You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Eikev.
Reb Avraham Greenbaum
WHAT DOES G-D ASK OF YOU?
The essence of what G-d asks of us, as expressed in our parshah, is to seek awareness and knowledge of G-d in all the different aspects of our lives. “And now, Israel, what (MAH) does HaShem your G-d ask of you except to revere HaShem your G-d, to go in all His ways, to love Him and to serve HaShem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12).
The Rabbis taught that what G-d asks of us — MAH — is actually ME’AH, “one hundred”, alluding to the one hundred blessings that make up the daily order of our prayers (the morning blessings, the blessings before and after food and the thrice-repeated 18 blessings of the Amidah standing prayer). By regularly blessing G-d throughout the day and praying to Him for all the different specifics in our lives, we heighten our consciousness of His active involvement in every area of our lives. This is how we overcome “forgetfulness”.
THE BOOK & THE SWORD; THE LOAF & THE STICK
The Midrash on Parshas EIKEV teaches: “The Book and the Sword descended from heaven entwined together; the Loaf and the Rod descended from heaven entwined together” (Sifri). The Book — the Torah — brings blessing to the world if we observe it; but if not, a Sword is attached that wreaks the vengeance of the Covenant. The Loaf of Bread, the “staff of life”, is given as G-d’s blessing when we keep the Torah, but if we stray, the struggles of making a living can turn into a painful rod of punishment.
This Midrash expresses the conditional nature of G-d’s Covenant with Israel, a central theme in Eikev and one that appears with increasing emphasis as we advance through Deuteronomy. Eikev begins with the rich blessings and benefits that are the reward for keeping the laws of the Torah. Yet in the course of the parshah, Moses brings out in numerous different ways that these blessings and benefits may not be taken for granted: long-term possession of the Land of Israel and enjoyment of its blessings are strictly contingent upon proper observance of the Covenant on our part. This is clearly stated at the climax of the parshah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21), recited every day, night and morning, as the second paragraph of the SHEMA. “If you will surely listen. I will give the rain of your land in its time. and you will eat and be satisfied. But if you go astray. you will quickly be lost from the good land that HaShem is giving you.”
G-d wants that the benefits and blessings should truly be ours — that we should have them not as a free gift which the recipient does not appreciate and which embarrasses him, but rather as something we have earned through our own efforts in the face of challenges and difficulties. G-d therefore sends many trials in life, and sometimes takes us through the very wilderness “in order to chastise you, to test you, to know what is in your heart and whether you will observe His commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2). We are here to learn a deep lesson that we have to know not just in our minds but within our very hearts. The lesson is, “that just as a man chastises his son [out of love] so HaShem your G-d chastises you” (ibid. 4. 5). We have to learn and know in our hearts that any suffering we endure and all the obstacles in our path are sent not because G-d wants to throw us down but rather because He wants us to strive harder to get up, in order to come to greater good.
Reb Sholom Brodt
To Reach the Deepest Depths of Your Heart
The Holy Torah which Hashem gave us contains the deepest lessons. In doing a mitzvah we bond with Hashem’s Will; in studying Torah we bond with Hashem’s deepest essence. Yet in this world, the ‘world of Assiah- action’ it is the deed that is the main thing – we learn to know what to do.
Reb Shlomo zt”l taught, “In Judaism, the walking, the journey is so important. Judaism becomes precious because of the long walk. The holiness of it is that it teaches you that you are always on the road. Teachers have to teach you the holiness of walking and have to walk with you. The Baal Shem Tov says that a teacher, who doesn’t walk with you, doesn’t know your soul and is not a real teacher.”
In this week’s parsha we find Moshe Rabbeinu saying:
You should remember the entire path along which G-d, your G-d, led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart; will you keep His commandments or not? Devarim 8:2
Rashi: “will you keep His commandments” – (meaning) that you should not test Him, nor maintain doubts about His ways.
There are many deep lessons in this verse: about the meaning of the journey of life and its hardships, tests, true and complete faith, and finding the deepest place in your heart – your deepest connection with Hashem.
When Hashem tests us, it is not the same as when we were tested in school. Unlike my school teacher, Hashem does not need to test me to know how much I know and to discover what I will do in a given circumstance. When Hashem tested Avraham Avinu at the ‘binding of Yitzchak’ He surely knew beforehand that Avraham would pass the test. So why did He test him? Why does Hashem test us?
The Hebrew word ‘lenasotcha’ – means more than simply ‘to test you’. The very same root ‘nes’- consisting of the letters ‘nun’ and ‘samech’ gives us two deeply related words- ‘neis’ and ‘nisayon’. ‘Neis’ means a banner. ‘Nisayon’ means a test. When Hashem ‘tested’ Avraham Avinu, He elevated him to be a signpost for all of Israel, to teach us, his descendants, the meaning of having faith in Hashem and trusting Him.
The function of a test is to actualize your potential. We all have potential, to greater or lesser degrees. Actualizing your potential is what develops you and makes you great. When faced with tests we are given the opportunity to grow, to go higher.
Hashem presented you with hardships and afflictions “to test you”, so that you should “know what is in your heart”. Chassidut explains that ‘la-da-at’ – to know, means to be connected with, as we see in the verse, “And the Adam ‘knew’ Chava his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” (Bereishis 4:1)
Hashem tests us so that we should reach ever deeper connections with Him within our hearts. Rashi points this out in his commentary on the words “will you keep His commandments”; instead of leaving us to understand them simply, Rashi takes us to a deeper meaning of ‘keeping’ His commandments – “that you should not test Him, nor maintain doubts about His ways.”
Reb Shlomo used to say that if you could explain ‘why’ you love someone, ‘why’ you want to marry them- then someone could possibly explain ‘why’ you shouldn’t. A deep relationship is one that is beyond testing and doubting. Tests and doubts imply that the relationship is conditional. A relationship beyond tests and doubts is unconditional.
Hashem loves us and we must remember this always and especially when faced with afflictions. We pray not to faced with them, but when they come our way on our life paths and journeys we must remember that it is Hashem who is presenting them to us so that we should rise higher, and connect deeper within our hearts, to discover that place within which is totally guarded and cannot be penetrated by tests, conditions and doubts.
From Reb Miles Krassen/Moshe Aharon
Parashat Eqev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Ve-hayah eqev tishme’un… There is a rabbinic tradition that whenever a Torah teaching begins with “ve-hayah,” it is going to reveal a secret key to true joy. The infinite levels of Torah can never be exhausted, and this is what I am hearing now:
“You will be able to be happy even during the time called “footsteps of the Messiah,” when mashiach consciousness manifests itself, even though that is a time of perilous destruction, wars and terror. How? “(only) if you really pay attention to these mishpatim.” (Devarim 7:12).
Because if you really do that, in your consciousness, and live accordingly, “the Lord of Be-ing who G-d’s you, will deliver Her primordial, promised flow of Great Kindness.” (Devarim 7:12).
What does it mean “to really pay attention to these mishpatim?” Reb Nosson of Nemirov, the greatest disciple of the Rebbe of Rebbes, Reb Nachman ben Feiga of Breslov, offers an insight into the meaning of “mishpatim.” “Mishpatim” (apportionments), refers to the awesome divine process that determines the specific and exact portion of abundance that each manifest entity is constantly receiving and will continue to receive as long as it exists. When we shift our view from the chronically disappointing one, where it seems that attaining what we want is a matter of desperate competition between groups and individuals here on the earth plane, to a contemplation of these hidden “mishpatim,” by virtue of which every entity receives what is coming to it, we have entered the mind state called “da’at.” As our Rabbis teach, “If you don’t have da’at, what have you acquired? But, if you acquire da’at, what do you lack?” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:32)
And so, the parashah teaches if you really are mindful of “these mishpatim” and evolve to the level of “da’at,” (true knowing), then “(the Lord of Be-ing) will love you, and bless you, and increase your influence…” (Devarim 7:12). Thus you may yet find yourself in a self-sustaining world, where everything necessary is replenished and nothing is lacking.
“About now you may be tempted to say, but this is impossible; the problems of the period called “footsteps of the Messiah,” are just too great for us to overcome.” (Devarim 7:17). Torah says: “Never fear, the remedy is to always remember the awesome breakthroughs that the Lord of Be-ing that G-ds you has already accomplished.” (Devarim 7:18). We always have much more working for us than we ever know. “So don’t be distraught in the face of these challenges, because the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you is always right there with you, a Power that is greater and more Awesome (than anything that we can ever imagine).” (Devarim 7:17, 18, 21).
“Remember that the way, according to which, the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you has been leading us has never been easy, but all the challenges are tests to teach us that everything doesn’t just depend on contention here below, but really all life depends on the unceasing outpouring of the Divine Word that energizes, manifests, and sustains all that exists.” (Devarim 8:2-3).
In truth, the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you, is bringing us to a Land of Promise, that is like no other. But to get there, we have to stay with the Divine program. The only real danger is “if you start to believe that you are accomplishing all this on your own power,” then, you better remember the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you, who is the One that is giving you this power, only for the purpose of facilitating the primordially intended evolution of the Divine Dream.” Because if, G-d forbid, you do “forget the Lord of Be-ing who Gods you, and follow after other kinds of power, serving and worshipping them, then you will surely perish. (Devarim 8:17-19).
Today, we can clearly see that this warning of “surely perishing,” is by no means an idle threat. We remember the midrash that tells us that when the Lord of Be-ing who
G-ds us was contemplating the manifestation of human consciousness in the Divine Dream World, two angels objected, saying, “What is human consciousness that You would wish to be remembered within it?” (Psalms 8:5). But the Shekhinah decided, I must have a place to reside in the very earth of that world, or My Divine Dream will not be complete.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16.)
