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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parashat Ekev

Parasha: Ekev – Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
Haftara: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3
Reading Date: 23rd August 2008 – 22nd Av 5768

Like the other parashot in the Book of Deuteronomy, this parasha, Eikev ("Because") consists entirely of Moses' final address to the people of the nation of Israel.[1]

In this segment of his "repetition of the Torah" Moses extols the blessings of the land that the people are about to enter (without him), but warns that these blessings are dependent upon the people remaining faithful to the covenant they entered into with YHVH at Mount Sinai, to keep His Torah and fulfill its mitzvot:
And it shall come to pass, because you hear these laws, and keep, and do them; that YHVH your G-d shall keep the covenant and the kindness which He swore to your fathers.
And He will love you, and bless you, and multiply you; and He will bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your corn, and your wine, and your oil, the increase of your cattle, and the flocks of your sheep, in the land which He swore to your fathers to give you.
You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a sterile man or barren woman among you, or among your cattle. And YHVH will take away from you all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you know, upon you; but will lay them upon all those who hate you.

If the people remain true to YHVH, they have nothing to fear from their powerful enemies:
If you should say in your heart: These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them...?

Do not be terrified by them; for YHVH your G-d is among you, a great and awesome G-d.
The only danger they pose is the spiritual one:
The carvings of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not desire the silver or gold that is on them, or take it to you, lest you be snared with it, for it is an abomination toYHVH your G-d. Neither shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you become accursed like it; you shall utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is taboo.

A 40-Year Lesson
All the mitzvah which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which YHVH swore to your fathers.[2]

And you shall remember all the way which YHVH your G-d led you these forty years in the wilderness... He afflicted you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you know not and which your fathers did not know; in order to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by the word that proceeds out of the mouth of YHVH does man live.[3]
Your garment grew not worn upon you, nor did your foot swell, these forty years.

You shall consider in your heart that, as a man chastens his son, so YHVH your G-d chastens you.

The Blessed Land
YHVH is bringing you into a good land, a land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills.
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and [date] honey.

A land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land the stones of which are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass.
You shall eaten and be replete, and bless YHVH your G-d for the good land which He has given you.

With abundance and plenty, however, come the danger that "your heart grow haughty," and
You will say in your heart: My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth...
No less dangerous is to begin to believe in one's own righteousness:
Speak not you in your heart: Because of my righteousness YHVH has brought me in to possess this land...

Not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart do you go to possess their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations YHVH your G-d does drive them out from before you, and that He may perform the word which YHVH swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The land into which you go to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence you came out, where you did sow your seed, and did water it by foot, like a vegetable garden. [Rather,] the land into which you go to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water of the rain of heaven.[4]

A land which YHVH your G-d cares for: the eyes of YHVH your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

The Sin of the Golden Calf
Moses reminds the people, "Also in Horeb you provoked YHVH to anger, so that YHVH was angry with you to have destroyed you."
When I was gone up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which YHVH made with you; then I abode in the mountain forty days and forty nights, I neither ate bread nor drank water...

And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights that YHVH... said to me:
"Arise, get you down quickly from here; for your people which you have brought forth out of Egypt have become corrupt; they have quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image."

And YHVH spoke to me saying: "I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they..."

And I fell down before YHVH, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water; because of all your sins which you sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger. For I feared the anger and wrath with which YHVH was angry against you to destroy you. But YHVH hearkened to me at that time also.[5]

Moses describes what happened when he came down from the mountain:
So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and, behold, you had sinned against YHVH your G-d, and had made a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly out of the way which YHVH had commanded you.

And I grabbed hold of the two tablets, and cast them out of my two hands, and broke them before your eyes...

After destroying the idol, Moses returns to the summit of Mount Sinai for a third 40 days to receive the Second Tablets from YHVH:
At that time YHVH said to me: "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me into the mountain, and make for yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you did break, and you shall put them in the ark."
And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and went up to the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand.

And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the ten Words which YHVH spoke to you in the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly: and YHVH gave them to me. And I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they were, as YHVH commanded me.

Nor was this the only time that Moses had to intervene with YHVH to save them:
And at Tav'erah, and at Massah, and at Kivrot-Hatta'avah, you provokedYHVHd to anger. Likewise when YHVH sent you from Kadesh-Barnea, saying, "Go up and possess the land which I have given you"; then you rebelled against the commandment of YHVH your G-d, and you believed Him not, nor hearkened to His voice.
You have been rebellious against YHVH from the day that I knew you.[6]

YHVH's Way
"And now, Israel," says Moses, "what does YHVH your G-d require of you, only to fear YHVH your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve YHVH your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep the commandments of YHVH, and His statutes, which I command you this day for your good?"

Your generation, Moses also tells them, occupies a unique place in history: you saw it all yourselves.

I speak not with your children, who have not known, and have not seen the chastisement of YHVH your G-d, His greatness, His mighty hand, and His stretched out arm --
And His miracles, and His acts, which He did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and to all his land --

And what He did to the army of Egypt, to their horses, and to their chariots, how He made the water of the Sea of Suf overflow them as they pursued after you; and YHVH destroyed them unto this day --

And what He did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place...
"But your own eyes have seen all the great acts of YHVH which He did."

The 2nd Section of the Shma
And it shall come to pass, if you hearken diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love YHVH your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul;
that I will give you the rain of your land in its due season, the early rain and the late rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil.

