In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Savo, Moses tells the Jewish people that they are making a covenant with G-d to observe the commandments of the Torah. This would be in addition to the covenant that was sealed at Mount Sinai.

Then Moses says: “You have designated G-d today to be your G-d, and G-d has designated you today, to be his chosen nation” (Tavo 26:17). This was the contract between us—we choose G-d and G-d chooses us.

Regarding this verse, the Talmud tells a story about two students who came to visit Rabbi Yehoshua in the town of Peki’in. 

When they arrived at his home, Rabbi Yehoshua asked them, “What novel ideas were presented in the study hall?”

“We are your students,” they responded, “and we came to drink from your waters.” They had come to hear from him, not to teach.

But Rabbi Yehoshua insisted, “Nonetheless, it’s impossible that nothing novel was presented in the study hall…”

“Whose Shabbat was it,” he asked. During that period, two people served together as nasi—leader of the Jewish people: Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah. Rabban Gamliel was the elder of the two, and he usually was the one to speak on Shabbat, but once a month the honor was given to the young rabbi, Rabbi Elazar. Therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua asked, “Whose Shabbat was it?”

“This week,” they replied, “Rabbi Elazar spoke.”

“What did he say?”

“He spoke about the commandment of Hakhel,” the students told him, and proceeded to repeat the content of his speech.

Seeing that Rabbi Yehoshua was enjoying their presentation, they mentioned that Rabbi Elazar had presented another teaching as well. He had spoken about the verse that we mentioned earlier, “You have designated G-d today to be your G-d, and G-d has designated you today…”

Rabbi Elazar had said, “G-d said to the Jewish people: You have made Me a single entity in the world, [as you singled Me out as separate and unique]. And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, [as you will be a treasured nation, chosen by G-d]. You have made Me a single entity in the world, as it is written: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.’ And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, as it is stated: ‘And who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?’ (I Chronicles 17:21).”

In other words, we make G-d special in the fact that we believe in Him and only in Him, and therefore, G-d makes us special as well and chooses us as his nation.

My friends, we all designate G-d as our single, special G-d when we recite the verse of Shema Yisrael. But there were those who made that same designation not by their words, but by their actions. By sacrificing their lives to live Jewishly in the most difficult circumstances—even in the miserable expanses of Siberia. They lived with the reality that there was only one G-d—even in a terrible Soviet labor camp.

We are now approaching holiday season. To our luck, all the holidays this year are in the middle of the week. Rosh Hashanah is on Monday and Tuesday, Yom Kippur is Tuesday night and Wednesday, and the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are both on Mondays and Tuesdays as well. Everybody’s worried—a full month of work will go to waste as we jump from Shabbat to holiday and from holiday to Shabbat.

This is our opportunity to show that Shema Yisrael is a commitment not only in words, but also in action. We don’t just say it; it’s actually a way of life. Our ‘sacrifice’ will be to take these days off, keep the kids home from school, and celebrate the holidays together joyfully. 

Let’s demonstrate to ourselves and to our families that Judaism is the most important thing in our lives.