Human consciousness is very precious and very precarious. Even though the Lord of Be-ing that G-ds us is present everywhere and in everything that arises in manifestation, as written “the whole of manifestation is full of Her Glory,” (Isaiah 6:3), only human beings have to evolve in order to receive Divine Guidance consciously and must be reminded that “She will love you, bless you, and increase your (divinely guided) influence… (Devarim 7:13). If a significant number of us do not evolve in this way, then all of creation may be imperiled because of us.
Because of this precious/precariousness of human consciousness, the neshamah claliut (the archetype of Enlightened Consciousness and Da’at) for each tradition, connects each sacred community to the source of the Divine Dream. Thus the Buddha received his revelation sitting under the Banyan Tree for the enlightenment of millions of Asians; and Muhammad the Prophet, peace upon him and his descendants, sat in a cave and received guidance for all of Arabia. And preceding all of these, in our tradition, our Rabbi, Moshe, appeared in the Torah, as the Master of Prayer, after his awakening in a vision of Fire that does not consume, “the burning bush.”
In order to counteract the real possibility of human extinction, Moshe ascended twice to merge with the Dreamer and Dreaming beyond time and space. The first time he thought that his merging would be sufficient, but the Lord of Be-ing awakened him, “Get back down there quick; the dim beings that you have been guiding are getting it twisted. They have formed an image of Be-ing that has solidified in their minds like an idol. I AM sees that they are hopeless and are bound to perish.” (Devarim 9:12-14).
So Moshe descended as fast as he could from the midst of the Holy Fire with the Divine Instruction still flaming in his hands. And he saw that he couldn’t do anything with it, because it was too hot to hand over. And he had to replicate his first ascent and to pray for another forty days, so that human consciousness would not be extinguished. And this time, Divine Guidance instructed him to make a wooden ark in advance, as a vessel for containing the Holy Fire: “And a Tribe of Divine Escorts, the Levites, were singled out to hold up the Ark and to stand and serve before the Divine Presence and to bless in the Name of the Lord of Be-ing.” (Devarim 10:8). It is these Divine Escorts to whom we look today, to carry and hand on the Ark of the Holy Teaching so that can we can overcome our present course, before it careens towards destruction.
“So, what does the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you want of human consciousness? Just to remain aware of Him wherever we go, and to make Her our true love, so that we will serve the Lord of Be-ing that G-ds us with our whole heart and soul, so we commit ourselves to following the sacred obligations, by means of which we can unite ourselves with I AM every day for our benefit.” (Devarim 10:13).
And when we will scrupulously follow this teaching, out of true love for the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds us, merging with Her, wherever we go, then the Lord of Be-ing within us will take care of all the problems that confront us, including the ones that presently appear way too big for us.” (Devarim 11:22-23).
By way of this teaching, the Lord of Be-ing ever leads us to the true Holy Land, which is unique, and entirely unlike any limited land that we have ever experienced. For the True Land of Israel is eretz claliut (the Land from which all other lands derive their limited properties) and is unique precisely because it is not limited by any specific borders. “It is the Land that is constantly being contemplated in the Divine Mind.” (Devarim 11:12).
The Midrash teaches that King Shlomo planted every variety of plant in Jerusalem, because the source of nourishment for everything that grows originates in Jerusalem. We have a precious teaching from our Rebbes that wherever a Tzaddik (a saintly, enlightened being) is buried is itself an aspect of the Holy Land. And thus we learn in our Parashah, “(when you follow this teaching,) any place where you will place your feet will be within your borders, nothing can come between you and the Lord of Be-ing who G-ds you, for wherever you go, you will be in the Holy Land, as the Torah teaches you.” (Devarim 11:24-25).
May we be blessed in this perilous time called “Mashiach’s footsteps” to constantly clarify for ourselves a mind state of “Da’at,” remembering constantly Be-ing who G-ds us now and forever, ever closer to the promised Holy Land of the Divine Dream. May enough of us gain this Da’at in time to counteract all destructive tendencies that derive from actions based on limited human consciousness, in time to avert any and all decrees that may, G-d Forbid, imperil the well-being and harmonious balance of this Sacred World and all of its precious and diverse inhabitants.
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
DEUTERONOMY 7:12 – 11:25
Moses warns the people about the spiritual dangers that will face them when
they enter the Land and cautions them to remember God who is the source of all blessing.
EKEV MEANS “because.” Our covenantal obligation binds us to pay careful attention to the details of service to Life and Love. It is BECAUSE of that attention that we become present and receptive to the Great Flow of blessing. It is BECAUSE of our remembrance of God-Shining-Out-From-the-Center-of-All-Things, that we can truly experience this blessing. As we receive the blessing of Ekev, the blessing is expanded to include an understanding of just how and why this blessing comes to us.
Blessing is such a subjective thing. I once suffered a bad case of food poisoning. Even after recovering from the worst of it, I didn’t have an appetite for a week. When my hunger and ability to enjoy food finally returned, it felt like such a miracle. I have not taken the blessing of my appetite for granted since. Without the affliction of food poisoning, would I have ever understood the blessing of appetite?
The Torah portion Ekev gives meaning to the difficulties of our journey. We are afflicted and tested so that God will know what is in our heart, which means that we will come to know the depths of our own hearts and there find the gift of being human. Our hearts hold the key to making all of our life into a blessing. The Blessing of Ekev can be found in its words that say “You shall eat and you shall bless, and you shall be satisfied.”1 From this text we derive the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the Meal.
YOU SHALL EAT: Open yourself wide to receive all the goodness and beauty of the world. Take in with pleasure the fullness of its nourishment.
YOU SHALL BLESS: When you eat, remember the Source of all Goodness. Taste God in every bite and acknowledge the gift you are receiving.
AND YOU SHALL BE SATISFIED: Instead of immediately reaching out for more or for what’s next, rest consciously in the fullness of this moment, this bite, this morsel of life.
THE ADDICTIONS AND HABITS that keep us unsatisfied also prevent us from the passionate fulfillment of our relationship to God. The prophet Jeremiah quotes the Divine Lover’s lament, “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”2 (God brought us out of slavery to be in loving relationship with the Divine spark in all things. That relationship is fulfilled through the blessing of satisfaction.)
True satisfaction grows into gratefulness and thus makes our eating holy. When we experience true satisfaction, we are filled with energy rather than complacency. True satisfaction prevents over-consumption, because it slows down the process and lets us savor each bite. Experiencing satisfaction, we are cured of addiction, and the chain of habit is broken.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
IT IS POSSIBLE to eat everything in sight and to say 100 blessings a day in perfect Hebrew, and yet remain unsatisfied. The spiritual challenge of Ekev is to break the spell of consumerism whose power rests in our continual dissatisfaction.
As you enter the Land of your life: a land of fountains and depths, valleys and hills, shopping malls and glossy catalogues, a land of wheat and barley, television commercials and billboards and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a place of comforts and the illusion of security… you are in mortal danger of forgetting where all of these gifts come from. It will seem that you made this life for yourself, that you are the Creator.
As I go in to conquer the land and make a life for myself, the force of my ambition begins to rise. Each success feeds that ambition; each failure pushes me into exerting more force. Here is the spiritual challenge of Ekev. How do I protect myself from the corrupting power of my own ambition? How do I discern between self-destructive greed and a true, healthy appetite for pleasure that allows the blessing of satisfaction to manifest?
Ekev teaches us that as you enter the Land of your life, you need not be afraid of anyone, for the great and awesome force of divinity resides within you. That is the key. I must recognize the force of my ambition to be, in reality, the God-force that moves through me. The moment I mistake that power as my own, I am in danger of corruption. If my attention
leaps to the next possibility for satisfaction without resting in this present moment and savoring its richness, it is a sign that I have succumbed to the momentum of my own greed.
WHEN WE CROSS from the place of our spiritual practice into the Land of our everyday lives, Ekev tells us that we must circumcise the foreskin of our hearts, and be no more stiff -necked.
The layers of defense built up around my heart will actually prevent me from tasting and receiving the subtleties and richness of this world. With my senses I receive the color and fragrance, taste and texture of Creation. But then the foreskin of the uncircumcised heart will prevent me from benefiting from those riches. It will deflect the fullness of pleasure, beauty, and nourishment that my soul requires. Feeling deprived, I will always want MORE. The uncircumcised heart keeps me forever hungry, forever unsatisfied.
So what is the foreskin of my heart?
And how does this circumcision happen?
TONIGHT I WATCH as moonlight dances on the water. I stop my worrying, let go of my plans, and surrender to the simplicity of light and water and a cool breeze against my face. I look up at the stars and feel my place among them as all the petty dramas of the day dissolve in this vast expanse. My body opens to the pleasure of just being. My spine lengthens, shoulders drop, belly softens, and breath deepens. The whole world seems to breathe with me.
And what does it mean to be stiff -necked?
How do I recover my full range of motion?
I HAVE BEEN rushing around all day, trying to get things done. I have been focused on my “To Do” list, trying to do as much as possible, trying to accumulate power and knowledge. I lift my head from the list, from my accomplishments and I notice the world. Suddenly the world lifts me up above the smallness of my life. The panorama of Creation spreads out before me. In a flash I am the primordial human seeing from one end of the world to the other. I see everything. And I know absolutely nothing.
1 Deuteronomy 8:10
2 Jeremiah 2:13
3 Derech ha-Tovah veha-Yeshara, Seudah, p.27b. Quoted in Buxbaum,
Yitzchak, Jewish Spiritual Practices (Jason Aronson, 1999)
For Guidelines for Practice please click link to website.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Energy of the Week:
One of the major themes of this weeks Torah portion is the idea of mutual and collective responsibility tying in with the concept of “reward and punishment.” It deals with the principles of cause and effect, action and reaction, and how the physical nature around us responds to our collective actions.
There is a verse in this week’s portion that sums up this theme; “…Not by bread alone does man live; rather, on all that comes from the mouth of Hashem does man live” (Devarim. 8:3).
We assume that it is the bread that is nurturing us, when in truth it’s the Divine energy within the bread that we are connecting to, and that sustains us.
This week’s overall theme of cause and effect and the external reality mirroring the internal reality suggests that there is a deeper connection between the external and internal that what the eye can see.
From a physical perspective, everything is all inter-related and part of a great bio system. This is also true from a spiritual perspective, There is a deep underlying interdependency and relationship between the material and spiritual world.
This is the reason that each of us is attracted to specific people, objects and foods. Each one is specific to their particular spiritual need.
Within every animate, vegetative and even inanimate object there are sparks of the Divine that are uniquely connected to our soul, this is our indigenous Tikkun/ soul purpose. The reason that people have distinct tastes in food, clothes, people, is because every individual soul is different from the other and each soul is distinct in its character. Consequently every soul has its distinct sparks which they are connected to and must elevate.
This week we also celebrate the “full moon” of the month of Av, the fifteenth day of Av, which is a time when there is clarity of vision and soul purpose and we have the potential to connect with our soul mates.
On the fifteenth day in Temple times young men and women found each other in courtship.
“Soul –mates” is a soul to soul synergy that is not only found with people but extends to all areas of life. This is true even in regards to our relationship with objects, as we are all connected to particular energetic resonate.
The Energy of the Week:Sensing the connection between the physical action and spiritual reaction – understanding our soul connections with everything around us.
There are soul to soul connections with everything we are inclined to do, or pursue. This week’s energy provides us with the clarity to make true soul connections. This applies both to our interpersonal relationships, and our relationships with everything around us.
This is a good week to re-evaluate our connections, the people and the things we surround ourselves with and make sure that there is a real soul connection that spills over into our physical reality.
From Melissa Carpenter
Eikev: Being Full
And you will eat and you will be full, and you will bless God, your God, for the good land that He has given to you. Take care, lest you forget God … lest you eat and you are full, and you build good houses and you settle, and your herd and flock increase, and your silver and gold increase, and everything increases for you; and being raised high, your minds forget God, your God, who leads you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. (Deut. 8:10-14)
And I will provide green plants in your field for your cattle, and you will eat and be full. But take care for yourselves, lest your mind fools itself, and you desert and serve other gods and prostrate yourselves to them. (Deuteronomy 11:15-16)
ve-achalta = and you will consume, eat, eat up, devour, feed
ve-savata = and you will be full, satiated, satisfied, surfeited
levav = heart (physically), mind (figuratively); the seat of all conscious thought, including both reasoning and feeling
Eating your fill is mentioned three times in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev. The first reference is cited in the Talmud as the foundation for the ancient and continuing Jewish tradition of saying blessings after meals. This week’s Torah portion not only tells us to bless God after eating, but also gives us two reasons why:
—so that our minds don’t forget that all our material blessings come from God, and
—so that our minds don’t fool themselves into attributing these blessings to other “gods”.
When Deuteronomy was written, 1500 to 1700 years ago, the Israelites were in danger of attributing their material blessings to Canaanite fertility gods. Today, we might mistakenly attribute an abundance of food to the agrochemical industry, or an abundance of material goods in general to capitalism, or to some other system humans have invented, forgetting that without the continuing miracle of life on Earth, we would have nothing.
But why does the Torah repeatedly refer not just to eating, but to being full, sated, satisfied? I think that when humans are satisfied with something, we tend to take it for granted; we assume that it will always be there, without any additional care on their part. We get careless, and forget to thank and appreciate the people who keep on helping us, or the mystery of the universe (a.k.a. God) that keeps on supplying our needs. If your refrigerator is always full, you forget to thank the person who gets the groceries, or to bless the nature of life which lets plants grow and become food.
Whereas when we are hungry or needy, we’re on the lookout for help, and we’re more likely to appreciate anyone or anything that improves our lot.
Taking good situations for granted may or may not interfere with our material abundance. But it always diminishes our spiritual abundance. How many people with sufficient material wealth find themselves bored and miserable—empty and dissatisfied? If we no longer appreciate and thank other people; if we no longer appreciate and express awe at the complex beauty of this world; if we no longer appreciate and bless the unfurlings of their own minds and psyches—then our lives will feel cursed rather than blessed.
Take care! Don’t let your mind forget God, or forget that your material wealth must not be taken for granted. Don’t let your mind fool you into neglecting the holy work of appreciating, feeling awe, thanking, and blessing. Your happiness depends on it.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word that proceeds out of the mouth of G-d does man live (8:3)
At the core of every existence is a divine utterance that created it (“Let there be light,” “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation,” etc.), which remains nestled within it to continuously supply it with being and life. The soul of man descends into the trappings and trials of physical life in order to unite with and elevate the “sparks of holiness” buried in the food it eats, the clothes it wears, and all the other objects and forces of the physical existence it interacts with. For when a person utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve the Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its Divine essence and purpose.
Therein lies a deeper meaning to the verse (Psalms 107:5): “The hungry and the thirsty, in them does their soul wrap itself.” A person may desire food and sense only his body’s hunger, but in truth, his physical craving is but the expression and external “packaging” of a deeper yen — his soul’s craving for the sparks of holiness that are the object of its mission in physical life.
(Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch)
This explains a most puzzling fact of life: how is it that man, the highest form of life, derives vitality and sustenance from the lower tiers of creation — the animal, vegetable and mineral? But the true source of nourishment is the “Divine utterance” in every creation, and, as the Kabbalists teach, the “lowlier” the creation, the loftier the divine energy it contains. In this, the universe resembles a collapsed wall, in which the highest stones fall the farthest.
(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)
Lest your heart grow haughty (8:14)
Asked Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov: The Torah repeatedly warns against pride and extols humility. Nevertheless, this precept is not counted as one of the 613 commandments. Why isn’t it a mitzvah to be humble?
Answered the Baal Shem Tov: If humility were a mitzvah, the ego of man would count it among its achievements.
For the land into which you go… drinks water of the rain of heaven (11:10-11)
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov would say:
There are two types of fields: an irrigated field, and a field watered by rain.
The scholar’s soul is an irrigated field, devotedly developed and nurtured by her farmer. The soul of the simple Jew is a rain-nourished field, surrendering herself to the whims of the heavens, humbly awaiting blessing and stimulation from above.
The irrigated field yields a harvest that is superior, in quantity and quality, to that of her passive sister. But the rain-watered field is a truer, purer reflection on her Heavenly Maker.
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
“What am I truly capable of achieving”
is one of the biggest questions in life. This week’s Torah portion
enlightens us to impossible possibilities.
As a younger man or woman did you have a mentor – perhaps a friend, a teacher or a colleague – that motivated you to reach great heights?
If you did, feel blessed. If you didn’t, it’s hard to describe what you were missing. But all is not lost.
Moses, the quintessential leader, the ultimate mentor, demands – and in effect empowers us all – to achieve the unfathomable.
In this week’s Torah portion Moses says, “And now, Israel what does
G-d want of you? Only to be in awe of G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to serve G-d with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep the commandments of G-d, and His statutes, which I command you this day for your good?” (10:12)
Asks the Talmud: “Is awe of G-d a minor thing [that Moses says “only to be in awe of G-d”]?” And the Talmud answers: “Yes, for Moses it is a minor thing” (Talmud, Berachot 33b).
In Tanya he asks, “At first glance, the [Talmud’s] answer is incomprehensible, since the verse says “What does G-d ask of you” [not of Moses!]. “But the explanation is as follows: Each and every soul contains within it something of the quality of our teacher Moses, for he is one of the “seven shepherds” who feed vitality and G-dliness to the community of the souls of Israel…. Moses is the sum of them all, called the “shepherd of faith” (raaya meheimna) in the sense that he nourishes the community with the knowledge and recognition of G-d… So although who is the man who dares presume in his heart to approach and attain even a thousandth part of the level of the faithful shepherd, nevertheless, an infinitesimal fringe and minute particle of his great goodness and light illuminates every one in each and every generation” (Tanya ch. 42).
In other words, each one of us has within our souls a dimension where serving G-d is a relatively “easy” and “minor” thing to accomplish!
But what exactly does that mean? The empirical fact is that even for the most G-d fearing person living a virtuous and spiritual life does not come easily. Life for most of us consists of a battle between good and evil, spirit and matter, self-indulgence and transcendence – between selfish cravings of material narcissism and commitment to a higher calling, with the former more often than not winning out.
Indeed, modern secular thought sees the human being as an evolved beast, a billion year old bacteria, whose primary drive is survival (“survival of the fittest”). From biology to psychology, from genetics to archeology – from Darwin to Freud – we have been taught that humans are driven by the irrational and emotional primitive “id,” which is all “want, want, want,” self-gratification driven by one rule – the “pleasure principle: “I want it and I want it all now”.
Moses however saw the human being in quite a different light. While its true that every person has a selfish inclination, we also have a Divine side, which is capable of the noblest behavior. Indeed, Torah sees that the deepest part of the human being is the “yid” rather than the “id.” The essence of the soul is like the letter “yud,” a dot, a spark of the Divine.
The easier route may be the narcissistic one. But a person always has the choice to overcome his/her primitive temptations and access the transcendent soul within.
The soul is a rich resource, with layers and layers of potential. And in the soul lies a dimension that is a “spark” of Moses. At this level it is as natural to connect to G-d as it is for a fish to be in water. The challenge is to recognize and draw forth this dimension, which can lay concealed beneath the outer shell of material survival.
This is why Moses, a true leader, felt it necessary to, at least once, declare “And now, Israel what does G-d want of you? Only to be in awe of G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to serve G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.” Though Moses clearly understood the frailty of human nature, as he witnessed time and again in the errors of the Jewish people, yet he knew that each person has another noble dimension. By demanding – and expecting – that we can easily be “in awe of g-d and serve G-d,” this itself creates motivation in the part of the person to live up to his/her potential.
