What is the explanation of “new covenant” in Jeremiah 31?

Here is the translation of Jeremiah 31:30-33 that is printed in the Artscroll Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. [Tanakh is an abbreviation with the Hebrew Letters T – N – Kh, which stand for T(orah) = 5 Books of Moses, N(evi’im) = Prophets, Kh(esuvim) = Holy Writings.]

30. Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd, when I will seal a new covenant with the HOUSE OF ISRAEL and with the HOUSE OF JUDAH:

31. not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master, says the L-rd.

32. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the HOUSE OF ISRAEL after those days, says the L-rd; I will place my Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be their G-d and they will be a people for Me.

33. They will no longer teach – each man his fellow, each man his brother – saying, “Know the L-rd,” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest, says the L-rd, when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

A fine traditional explanation of the “New Covenant” verses in Jeremiah has been published in chapter 10 of the book “Their Hollow Inheritance,” by Michoel Drazin. Here is an excerpt of the main points from that chapter:

CHAPTER 10: THE ETERNAL TORAH

Jeremiah 31:30-33
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the L-rd, “when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Not like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – My covenant that they broke, although I was their Master,” says the L-rd. “But this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after those days, ” says the L-rd: “I will place My Torah within them and write it upon their hearts; and I will be their G-d and they shall be My people, and no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying: ‘Know the L-rd,’ for they shall all know, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” says the L-rd; “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

This vision of the Messianic Era is not referring to any change in the contents of the Torah, for it does not say, “I will make a new Law with the House of Israel.” It is rather speaking about the covenant G-d made with the Jews at Mount Sinai. A Biblical covenant always denotes an agreement between two or more parties…

In the Messianic Era, the covenant will be “new” and different in that it will be unbreakable, owing to the tremendous Godly revelations the Jewish people will experience:

Ezekiel 36:26-27
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will place within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will place My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to observe My ordinances.

Joel 3:1-2
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even upon the manservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out My spirit.

Through these revelations, the Jews will attain unsurpassed knowledge of G-d and His Torah, making it impossible for them to disobey either one. As the passage under discussion states: “I will place My Torah within them and write it upon their hearts….” It will be so ingrained in the Jew that, “no longer shall each man [need to] teach his neighbor and each his brother…” Similarly:

Zechariah 8:23
Thus says the L-rd of hosts: “On those days ten men out of all the languages of the nations shall take hold and seize the robe of a Jew, saying: `Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.'”

Isaiah 11:9
They shall never hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover the sea.

Hence, the Torah itself is eternal, as are each of its precepts [Ask Noah notes: i.e., its 613 Mosaic precepts for the Jews, and its 7 Noahide precepts for the Gentiles]:

Genesis 17:9-10
And G-d said to Abraham: “And you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.”

Exodus 12:17
And you shall observe the [commandment of] unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore, you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an ordinance forever.

Exodus 31:16
Therefore, the children of Israel keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.

Missionaries mistakenly contend that it was necessary to replace the Torah because its commandments are too difficult to observe. They try to convince the nations of the world of this by claiming that G-d’s Torah covenant with the Jews implies that the only way for any person to be righteous in G-d’s eyes and earn a place in the eternal reward of the World to Come was through strict observance of all the 613 Jewish commandments. They hide (or do not know) the truth that there is a separate Torah covenant for Gentiles, which is that for a Gentile to be righteous in G-d’s eyes and earn a place in the eternal reward of the World to Come, he or she should observe the letter and spirit of the Seven Noahide commandments. This universal covenant includes G-d’s promise of the acceptance of personal repentance, which is implicit in the Covenant of the Rainbow.

Here are some additional classic commentaries on these verses as they relate to the future Messianic Era, quoted from The Book of Jeremiah, Volume Two, p. 254-255, by Judaica Press:

verse 30: “a new covenant” – Ibn Nachmiash explains that the Torah must always seem new and fresh. The only reason it may seem old and boring is that the evil inclination makes it seem so. In the future, however, when the evil inclination will be destroyed, it will indeed [always] be a “new Torah”.

verse 32: “I will inscribe it upon their hearts” – It will not be forgotten from their hearts. It will be as though it had been inscribed there. -[Mezudas David]

verse 33: “no longer shall one teach his neighbor” – Scripture does not say that they will all be equal in wisdom, for that is impossible. It is surely impossible that the smallest should be as wise as the greatest. The intention is that in “knowing the L-rd,” i.e. in fearing Him and in walking in His ways all will be equal. -[Redak]

verse 33: “for I will forgive their iniquity” – that they committed in exile, and I will give them a new heart to know Me. -[Redak] Since they will be pure of sin, they will be able to perceive that the L-rd is G-d. -[Mezudas David ]

While on this subject, we have taken the opportunity to provide some of our own additional insights into another meaning of the “New Covenant.” This explanation was presented to our rabbinical advisor, who certified it as a novel but completely acceptable Torah insight.

Here is this explanation of the above quoted verses, Jeremiah 31:30-33:

30. Here it is clear from the plain words of the verse that G-d is speaking about a new covenant He will make specifically with all the Tribes of the Jewish People, both with the House of Judah (the 2 Tribes in the Kingdom of Judah, which were Judah and Benjamin, and also including Levi), and with the House of Israel (the remaining 10 Tribes in the north of the Holy Land, which split off from the Kingdom of Judah after King Solomon’s son Rekhavam became king).

31. The covenant that is being described here can also be viewed as the covenant of Redemption of the Jewish People from exile, since it is being compared to the covenant that was made “on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt.” That was the day that the Covenant of Redemption was actualized. It was first promised to the enslaved Israelites at the burning bush, when G-d told Moses to tell the Israelites that His Name is “I-Shall-Be-As-I-Shall-Be,” meaning “I shall be their Redeemer from this exile in Egypt, as I shall be their Redeemer from their future exiles.” The new covenant in the future will be different in that, unlike the original redemption led by Moses, the final redemption led by the Messiah will never be followed by any further national exiles.

32. “After those days” refers to after the days of the future Final Redemption, which will include the Messiah’s ingathering of all the Jews to the Land of Israel. In that time of the Messianic Era, G-d will open the mind and heart of every Jew to know and understand the entire Written and Oral Torah and all of their commandments, in a way of an “instinctive” knowledge that they will know automatically and completely, as part of their essential being. From then on, their eternal occupation will be only to learn about the hidden spiritual secrets of the Torah and the Essence of G-d. The Hebrew translated as “I will be a G-d (Elo-kim) for them” means that the unlimited and utterly transcendent Divine Essence (referred to as “I”) will be the normal and natural life force (which is presently the function “Elo-kim”) for every Jew. Furthermore, the promise “they will be a people for Me” will fulfill G-d’s original motivation to bring about the creation of a physical realm, so that His transcendent Essence will eventually be revealed there to the Jewish People, and through them to the Righteous Gentiles who have earned a share in that eternal revelation.

33. Because G-d will open the mind and heart of every Jew to know and understand the entire Written and Oral Torah and all of their commandments, in a way of an “instinctive” knowledge that they will know automatically and completely, as part of their essential being, there will be no need or use for one Jew to teach another Jew these laws and texts (as today a parent teaches a child or a teacher teaches a student). Rather, G-d will teach His secrets to the entire people through His Righteous Messiah. And the Messiah will have a special knowledge of G-d’s secrets which will always surpass the growing capacity of knowledge of all other human beings.

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