And I will give grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be full.

Take heed to yourselves, that your heart not be enticed, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them. Then YHVH’s anger be inflamed against you, and He shut up the heavens that there be no rain, and that the land yield not its fruit; and you will perish quickly from off the good land which YHVH gives you.

And you shall place these words of Mine in your he art and in your soul; and bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they will be as tefillin between your eyes.

And you shall teach them your children, speaking of them when you sit in your home, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise.

And you shall write them upon the door posts of your house, and upon your gates.
In order that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which YHVH swore to your forefathers to give to them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.[7]

In the Parasha's closing verses, Moses once again calls upon the people to love YHVH, fulfill His commandments and "walk in all His ways, and cleave to Him."

Shabbat Shalom

[1] The commentaries dwell on the Hebrew word eikev in this verse -- an uncommon synonym for "because." Many see a connection with the word akeiv (same spelling, different pronunciation), which means "heel".
Rashi interprets this as an allusion to those mitzvot which a person tramples with his heels -- the Torah is telling us to be equally diligent with all of YHVH’s commandments, no less with those that seem less significant to our finite minds.
Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides interpret it in the sense of "in the end" (i.e., "in the heels of" or in the sense that the heel is at the extremity of the body) -- the reward being something that follows the action.
[2] All the mitzvah... shall you observe to do (8:1)
The simple meaning of the phrase "all the mitzvah" is the entire body of divine commandment -- all the mitzvot. The Midrashic interpretation is: do the whole mitzvah. If you begin a good deed, finish it, for a mitzvah is credited to the one who concludes the task. Thus it is written: "And Joseph's bones, which the children of Israel took out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem." Yet it was Moses himself who took Joseph's bones out of Egypt! (see Exodus 13:19). But since he did not conclude the task, and the children of Israel concluded it, it is called by their name. (Rashi)

[3] And He afflicted you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna... in order to make you know that man does not live by bread alone (8:3)
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was asked by his disciples: Why didn't the manna come down for Israel once a year?
He replied: I shall give a parable. This thing may be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had an only son, whom he provided with maintenance once a year, so that he would visit his father once a year only. Thereupon he provided for his maintenance every day, so that he called on him every day. The same with Israel. One who had four or five children would worry, saying: Perhaps no manna will come down tomorrow, and all will die of hunger? Thus they were found to turn their attention to their Father in Heaven. (Talmud, Yoma 76a)

[4] For the land... is not as the land of Egypt… where you did sow your seed, and did water it by foot, like a vegetable garden... [rather] it drinks water of the rain of heaven (11:10-11)
"Rain" represents the reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth. "A vapor rises from the earth" to the heavens, and the heavens return it as rain which "quenches the face of the land" (Genesis 2:6). This represents the spiritual truth that "an arousal from below evokes an arousal from above" -- that YHVH responds to the efforts of man, reciprocating our prayers, yearnings and deeds with nurture from Above.
This is the doctrine of the rain-watered land. Egypt, however, was nourished not by descending rain but by the overflow of the Nile, which would periodically flood the land. The spiritual "Egyptian" is one who does not recognize the Heavenly source of the blessings of life. He believes that all is generated from below -- that everything he has and has achieved is of his own making.
The people of Israel had been subjected to the Egyptian mentality for four generations. Thus they had to spend forty years in the desert during which they were subjected to a diametrically opposite set of circumstance, in which one's daily bread descends from heaven and one's own efforts have no effect on the result. Only after this lesson in the true source of life could they enter the Land that "drinks water of the rain of heaven" -- where man's efforts are crucial and significant, yet are permeated with a recognition of, and dependence upon, the true Source of All.
(The Chassidic Masters)

[5] Thus I fell down before YHVH forty days and forty nights... becauseYHVH had said He would destroy you (9:25)
There was not a corner of the heavens with which Moses did not grapple to attain YHVH's forgiveness of Israel...
When Israel committed that act, Moses arose to appease YHVH and said: "Master of the Universe! They have given You an assistant, and You are annoyed with them? Why, this calf which they have made will be Your assistant: You will cause the sun to rise while it will cause the moon to rise; You will look after the stars and it will see to the constellations; You will cause the dew to descend and it will cause the winds to blow; You will make the rains come down, while it will be responsible for the growth of plants."
Said YHVH to him: "Moses! You err as they do! For there is nothing real in it."
Said Moses: "If this be the case, why should Your wrath burn against Your people?"
(Midrash Rabbah)

[6] Similarly, when Israel made the golden calf, YHVH intended to destroy them, but Moses pleaded: "Master of the Universe! Did You not bring them forth from Egypt, a place of idol-worshippers? They are yet young, as it says (Hosea 11:1), 'When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.' Be patient with them yet awhile and go with them, and they will yet perform good deeds before You."(Midrash Rabbah)

[7] YHVH clothes the naked, as it is written: "And YHVH made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21); so should you, too, clothe the naked.
YHVH visits the sick, as it is written: "And YHVH appeared to him by the Oaks of Mamre"; so should you, too, visit the sick.
YHVH comforts mourners, as it is written: "And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that YHVH blessed Isaac his son" (Genesis 25:11); so should you, too, comfort mourners.
YHVH buries the dead, as it is written: "And He buried him in the valley" (Deuteronomy 34:6); so should you, too, bury the dead.
(Talmud, Sotah 14a)

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