Moses understood the most basic aspect of human nature: We need someone to believe in us. This belief helps us gain the confidence to rise to the occasion. To “remove the barriers from your heart” and its “stubbornness” (as Moses continues, 10:16), and allow our true Divine nature to emerge.
The lesson therein is quite obvious: Find someone that believes in you!
“Impossible. Absolutely impossible.” How often do we hear these discouraging words, pouring cold water on our freshly hatched ideas? Don’t you think that the first creators of the airplane or any other modern feat were told by their peers that their dreams were an impossibility? Yet, they persisted and finally prevailed. History is witness to countless stories of humans achieving the impossible.
And how else do we explain the seemingly irrational drive that we can overcome any challenge. How, for instance, are doctors utterly convinced that they can ultimately conquer every illness?! It is because we have an instinct that all is possible. This instinct stems from the Divine power of the soul that transcends mortality and all the shortcomings of human existence.
It is critical that we believe in ourselves to be able to achieve anything in this world. But we must also know that our psyches are under a constant assault of many forces reminding us time and again about our limitations, feeding our insecurities and fears.
Comes Moses and says no! You have the power to be Divine, and with ease! You only need to believe that it is possible.
In essence, one can say, that this is the ultimate battle in life: How much we believe in ourselves; how much we believe in our possibilities.
Moses dedicated his last 36 days on Earth to address all the issues that the people would face in the years and generations to come. As true shepherd, he anticipates the challenges of life and discusses them accordingly.
The last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, in effect is Moses’ last will and testament – ensuring that the legacy of Exodus, Sinai, the travels in the wilderness, would live on forever.
Read the book carefully and you will find fascinating lessons on virtually all the issues we face till this day. In future columns we will occasionally attempt to focus on some of these powerful messages.
This week we learn about what is expected of us; what we are truly capable of. The greatest leader of all time, Moses, tells us that we have it in us to reach the highest places; we have the power to be
G-dly, spiritual people, to the point where it is easily accessible to each one of us. Hence, the request and demand: And now, Israel: What does the L-rd your G-d ask of you? Only to fear G-d.
When things sometimes seem impossible, think about Moses’ words. Think about the fact that by virtue of the “Moses” within” your soul you are within reach of achieving virtually anything you set your mind to.
So now that we know that the great Moses believes in us, the question we each much ask: Do I believe in myself?
With a leader like Moses the impossible may just be possible.
From Rav Kook
Eikev: Blessings Over Bread and Torah
Two Blessings from the Torah
Most blessings are of rabbinical origin. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule — blessings that are derived directly from the Torah itself. The first is Birkat Hamazon, recited after meals; the second is the blessing said before learning Torah.
The obligation to bless God after eating bread is stated explicitly: “When you eat and are satisfied, you must bless the Lord your God…” (Deut. 8:10).
The Sages derived the blessing before studying Torah from the verse, “When I proclaim God’s name [or: when I read God’s teaching], praise our God for His greatness” (Deut. 32:3).
These two blessings differ not only in the source for our feelings of gratitude — one is for physical nourishment, the other for spiritual sustenance — but also in when they are said. Why is Birkat Hamazon recited after the meal, while the blessing for Torah study is recited before studying?
Two Benefits of Food
We derive two benefits from food. The first is our enjoyment from the act of eating, especially if the food is tasty. This is a fleeting pleasure, but it nonetheless deserves to be acknowledged. The primary benefit from eating, however, is the sustenance it gives our bodies, enabling us to continue living. This primary benefit reflects the nutritional value of the food, regardless of its taste.
Our recognition of the principal benefit of eating should take place after the meal, when the body digests and absorbs the food. Since Birkat Hamazon expresses our gratitude for physical sustenance, its logical place is at the end of the meal.
Parenthetically, there are also blessings that are reciting before eating. These blessings are in recognition of our pleasure in the act of eating itself. We acknowledge this secondary benefit of eating with rabbinically-ordained blessings.
Two Benefits of Torah Study
Torah study also provides us with two benefits. The first is the knowledge acquired in practical areas of Halachah, enabling us to live our lives according to the Torah’s wisdom.
The second benefit lies in the very act of learning Torah. Torah study in itself is a tremendous gift, even if it does not provide any practical applications. When we learn Torah, the soul is elevated as our minds absorb the sublime word of God.
Which benefit is greater? The Sages taught that the unique sanctity of the Torah itself is higher than all deeds that come from its study: “One who studies Torah for its own sake is raised and uplifted above all actions” (Avot 6:1). The benefit of practical knowledge is important, but is only a secondary gain.
Therefore, we recite the blessing over Torah before studying. If the blessing was meant to acknowledge the practical benefit of how to perform mitzvot, then it would be said afterwards, since this Halachic knowledge is gained as a result of Torah study. But the blessing over Torah refers to the principle gift of Torah study. When we bless God before studying, we acknowledge the spiritual elevation that we enjoy in the very act of contemplating God’s Torah.
Now we can understand why the source in the Torah for this blessing reads, “When I proclaim God’s name.” Why does the verse refer to the Torah as “God’s name”? This blessing requires that we recognize the sublime inner essence of the Torah as “God’s name.” With awareness of this truth, Torah study can enlighten and uplift us “above all actions.”
(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 307-309; adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 103 (on Berachot 20).)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Ekev: Animals Served First!
God promised that if we keep the mitzvot and sincerely love Him, we will benefit from timely rain and bountiful crops:
“I will give plants in your field for your animals; and you will eat and be satiated.” (Deut. 11:15)
Rav Abba Aricha, the celebrated third-century scholar, called attention to the order of the verse: first the animals eat, and then the people.
“Rav taught: one is not permitted to eat before he has placed food before his animals.” (Berachot 40)
Why is this? Should not people eat first, since they are more important? Are not humans ‘the crown of creation’?
Rav Kook explained that this Talmudic rule of etiquette contains a number of moral lessons.
•Given our important status in the universe, we have a responsibility to look after all creatures.
•Our food (and in the case of the farmer, also his livelihood) is by virtue of the cow, chicken, etc. We need to feed these animals first, as an expression of the fundamental gratitude one should feel towards these creatures, which supply us with our basic needs.
•In purely physical aspects, animals are superior to humans. Is there a person stronger than a bear, faster than a horse, more agile than a cat? Our superiority over the animals is only in spiritual spheres, in our degree of intelligence, and knowledge of God and His holy ways. Therefore, when it comes to physical sustenance, animals take precedence to humans, and by right are served first.
•If we lack food for a short time, we may comfort ourselves with spiritual or intellectual pursuits. This is an integral aspect of the human soul, which is not sustained “by bread alone”. Animals, however, have no such alternate outlets when they are pained by hunger. Therefore, it is logical to deal with the animal’s hunger first.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 180)
It is our custom on Tu B’Shevat to make a
seder plate of the seven types of fruit of the land of Israel listed in this parsha: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
All Of It
And it shall come to pass
because [ekev] you listen to these ordinances [Ibn Ezra: if you listen]
and keep and do them
God will keep the covenant and the mercy
sworn to your ancestors. [Deut. 7:12]
the mystery of the uncommon conjunction
something a preposition might admire
ekev also connotes heel
referring to those acts
we might not be attentive to [Midrash Tanhuma 1]
those that are thrown under our heels [so to speak]
Rashi calls them the light ones
the ones that might not attract our attention
the unglamorous deeds.
There are no unglamorous deeds.
Even the conjunctions of the mitzvah world –
their lovely low-li-ness.
Every generation is a heel generation
every person a heel person
everything previous rests on us
every act every word every gesture
to now –
We are the heel on which everything rests –
everything counts in some ultimate way
as hidden as the heel that supports
the weight of our bodies.
Everything turns on the lowly conjunction ekev
be a conjunction for a while
be a preposition
What you did and what you didn’t do
what you remembered and what you forgot
what you honored and what you desecrated
it all rests on the heel of your generation
maybe on you yourself
and one day it may be clear that everything
every single thing
the big the small the good the bad
the beautiful the lowly the lofty
all of it.
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Ekev
Maqam Sigah trichord: E half-flat F G
Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure, a maqam,
Arabic cognate to the Hebrew for “place.”
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
What we crave
Here’s the d’var Torah I wrote for this week’s Torah portion back in 2006, originally published at the now-defunct Radical Torah.
This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, contains some of the most stirring language in Torah: the exhortation to feel satisfaction and to offer blessing after we have eaten, a reminder of what God demands of us (that we revere God and walk in God’s paths), the gorgeous passage that forms the latter part of the Shema. But reading the parsha today I am struck by a line that talks about other people’s gods:
You shall consign the images of their gods to the fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them and keep it for yourselves, lest you be snared thereby; for that is abhorrent to Adonai your God.
This week’s descriptions of conquering and plunder — God sending a plague against the wicked inhabitants of the land so that the Israelites might dispossess them — may not resonate for us in this day and age. But these words about coveting and ensnarement, I think, have a lot to teach.
At this moment in Torah, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert for a generation. Their hearts have been swept clean by the desert winds. (Well, at least in their better moments that might be true. Torah also takes pains to remind us that the Israelites are a stiff-necked people who screw up all the time. But I have to figure they were at least a little bit changed by their time in the wilderness even so.) They’re poised on the cusp of entering a new land, a new chapter in their history together, and they’re going to encounter glorious idols clad in silver and gold.
