Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, current president of Yeshiva University (YU), spoke on focusing on the Covenant in education rather than the commercial value of high learning in his BYU forum address on January 31.
Yeshiva University was involved in a court case last year regarding religious liberty. While not addressing the case specifically, Berman began his speech by discussing the issue and history of religious tolerance and liberty in The United States.
The bulk of Berman’s address centered around Covenant relationship and how that can and should relate to university education. He contrasted the increasing commercial and transactional nature of our society with the ancient and transformational nature of societies that live under covenant with God. “We live in a consumer society. One in which the acquisition of goods, property, and status are not often seen as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves.”
He later contrasted this idea with a description of covenantal living. “There is another model for life that is not based in the consumer, but in the covenant. The covenant was first introduced by God to Noah and all the descendants of the world. Then afterward it was sent specifically to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their children, the Jewish people. In this worldview, one’s goals, life decisions, and very sense of self are sought in a whole different context.”
In connection with this, Berman mentioned that today, the individual is thought of as a self contained entity that begins at birth, while covenant communities recognize that one’s identity consists of our ancestors and our covenantal fathers and mothers as written in the Torah.
Berman explained the practical differences in living life grounded in either fundament saying, “There is a comfort in being a consumer. One knows the products, reads the warranty and reads the instruction manual. There is very little risk. In the covenantal however, there is exposure, vulnerability, uncertainty, and great risk. But the upside is different as well. The consumer is only transactional, the covenantal is transformational.” He states in both jest and earnestness that we should not be looking to form a covenantal relationship with our cars or breakfasts.
Rabbi Berman ended his address by discussing three questions that base him in Yeshiva University’s values: (1) Who are the students? (2) How do we study? (3) Why do we study?
Berman answered the first question simply, saying that YU’s students are children of the covenant and made in the image of God. He further extended this to those present at the devotional and beyond say that “everyone has a place within the covenant.”
In answering the second question, Rabbi Berman related Moses’ final meeting with the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4. In this chapter, the Jews are given a simple, but profound idea, that when dealing with God, we must act first and then our understanding will be increased. This principle is not unfamiliar to Latter-day Saints as it is seen within the Book of Mormon and the Temple.
The Rabbi Doctor ended his speech by answering why we study. Ultimately, he says, we do so to “lead lives of contribution and service” and “bring honor to God.” These purposes to education are contrary to the consumer approach to life that was addressed earlier in the speech.
He concluded with his belief that the country and the world may be brought together through the uniting force of the Covenant.
“Our Torah is meant to be a beacon of redemptive light, to show society the wisdom, decency, and dignity of living committed spiritual and meaningful lives…a life of covenant brings a life of mystery, meaning, and purpose that we should all be seen as equal objects of favor and respect before God and build lives of intrinsic human dignity and individuality, all in service of our higher calling, bringing honor to God.”
Written by: Jacob Fisher
Contributor at The Cougar Chronicle
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints