the verse ואת אשר איננו פה עומד עמנו היום (and those who are not with us this day) that the oath obligates the future generations of Klal Yisrael. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel says explicitly that it binds all future generations. All succeeding generations stood before the Ark and Moshe and accepted the oath to observe the מצוות of Hashem. Therefore ראש השנה is a יום הזכרון for ברית, not only for the ברית אבות but also for the ברית that Hashem makes with each generation. ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה must be read prior to ראש השנה, however the story would be incomplete without also reading פרשת נצבים, since the connection to each generation, לא איתכם לבדכם אנוכי כורת הברית הזאת (not with you alone am I forging this covenant), is not found in כי תבוא, but rather in נצבים. Therefore, reading נצבים prior to ראש השנה is in total agreement with Takanas Ezra, as it is the continuation of the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה.
The Sinaitic covenant that was built on the patriarchs was a covenant created with the entire עם ישראל. Everyone, each and every יחיד, is included and responsible, because each of us belongs to the עם, to the רבים. כי עם קדוש אתה, the basis of the sanctity, is the עם, the רבים. That’s why the ברכות וקללות in בחוקותי are written in לשון רבים, plural, as it was given to the entire nation. However the כריתת ברית in נצבים was given in the singular form, to each and every יחיד. It is not just a כריתת ברית with each successive generation, but rather it is a covenant with each and every individual within those generations.
Each of us stood before Moshe and the Ark and we accepted the oath administered by Moshe. Moshe is talking about each individual who might say in his heart שלום יהיה לי, I will go my own way. Moshe warns such an individual, that the retribution for this sin will be great. He is talking to each and every Jew, throughout all the generations.
* Really there were 3 covenants, with the third at Mount Grizim. But that was a different type of covenant based on Arayvus, acceptance of mutual responsibility for fellow Jews.