Intriguingly, God doesn’t imagine that the people will fall for the idols themselves. At this point God seems confident that the Israelites understand the difference between the Source of All and some shiny statue, no matter how many precious stones adorn the representations of local gods. But God warns them, through Moses’ words, to take care of how they respond to the stuff the idols are made of. They might be smart enough to reject the idols themselves, but how tempting it will be to melt the idols down and keep their precious materials! There’s the snare: that irrepressible desire.
It’s almost a Buddhist teaching. When coveting enmeshes us, we can so easily become caught. And in a strange way, it feels good. It’s a familiar groove to slip into, wanting what the dominant culture values. And wanting feeds more wanting, and before we know it our cravings have overgrown the longing for connection with God. One’s heart can only long for so much at any given time, and when the heart is busy longing for what sparkles it is not longing for righteousness and for God.
Craving appears in subtle forms, too. The desire for praise. The desire for fame. The desire to be in control. One of my college professors used to point out, ruefully, that we like nothing better than righteous indignation — we like to be put-upon so we can puff up our chests and revel in how good it feels to be angry. That’s a kind of idolatry, too.
There’s a spiritual danger in allowing ourselves to grow so attached to our cravings that we lose sight of what really matters. We each struggle with this in different ways. Sometimes I get attached to the rush of fury that arises upon reading the news, which mires me in toxicity. Maybe you wrestle with the fantasy of always being right, or with the desire for a sleek leather coat. These are manifestations of ego, and when we cling to them we might as well be clinging to the silver and gold of the idols described in this week’s parsha.
And, Torah tells us, that is abhorrent to God. We can do better. We can throw the idols we encounter into the fire, resisting the temptation to hoard the things we crave. If we can tamp down desire, just think how much lighter our spirits will be!
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Ekev
August 20, 2011 / 20 Av 5771
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson, Mashpiah Ruchanit
What Could be Beyond Love?
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3
I had never been to a Brit Milah on Tish’a b’Av, let alone be asked to officiate. I had held Yona Baruch in my hands erev Tish’a b’Av for the first time. He felt completely in this world, and yet of another world, simultaneously. It was as if he was carrying secrets and wisdom from a world beyond us. Holding him also gave me the sense of holding the next 80-100 years (in good health) of the future in my hands. It was the promise of the future, and the life force that he embodies that did not enable me to touch the ultimate darkness that I normally touch on Tish’a b’Av.
It is also with this lens that I find myself walking these seven shabbatot of ‘nechama’ (of comfort) between Tish’a b’Av and Rosh HaShanah; a promise of the future, a promise that we are given the choice to mold.
On Rosha HaShanah we will recite, after hearing the blowing of the shofar, “hayom harat olam… im k’vanim, im k’avadim” / “Today is the day the world has been birthed… either like children or like servants”. It seems that the question isn’t whether or not we’ll have a relationship with our Creator, it is only a question of the nature of our relationship. Our free will is defined by our choice in the nature of service – will we serve God as servants or as children?
It seems to me that our parasha is asking of us a similar question. Three times we are asked specifically to walk with God. Three times that we are offered the choice of how we are going to do so:
“…to walk in His ways and to fear him” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 8:6)
“…to walk in all His ways and to love him” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 10:12)
“…to walk in all His ways and to cleave / to hold fast to Him (D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:22)
The words of the verses speak for themselves; our choices are in front of us. Fear/Yir’ah. Love/Ahavah. Cleaving/D’veikut. As God’s servants we can walk in fear or even in love. We find, for example, when a servant chooses to stay with their master they proclaim: “Ahavti et adoni… lo e’tze” / “I love my master… I shall not leave,” (Sh’mot/Exodus 21:5) hence it is possible to love and still be a slave. Perhaps, I would like to propose, service from fear hearkens enslavement, while a love of one’s master brings a sense of service. But it is only when we choose to cleave to God that we ascend to a level beyond love. Walking with love stands in between the two extremes of this paradigm, the verses in the Torah offer us this perspective. As we can see, walking with fear speaks of “His ways”, walking with love and cleaving to, speaks of “all His ways.” So that love is clustered with cleaving. But yet, “I have loved my master…” holds the fear and the love together.
I shared at the Brit Milah that we have two kinds of covenants with God – we have the covenant of the flesh, and we have the covenant of the Shabbat which is also called ‘Brit’ in the Torah. I suggested that a Brit Milah on Tish’a b’Av brings the two together. Borrowing from the Netivote Shalom (R. Noach Shalom Berzovsky, 1911-2000) I shared that we are sad for the past, we mourn the present, and we celebrate the future. But the Halacha teaches us that we do not publicly observe laws of mourning on Shabbat. And the parents and Mohel (and Rabbi…) are permitted to wear Shabbat clothes to the Brit Milah.
It is in this way that I portrayed that, possibly, Yonah Baruch was denied the choice as to what kind of relationship he was going to have with God. I offered that six days of the week we can choose if we want to serve God as ‘avadim’/servants or as ‘banim’/children. But when we enter Shabbat we are all on the level of ‘banim’/children. Six days of the week we can choose between fear, love and cleaving, but the only way to be in Shabbat, the only way to experience Shabbat is by virtue of cleaving to God.
The maftir of this Shabbat embraces this reading by promising that God will meet us even beyond what our imagination can ponder. The prophet Yesha’ayahu / Isaiah (49:15) promises that even if it was conceivable to think of a mother forgetting her child, that God would never forget us! When we come towards God with our commitment and aspiration to cleave to God, to hold fast, we create in the Divine a promise to never forsake us! If we have the courage to stand in the presence of the One-and-Only, and engage in a life of d’veikut/cleaving, then not only are we God’s children, we return to be One with God, in God.
These seven Shabbatot can be likened to the seven steps that we descend as immersing ourselves into the holy waters of the Mikveh. Each step helping us shed fear and even love and a desire to cleave. Bringing us full circle back to a moment of rebirth, of being One with God, in God.
May we merit to descend each of these Shabbatot one more step. May we merit to ascend as One with The-One.
From Rabbi Saraleya Schley
Parashat Eikev:Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25; 2nd Haftora of Consolation: Isaiah 49:14-51:3. consequences, covenant, love, circumcising the heart, choosing aliveness – a compilation of Torah musings from the past 4 years
Our Torah portion begins with the statement: “eikev tishm’un eit ha-mishpatim ha-eila u-sh’martem v’asitem otam…the consequence of your listening to and fulfilling these laws will be the ongoing covenantal love relationship between you and your God. You will be loved and blessed – you and your land will be fruitful.” (D’varim 7:12-13). Soon thereafter, however, our text continues with a painful recounting of the destruction to be wrought by the Israelites on the Canaanite tribes. We are reminded how deeply the worldview of Self and Other is seared into our communal psyche.
Isaiah, in the haftara selection from the prophets we chant week, promises that Zion will never be forgotten by the Holy One, that she is engraved on the palms of the Divine hands….and that the children she thought she had lost will be returned (49:14-22). Let this be a promise we make to every child. Let each child receive the assurance of a brit – covenant that we will not rest until each is loved, accepted, honored and celebrated as an essential and unique incarnation of Divinity.
The idea of covenant is deeply enmeshed with the word which is the name of our parashah: “eikev- consequence”: if… then. Our parashah, thus, brings to our discernment a core tenant of the theology of Deuteronomy that our world is structured so that our actions have consequences and significance. If you heed the Divine laws by guarding them and doing them, then the Holy One will guard the brit –the covenant — and the hesed – the abundant loving-kindness … and you will be loved and blessed…’ (7:12-13). Observe all the commandments — ways of connecting to Me — so that you may really be alive; know that the 40 years of wilderness travel tested you so you will know that only your heart can decide how to engage with this path (8:1-2).
How is the heart able to guide us to make the life-affirming choices of which Deuteronomy speaks? “u-moltem et orlat l’vavkhem – you will circumcise that which binds your heart” (10:16) We are enjoined to cut away the tough, fibrous covering – the heart’s foreskin – so that the heart can beat freely. Metaphorically, circumcising the heart is consciously stripping off the hardness and tension that surrounds our hearts, the barriers that separate us from Connection with The One and with each other. Our uncircumcised hearts are tender and vulnerable.
I pray that by being aware of the barriers we place over our hearts, these obstacles can be stripped away so that we can love more freely and that the open and un-defended heart will become the basis for relationship in our world. All children will thus feel held by the Divine Hand. We can inherit our land and share it with its other inhabitants. Let this be the eikev, the consequence of our intentions and actions and not enmity or divisiveness.
With blessing that hokhmat ha lev – wise-heartedness – always guide us.
18 Av 5771
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
Two is Better than One
REPRINT FROM 5763
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Walk into any synagogue and you’ll see them in the sanctuary. Generally, they’re above the Aron (the Ark), or on a wall. Walk into many churches and you’ll be greeted by the same sight. The two tablets of the Ten Commandments have become the eloquent symbols of religion, good and decency throughout the western world. Those few words have shaped nations and stirred souls. The simple yet clear instructions of how to live in relation to God and with each other have never been fully attained, let alone surpassed. Each generation reads them anew, and each has found something fresh and abiding in them to transmit to posterity. In fact, the Ten Commandments are so common that we risk taking them for granted. They are so familiar that we presume an intimacy in which basic questions are simply assumed.
But let’s pause and ask one easy question. Given that the Ten Commandments are so terse, why did God command the use of two tablets instead of one? After all, in the Torah’s record of revelation at Sinai, God seem concerned not only with the message, but with the medium too: “Thereupon the Lord said to me, ‘Carve out two tablets of stone…” Omniscient even with PR, God knew that the shape of those tablets would attain a significance equal to the words recorded there. So, again, we can ask, why two? “It takes two to make our dreams come true,” a song on the radio regularly reminds us. An American proverb holds that, “Two heads are better than one.” Why? Perhaps Jewish law can help here.
