R’ Jonathan Sacks wrote about the importance of the narrative in a covenant based society, and the contrast with a tradition based society where things are continued the way they have always been without any particular narrative. He pointed to the quotations from speeches under statues of famous Americans in Washington, in contrast with the statues in London which do not quote from the subjects’ speech but only give the identity and the dates of birth and death.
R’ Sacks made the point that the USA is a covenantal society based on the founders’ flight from religious persecution and their commitment to religious freedom. He wrote that a covenantal society exists to honour a pledge, a moral bond and an ethical undertaking. Telling its story is essential to a covenantal society because it reminds people of why they are there. He wrote that a covenantal narrative is more than a myth. It also contains a set of moral undertakings that bind the members of the society for the present and into the future.
This connects to the beginning of the parasha which instructs Jews in the mitzvoth they should observe when they “come to the land which G-d has given as an inheritance, and have taken possession of it and dwell in it”. They should take a basket with first fruits and bring it to the priest and set it down before the altar of G-d, and say “A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down to Egypt and stayed there with a small number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. The Egyptians ill-treated us, and afflicted us, and imposed hard labour on us…………And G-d brought us to this land and gave it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.” This narrative was to be repeated every Seder night, and R’ Sacks contends that it sustained the Jewish people through centuries of exile until their return to Israel. It must sustain us now in this difficult time.