Rebbetzin Eva Sandler of Toulouse, France, recently spoke at Sinai Indaba, South
Africa’s annual national Torah convention, which brings together more than 4,500
A modern-day Jewish heroine, she spoke with remarkable composure
and dignity about her husband, Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, and their sons Aryeh and
Gavriel, brutally murdered by an Islamic terrorist on March 25, 2012.
Sandler’s fortitude in the face of horror was truly moving; her calm and brave
presence in Johannesburg and Cape Town brought a message of strength and faith
to us all. Although she spoke sentence by sentence through a translator, the
language and cultural barriers – which by any rational analysis should have
separated us into different worlds – seemed to dissolve; there was a strong
sense of shared Jewish fate.
As Rebbetzin Sandler recounted the details
of that terrible day, we all felt that Toulouse could have been, G-d forbid,
Johannesburg or Cape Town, New York or London, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There is a
shared Jewish fate which binds all Jews, in defiance of the natural laws of
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in his foundational essay Kol dodi
dofek (“The voice of my beloved knocking”), identified two distinct covenants
between G-d and the Jewish people: the “covenant of fate” and the “covenant of
G-d entered into the covenant of fate with us whilst we were
still subject to Egyptian slavery, when He said, “I will take you to me to be a
nation.” Through this covenant we became a separate people with a shared and
supernatural fate for all times, and from which there is no escape.
the past 70 years, for example, we have seen the irresistible power of this
covenantal shared fate as Nazi Germany sought to annihilate assimilated and
religious Jews alike. And today the covenant of fate binds all Jews, willingly
or unwillingly, to the State of Israel and to the events and pressures that
accompany anything to do with it. Every Jewish community around the world has
been thrust to the front lines facing the anti-Israel onslaught, which in its
milder form can mean being denigrated and isolated and in its most virulent form
poses a serious threat to life and limb as attested to by Eva Sandler’s
Rav Soloveitchik explains that the covenant of fate binds us and
imposes on us a moral responsibility toward one another’s welfare. Every Jew
must stand in solidarity with, and help, support and protect every Jew
unconditionally, irrespective of political affiliation or religious observance
or any other criterion. The allencompassing covenant of fate connects us all,
giving expression to the very concept of Jewish peoplehood and unity.
covenant of destiny goes beyond the covenant of fate which simply binds us as a
nation through force of external circumstances.
The covenant of destiny,
known also as “the covenant of Sinai” because it was entered into at Mount Sinai
when G-d gave us the Torah, is about our shared values, moral vision and the
Divine mission of the Jewish people. It is comprised of the Torah’s principles
and values and calls us to a higher destiny, one which transcends mere survival.
It is about why we want to survive, and what our purpose and moral calling is.
It gives us our mission, articulating the raison d’être of the Jewish
In her courageous speeches in Johannesburg and Cape Town,
Rebbetzin Sandler epitomized both the covenant of fate and the covenant of
destiny. She spoke of her life mission – to continue the work that she and her
husband had been doing prior to the attack. They were teachers of Torah and
leaders of their community. She spoke about their decision to return to France,
after many years of yeshiva study in Israel, to give back to their community of
birth and where they were raised and educated.
She spoke of her
determination and commitment now to continue to promote Torah values in the
world so that the terrorists who attack these values will not be granted
It is this mission which brought her to South Africa; as she
said, before the tragedy she could never have imagined that one day she would be
in South Africa. But she accepted my invitation to Sinai Indaba, a convention
dedicated to the covenant of destiny, to continue her mission of teaching Torah
values and bringing a message of faith and loyalty to G-d.
Soloveitchik says further that the covenant of destiny redeems the covenant of
fate from the latter’s potential victimhood.
In the context of the
covenant of fate we become subjected to the overpowering forces of history; we
play a reactive role, with no choice but to respond due to force of
circumstances, trying simply to survive. The covenant of destiny, however, is
embraced freely and chosen, as it was first entered into at Mount Sinai. The
covenant of destiny gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of who we are and why
we are here, and what our moral calling is in this world. It gives Divine
meaning, context and imperative to the role of the Jewish people in history, and
indeed to our lives as individuals.
It was powerful and moving to witness
these ideas of Rav Soloveitchik embodied in Eva Sandler, who transcended
victimhood to become a modern-day heroine. At Sinai Indaba she spoke of her pain
and of her moral mission to spread the light of Torah and faith in the world,
calling on us to join her. She has moved beyond succumbing to despair from
tragic events to rising to a moral vision and calling, redeeming the covenant of
fate through the covenant of destiny.
If we regard Jewish peoplehood as
solely about physical survival and responding to external events and threats,
then we lose our sense of purpose and mission which come from our Torah, given
at Sinai. The covenant of fate is unconditional and all-embracing, while the
covenant of destiny, rooted in Torah and mitzvot, proclaims a clear and specific
moral vision for the Jewish people.
These two covenants are the framework
for Jewish unity and peoplehood. The covenant of fate enjoins us to embrace and
care for every Jew, no matter how different he or she is, to stand in solidarity
with Jews around the world and to defend the State of Israel. And the covenant
of destiny calls upon us to embrace our shared moral vision and fulfill our
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.