According to the ‘halakhah’ (rabbinic law), a criminal conviction requires the testimony of at least two concurring witnesses. So significant is this ruling that pages and pages of Talmudic debate focus on the requirements of who may (or may not) testify, what testimony is admissible, and what the penalties are for false testimony. Running throughout this requirement of two witnesses is the assumption that any one person is fallible. Each of us has our own passions, our own foibles and our own biases. We filter what we see and what we are willing to understand through our unique personality and preferences, which can result in unusual insights, and can also result in distortions of reality. The easiest way to correct that distortion is to involve another human being, someone whose blind-spots differ from those of the first. Two is better that one because two can perceive reality better than one.
A second thought on twos: The classical Jewish mode of study is not that of a solitary scholar sitting alone, as we find in western academia. Instead, Jewish sages study in ‘havruta,’ in fellowship. Two or more Jews read the same text (out loud, of course!) and then discuss, probe, question and argue. As a result of their shared discourse and their voluble discussion, their knowledge of what they read is that much more solid, and their voices join in a debate and dialogue that is as ancient as Judaism itself. Perhaps for this reason, the sages of the Mishnah worked in zugot (pairs). Two is better that one because it allows for a dynamic of profundity and involvement.
Two is also the number of lovers. Love requires an exchange between two people. It multiplies in the give-and-take of two. And two is the number of twins. Midrash Devarim Rabbah records the same question. “Why two? The Rabbis say, “The Holy Blessing One said, ‘Those [tablets] shall act as witnesses between Me and My children. They correspond to two witnesses, to two agents for groom and bride, to hattan (groom) and kallah (bride), to heaven and earth, to this world and the Coming World.’ ”
The two tablets of stone are like the two witnesses required by Jewish law. They can testify to our obedience to God’s will or they can highlight our failure to rise to the level that Judaism demands. But they are also more than just legal watchdogs. Our sages are reminding us that good things come in pairs–like heaven and earth, like a boy and a girl. Two really is better than one.
Secret of Addiction
August 8, 2012 | Author Administrator
Hungry from Ekev, Deuteronomy 7
by James Stone Goodman
“So G*d afflicted you and made you hungry, and had you eat the manna which you had not known and which your ancestors had not known, in order to make you know that not by bread alone do human beings live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of G*d do human beings live” (Deut. 8:3).
A human being does not live by bread alone, taken out of context, it is often understood as we do not live only for money, but the whole verse tells us that clearly something else is intended.
The Rabbis (Sifrei on Ekev) noted that Torah is bread, and the commentaries are additional sustenance, a person does not live by bread alone. Study the commentaries please, we know this.
The verse also reminds us of the famous saying of R. Elazar b. Azarya in Pirkei Avot (3:21), “if there is no bread, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no bread.” What does this mean? Here Torah is not bread, on the contrary, the imagery is of two separate substances, one bread, one Torah. Here we may understand bread in the common way that Deuteronomy 8:3 is understood: a human being does not live by bread alone, that is bread, sustenance, parnassa, a livelihood, the material necessities.
If so, it is easy to understand the first phrase in Avot, if there is no bread, there is no Torah, because it’s tough to be holy when you’re hungry. But what does the second part of the R. Elazar’s words mean–if there is no Torah, there is no bread?
The Dow free fell three hundred points because Mr. Merrill and Mr. Lynch weren’t learning? That’s precisely the point, it’s not about the Dow, it’s the Tao.
R. Elazar b. Azarya was a 2nd generation Tanna (1-2nd century rabbi) who was a man of wealth and yichus (good genes). He could trace his ancestry back ten generations to Ezra the Scribe. R. Elazar became Nasi (big shot) as a young man, his beard turned white overnight so his colleagues would accept him. I’ve seen this happen.
So what did he have in mind when he said, if there is no Torah, there is no bread? For a person with no Torah, any amount of bread is never enough. A person without Torah is a person who remains hungry, dissatisfied. It’s about Torah, not about bread. Always hungry, there will never be enough bread to fill the emptiness that only Torah can fill.
There is an emptiness inside of me, a cavern, it will not be filled with bread, with stuff, there is not enough substances to fill that space, this space is vacant for want of Torah, for want of depth, for want of spirit, this space is not hungry for bread, this space is hungry for meaningfulness, for significance, for depth, for Torah.
A human being doesn’t live for bread only; a human being lives for Everything. Only Everything is everything. That’s the danger with this kind of hunger, we think we can stuff ourselves with substances.
Drugs won’t do it, booze won’t do it, sex won’t do it, money won’t do it, food won’t do it, only the living G*d, only Torah, only HaKol, Everything. Not the Dow, but the Tao.
I got a monkey in my soul. “The I is a thief”, said the Kotzker, it snatches the partial and mistakes it for the whole. Only Everything is everything. Into an inner emptiness we stuff the partial, we drink into that emptiness, we drug into that emptiness, we work into that emptiness, we eat into that emptiness. Never enough. Only Everything is everything. “Not by bread alone do human beings live, but by everything that issues from the mouth of G*d do human beings live.”
You can’t eat enough, you can’t drink enough, you can’t love enough to satisfy a hunger that isn’t physical. “My soul thirsts for G*d, the living G*d” (Psalm 42:3). That’s the only remedy, the enduring remedy, the perennial wisdom.
“You will eat but you will be satisfied only when you bless G*d” (Deut. 8:10).
“Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more.” — Deuteronomy 10:16
But these calluses
They protect me
from the places
where the world
rubs me raw.
Without my shrug,
my humor, my
insistence that this
too shall pass
I’ll feel exposed
my heart pumping
where any stranger
could see me.
Couldn’t you ask
for something easy?
Once I open
my locked chest
what if I
just fly apart?
From American Jewish World Service
Rabbi David Singer
In Parashat Eikev, Moses offers the Israelites one of the most moving and persuasive encouragements toward Divine service found in the entire Torah. As they stand on the edge of the Jordan, they are reminded that Divine service demands walking in the path of God:
“And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you? Only this: to revere Adonai your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and soul… Adonai your God is God supreme and Adonai supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”1
After offering his command to follow this “mighty” Creator, Moses continues with a description of the specific nature of God’s power. Given the many examples of God displaying great physical might, we might expect Moses to mention the Flood, the 10 plagues on Egypt or the splitting of the sea; yet Moses ignores these feats and, instead, continues his praise by focusing on the fact that God “shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.”2 God’s awesome power, Moses explains, is displayed through love for those afflicted by injustice, those most likely to be trampled on by society at large. Rather than physical might, it is God’s concern for the afflicted that we should emulate.
This is a provocative theological message, to be sure, and one that has crucial practical import for those of us who concern ourselves with the work of global justice. So often, public discourse bifurcates between those interested in exercising power through force and those interested in offering empathic aid as a means for influencing change in the world. We often associate power with oppression, rather than with those who speak out against it. This may leave many of us in the West uncomfortable with thinking of our social justice work as exercising “power,” but by asking us to emulate a God who does so to overcome injustice, our tradition invites us to embrace our empathic force and not to be shy about using it.
Parashat Eikev pushes us to see power and empathy as intrinsically linked, rather than opposites. By exercising power—and refusing to cede it to those with less altruistic goals—we follow in God’s path, realizing our human power through tzedakah and political advocacy.
In fact, Rabbi Abraham, son of the Rambam, instructs us not only to realize our power but to be generous with it, using it to support those who are vulnerable. He teaches, “Proper generosity involves not only money and goods, but also power . . . Generosity with power entails using [the power] bestowed [on us] by God to help those in need . . .”3
The work of global justice—helping to alleviate poverty, empowering the voiceless, bringing equality to those corners of the earth still shackled in inequality—is a supremely powerful act that is directly inspired by God’s own concern for the oppressed.
As we strive to serve God, we would be well-served to emulate the Holy One’s great qualities of awesome might coupled with empathy for those afflicted by injustice. We have a convenient reminder to do so thrice daily, as Moses’s iconic description of the Holy One in this parashah as “great, mighty and awesome” is repeated at the beginning of the Amidah—the central petitionary prayer of Jewish worship. In beseeching our Creator for blessing in this world, let us not only focus on God’s physical might but on God’s empathic power, and remind ourselves that upholding the cause of those forgotten around the world is an act of emulating and employing this awesome Divine attribute. This is how we serve our Creator. This, Moses teaches, is what God demands of us.
1 Deuteronomy 10:12-17.
2 Deuteronomy 10:17-18.
3 Rabbi Abraham, son of the Rambam, The Guide to Serving God, Chapter 5 D2. Translation by R. Yaakov Wincelberg, edited for gender neutrality. Available at http://on1foot.org/text/rabbi-abraham-son-rambam-guide-serving-god-chapter-5.
I walk on it are you paying attention walking all over your actions thrown under your heels so to speak he called them the light ones that might not attract our attention those unglamorous deeds.
There are no unglamorous deeds. I live for them and everything that issues from the mouth of G*d especially the conjunctions the conjunctions most of all their lovely low-li-ness. Oh those points and dots.
Every generation is a heel generation every person a heel person everything previous rests on us every act every word every gesture contributes to now — this day. Hello.
Every word every conjunction every preposition every deed light or heavy contributes we are the heel on which everything rests – everything counts in some ultimate way as hidden as the heel that supports the weight of our bodies. Wake up body.
Everything turns on the lowly conjunction be a conjunction for a while be a preposition an article. A diacritical point. A dot.
This week’s Dvar Tzedek was originally published in 2009.
In Parashat Eikev, Moses reflects on the journey through the wilderness and prepares the Israelites for their transition into a new life of responsibility in the Promised Land. He begins, “And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that God swore to your ancestors.”1 The Hebrew word used for “heed” is the parashah’s namesake, “eikev,” which also means “heel.” A midrash proposes that the use of this word conveys a double-meaning:
“The verse shows us that even those righteous deeds which a person takes lightly, like things of no value trodden underfoot, these commandments too should be kept. One should not weigh the commandments and say: “This is an important commandment and I will fulfill it, and this is a small one and I will ignore it.”2
Arguing against the very human impulse to develop a hierarchy of responsibilities, this midrash warns us not to assign relative importance to the range of obligations that demand our attention and response.
This desire to prioritize feels especially familiar when we face the enormity of social justice work. We experience the frustrating gap between the resources of an individual or organization and the overwhelming amount of suffering in the world, and so we create our own idiosyncratic systems to somehow make the impossible decisions about how to allocate our limited resources. We establish systems of triage based on who we feel is “hungriest,” “sickest” or “most lacking in educational opportunity.” Or perhaps our attention is due to a special relationship to an issue: we know someone affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic or we have seen first-hand the devastation wrought by a hurricane. We decide which issues are “our” issues, deserving of our attention, and we ignore others.
The midrash seems to imply that it is hubristic to make such judgments about relative value. Who am I to say that grassroots organizations providing vocational work for rural women are any less important than clinics treating malaria? Especially in the context of global justice, when human lives are at stake, asserting that one issue is more important than another feels especially arrogant.
By cautioning us not to presume that we understand the value of any individual mitzvah, the midrash encourages us to accept a holistic system of halachah and not a set of individual laws. If we resist the instinct to compartmentalize, categorize and organize all the mitzvot, we find that they function in complementary ways, working together to enable lives with infinite potential for holiness, meaning and justice.
We can draw inspiration from the holistic ideal of halachah in our work for global justice. Instead of approaching each issue separately, we should explore the ways in which injustices are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. For example, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not an isolated problem of people dying from a disease. The spread of HIV is exacerbated by the social stigma that accompanies it, which prevents governments from taking timely action and deters individuals from undergoing testing. Pervasive lack of access to healthcare and prevention methods among marginalized populations further contribute to the spread of the disease. HIV/AIDS is also intrinsically linked to poverty: families get poorer when wage earners sicken, and economic growth slows in many countries as workforces are decimated by the disease. So too in the education system: the loss of teachers to HIV/AIDS results in lower academic achievement levels, higher drop-out rates and lower child literacy rates.
Responding to such an interconnected problem requires a holistic approach, not the selection of some factors over others. Responding effectively to HIV/AIDS requires improving roads and other forms of infrastructure in rural communities so that people can safely travel to clinics. It involves training health workers to teach communities how to prevent HIV transmission, reducing gender-based violence and challenging the stigma that surrounds the disease. Peter Piot, former Executive Director of UNAIDS, the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, articulates the necessity of understanding the HIV/AIDS pandemic in its larger context: “It is patently clear that we need to make real headway against the fundamental drivers of this epidemic, especially gender inequality, stigma and discrimination, deprivation and the failure to protect and realize human rights. This challenge is perhaps the greatest of all those facing the AIDS response.”3
Later in Parashat Eikev, Moses again reminds the Israelites of the importance of keeping the commandments: “You shall faithfully observe all the commandment [mitzvah, singular] that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive…”4 The 18th-century Italian commentator Ohr Hachaim explains this curious use of the singular: “Moses admonishes the people and uses the singular “mitzvah” as if to say that our relationship to all of the rules in the Torah should be as if to one single commandment.”5 This conflation of the laws should serve as a lesson to us in our pursuit of global justice, reminding us to contextualize individual issues and seek solutions that account for interlocking systems. Through this approach, let us merit Moses’s blessing that we, and all of humanity, may thrive.
1 Deuteronomy 7:12
2 Ashkenazi, Jacob Ben Isaac. The Weekly Midrash / Tz’enah ur’enah: the classic anthology of Torah lore and Midrashic commentary. Miriam Stark Zakon, translator. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1983.
3 Emily Geminder, “Rethinking AIDS in Africa: Why prevention is now more important than ever,” Asian People’s Alliance for Combating HIV and AIDS, 11 March 2008. Available at http://www.apachanet.org/inner.php?do=article_detail&id=203.
4 Deuteronomy 8:1.
5 Ohr Hachaim on Deuteronomy 8:1.
From Rabbi Yoel Glick
The Hasidic Master, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, teaches that when we interact with the events of our lives, both the good and the bad, from the place of knowing that everything is “of God and from God”, we sweeten the judgments and transform them into compassion and mercy. This, he declares, is the essence of the Kabbalistic concept of raising the Divine sparks out of the realm of the klipot – the material husks. By seeing everything as coming form God, we uncover the Divine goodness that is hidden within every situation and event. This, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak says, is the inner meaning of the verse in the Torah (Deut. 8:15), הַמּוֹצִיא לְךָ מַיִם, מִצּוּר הַחַלָּמִישׁ. “Who brought forth water for you from the rock of flint.” To bring forth “water from the rock of flint” is to awaken the Divine livingness that lies buried at the heart of this dense physical reality: to lift the physical up to its spiritual source.
From the Maqam Project
This week’s portion: cut away the calluses on your heart
At this weekend’s Remembering Reb Zalman Shabbaton in Colorado a variety of my friends and colleagues will be collaborating on leading Shabbat davenen. I am humbled and honored to have the chance to leyn Torah on Shabbat morning. I was given the opportunity to choose the handful of verses from parashat Ekev which I wanted to leyn, and I chose Deuteronomy 10:12-19, which translate as follows:
And now, Israel: what does Adonai your God ask of you?
That with awe of the One, you walk in God’s ways, and love God;
that you serve Adonai your God with all your heart and all your soul.
Keep God’s connective-commandments and engraved-commandments
which I am giving to you today for your good / to improve your lives.
Behold: the heights of the heavens belong to God; the earth, and all that is upon it.
It was to your ancestors that God was drawn, out of love,
so that you, their descendants, continue to be chosen among all peoples even now.
Cut away, therefore, the calluses on your hearts; stiffen your necks no more.
For Adonai your God is the utmost and the highest (God of God, Lord of Lords.)
God: great, mighty, and awesome, Who doesn’t play favorites and takes no bribe,
Who upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow
And loves the stranger, providing food and clothing.
Just so, you should love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
I initially chose these verse because I was drawn both to the beginning and to the end of this passage. I liked the exhortation to walk in God’s ways and to relate to God both with awe and with love. I liked the exhortation to love the stranger, the Other, for we too have known Otherness and alienation. I imagined that I would offer a blessing, for those who come up for this aliyah, relating to these images. And I still resonate deeply with these verses.
But as I’ve been rehearsing these lines this week, what’s really leapt out at me has been verse 16: “Cut away, therefore, the calluses on your heart, and stiffen your necks no more.” Maybe it’s standing out for me because of the way the Torah trope (the dots and dashes and symbols which indicate chanting melody) place emphasis on the instruction to cut away — the melody rises like a waterfall flowing upward before gliding back down again.
And maybe it’s resonating for me because I feel lately as though this is precisely what has been happening in me — the calluses over my heart have been cut away, and my heart is open to the joy and the pain of the world. Every parent rejoicing, and every parent grieving. Every child who laughs, and every child who weeps. Everything that is good and beautiful and right in our world, and everything that is unjust and broken.
The great sage Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote (in his essay “On Prayer”) that prayer should be subversive, should shatter the pyramids of domination and cut away the calluses on our hearts. Lately I’ve been aiming to open up the prayerful opportunities in every moment regardless of whether I’m engaged in liturgical prayer. Even when I’m not reciting formal words of prayer, life offers opportunities to bare my callused heart.
We can choose to make a practice of opening our hearts, of removing the protective scar tissue of anger and mistrust and the need to be right — or we may find that life does that work for us, stripping away our walls and our calluses through illness, depression, tragedy, or loss. I think it is easier, perhaps gentler, if we do the work ourselves. If we ourselves cut away the calluses we have formed through indifference and callousness.
It is not easy to walk through the world with our calluses removed, with our hearts open to the exultation and the grief. But this is what this passage asks of us. This is what spiritual practice asks of us. When we cut away our defenses, and truly see the anguish of the widow and the orphan, the mother sobbing for her child, the injustices of war, the horrors wrought by illness, we can’t help but fulfill the commandment most oft-repeated in Torah, to love the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
This week as we prepare to remember our teacher, rebbe, colleague, and friend Rabbi Zalman Meshullam Hiyya Schachter-Shalomi, these verses remind us to keep our hearts open to our mourning and our loss. To keep our hearts open to the sorrows in the news. To actively seek to remove the calluses which would protect us from awareness of suffering. To face that which we don’t want to face: in the world, and in ourselves.
This is what Torah asks us to do. Maybe because when we do this, we naturally unlock our store of compassion, which leads us to work to repair what is broken in our world. Maybe because this is part and parcel of relating to God in love and in awe, of walking in God’s ways. And maybe because this is a deep spiritual practice through which we do the inner work of transformation, the refining of the soul, for which we are born into this world.
From My Jewish Learning
The Seven Species
Rebbetzin Chana B Siegelbaum
From Rabbi David Ingber
The Lion’s Roar Heals
Parashat Eikev 5776
By Rabbi Elliot Kukla
I recently had the honor of serving as a chaplain to a woman named Maggie in the last weeks of her life. In those long, painful days in the hospital, Maggie was constantly surrounded by her three childhood best friends. One day I asked what it was that has kept them so connected. “Well,” sighed one of her friends, “we are so close now because she broke our hearts many years ago.”
The friends had been inseparable since grade school. In their last year of high school, Maggie had become pregnant and shortly thereafter suffered a painful miscarriage. Paralyzed by shame and sadness, Maggie was unable to share her grief with her friends. Instead, she withdrew completely. The friends were deeply hurt, but they refused to let her go. They kept calling, kept wanting a relationship. Slowly Maggie began to share her pain with them and they rebuilt their shattered friendship.
“There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” said the Kotsker Rebbe. It was in healing the brokenness of their relationship that made the friends so close. And it was clinging to the heart-break within Maggie that allowed them to build a relationship so strong that it could last a lifetime. This healing of past hurts is the process of tshuva, continually moving closer to one another and to the world by living by our values.
This Shabbat is one of the special weeks of nechemta, comfort, that follow Tisha b’Av, the primary day of communal Jewish mourning. Tisha b’Av marks some of the most profound moments of loss in Jewish history, such as the destruction of the Temples in ancient Jerusalem and the subsequent violent displacement of our people.
It would be tempting to forget the pain and grief that Tisha b’Av marks and obscure the moments of shattering within our Jewish past, just as Maggie, as a young woman, was drawn to hide her brokenness. Yet, it is in the creation of holy spaces, where we can share and name our grief, that the possibility of healing begins. These weeks of nechemta following Tisha b’Av lead directly to the High Holidays when we draw nearer to one another through tshuva. The healing of the High Holidays is most possible when we first allow our hearts to break in grief on Tisha b’Av.
This week we read Parashat Eikev. In this portion, Moses speaks to the people and reminds them of all the suffering that they experienced on their journey out of Egypt and the way that their relationship with the Divine was shattered over and over again. We read: “Remember, don’t forget, how you brought on the Eternal One’s anger in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you came to this place you have been fighting against the Eternal One.”
Why is Moses reminding them of this history? It seems like on the eve of entering the Promised Land it would be tempting to try to forget. However, as I learned from Maggie, if we don’t first grieve over our losses and acknowledge our broken relations, we cannot begin to heal. The people could only start anew in the Promised Land after naming the pain that brought them there, they could only rebuild their connection with the Divine after recognizing the damage that had been done in that relationship along the way.
Today’s planet has also been shaped by a history of suffering and by damaged relationships. In early May a cyclone hit Burma leaving nearly 150,000 people dead or missing and one million homeless. This latest natural disaster reminds us that the impact of disasters is not just about nature. It is deeply entrenched in inequality and broken relationships—violence, war, global racism and an imbalance of wealth that lay the foundations for tragedy and disaster. Professor Martin Espada said in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, “We tend to think of natural disasters as somehow evenhanded, as somehow random. Yet it has always been thus: Poor people are in danger. It is dangerous to be poor. It is dangerous to be black. It is dangerous to be Latino.”
It feels overwhelming to discuss this reality, all the more so to allow ourselves to grieve over the state of the world. But tshuva, true repair, begins only when we acknowledge the impact of shattered human relations on the life of this planet. This week, as we read Parashat Eikev, may we publicly name all the brokenness of our world in our holiest places—in our homes, our synagogues and our streets—so that our tears can begin to bring healing and the true wholeness of a broken heart.
From Rabbi David Kasher
From Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Revering, Walking, Loving, Serving
This week’s Torah potion, Ekev, has a section that I encourage those who study with me to memorize. It expresses succinctly the world-view of the book of Deuteronomy and much of the Bible.
12 And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul . . . for your good (Deuteronomy 10:12 and following)
Memorize these verbs: revere, walk, love and serve, and I believe, in this order.
Reverence is a tough concept. When you think about reverence for a person, it usually means inordinate respect, appreciation and desire to honor. With that reverence often comes the realization that this person has some wisdom for you that you must have for your life to go well. With reverence comes deep gratitude and a desire to benefit.
Reverence or veneration for the abstract is a bit more difficult. We typically find other words – respect, appreciate, honor, love for art, genius, music, my country. Veneration, then, seems to be related to a person, or God apprehended as a personal God.
The feeling of reverence evoked by a place is different from directed reverence. The feeling of reverence is the experience that you are in a place imbued with some sanctity or deep meaning. When one feels the reverential atmosphere we often don’t know exactly what we are venerating. The quiet at memorials, at places where great documents are presented, in church or synagogue, in the presence of a Torah scroll suggests a different consciousness has been brought forth. In a place of reverence, some deeper part of our humanity is called up. Some better part.
I have spoken often that one of the curses of modernity, among its many benefits, is the lack of the common cultural experience of reverence, of veneration, of deep respect and honor. Even if one has those experiences privately, there is much to be gained by experiencing veneration as a community, with others who experience this together. Such an experience creates the unique bonds of purposeful community.
Think about it. If you were to regularly experience reverence, respect, veneration, and gratitude in a community, the teachings presented there lodge deeply within. A natural desire to “walk the path” is created. I have seen this power at 12 Step groups, in military training, and of course in study, worship and celebration in the religious life.
If you ask yourself insistently what you revere (we don’t ask ourselves this very often, but we should), you will find a way to live differently. Let me give a personal example. For the past few years, I have been listening to Audible books on the history of science, the origins of the universe, the appearance of life, the evolution of human beings, but especially the nature of the brain, the mind, the appearance of consciousness, and the miracle of my being conscious. To paraphrase, Bill Bryson,
‘trillions and trillions of atoms, tiny pieces of matter, that are not alive, have been drawn together and formed me, as a live being. These pieces of matter comprise my brain, from which consciousness proceeds. Matter is producing consciousness. This unique and, for me, serendipitous conglomerate of atoms will fall apart in due time. I hope they enjoy being me as much as I am grateful that I am alive.’
In short, life is a miracle.
The more I study both scientific achievements in understanding the physical world, and the nature of life and consciousness, the more amazed, appreciative and grateful I become, and with that a desire to make all the energy that is swirling around and making me me, to be worth the effort. My studies have helped me revere existence, nature, life, and my path becomes different. I feel deeply how much I am ensconced in a mystery, an extraordinary wonder.
I think reverence for God is fundamentally rooted in the same experience, except that the Power that brought the atoms together is conscious, conscious of you, loves you in some extraordinary, unimaginable way, and has set out straight paths before you, less you stumble and waste your life away. As these verses say, God gives us these paths “for our good.” There are, according to our nature as human beings, better and worse ways to live. Torah sets out the good path.
One of the aspects of walking in the paths of God, is the daily practice of cultivating love for God. Cynics like to deride this – why does God command us to love God? Insecure?
I often issue the advice of love to families in trouble. I catch a teenager with a particularly venomous sarcasm, designed to drive the parents up the wall, and apparently well designed. The kid is ordered into counseling. I listen to the litany of complaints, and I say, okay here is my advice: ‘Act as if you love them.’ At this point, the teen protests, “but I don’t love them”. I say, “If you want the next five or 10 years to go well for you, you will at least pretend. For your own good.” The acting-as-if, of course, helps remove the barrier from around the heart. Love, at least partly, is a choice, a practice, a discipline, a method.
All these words, ‘revere, walk in the paths, and love’ lead to the final term: service. Those who experience these words find themselves with a profound desire to respond. In other words, they have discovered “responsibility” – the virtuous, life-long moral response to having been touched, benefited and transformed.
How do we serve God? The ritual dimension is designed to bring us into states of holiness, consciousness, mindfulness, and communion. The ritual dimensions can also impede those states (this for another time).
The moral/virtue dimension of serving God directs us toward each other, to love each other, as a choice, a practice, a discipline, and a method.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Eikev: Four Blessings After Eating
“When you eat and are sated, you must bless the Lord your God for the good land that He has given you.” (Deut. 8:10)
The Torah does not specify the exact text of Birkat Hamazon, the blessing recited after eating a meal. The Talmud, however, informs us that it comprises four blessings, authored over a period of a thousand years:
Moses composed the first blessing, Ha-Zahn (“the One Who provides sustenance for the entire world”), when the manna fell in the desert.
Joshua composed the second blessing, Al Ha’Aretz (“For the Land”), when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel.
David and Solomon composed the third blessing, Boneih Yerushalayim (“the One Who rebuilds Jerusalem”). David, who established Jerusalem as his capital, wrote, “Your people Israel and Your city Jerusalem.” And Solomon, who built the Temple, added, “The great and holy Temple.”
The Sages of Yavneh1 composed the final blessing, HaTov ve-haMeitiv (“The good King and Benefactor”), to commemorate the miracle that occurred with the dead of the city of Beitar. These Jews were killed by the Romans during the failed Bar Kochba revolt of 135 C.E. For months, the Roman authorities refused to let them be buried, but miraculously, their bodies did not rot.
The Order of the Blessings
Is there a pattern to the order of these four blessings? Rav Kook explained that the blessings follow a clear progression: from the needs of the individual to those of the nation; and from our physical needs to our spiritual aspirations.2
The very acting of eating contains a certain spiritual danger. Over-indulgence in gastronomic pleasures can lower one’s goals to the pursuit of sensual gratification and physical enjoyment. The Torah therefore provided a remedy – a special prayer to be recited after the meal. Birkat Hamazon is “a ladder resting on the ground yet reaching the Heavens,” a spiritual act that enables us to raise ourselves from petty, self-absorbed materialism to lofty spiritual aspirations.
In order to attain this higher awareness, we must climb the ‘ladder’ step by step:
The first rung of the ladder relates to our own personal physical welfare.
On the next rung, we express our concern for the physical welfare of the nation.
On the third rung, we focus on the spiritual well-being of the nation.
Lastly, we aspire to be a “light unto the nations,” a holy people who influence and uplift all who were created in God’s image.
This progression is accurately reflected in the blessings of Birkat Hamazon. First, we recite the blessing of “Who sustains the world,” composed when the manna fell. This prayer corresponds to the physical needs of each individual, just as the manna-bread sustained each Israelite in the barren desert. The manna also provided loftier benefits, as it spiritually uplifted all who witnessed this miracle. But its primary function was to provide for each individual’s physical needs.
The second level – concern for the physical welfare of the entire nation – is the subject of the second blessing, “For the Land.” When Joshua led the people into their own land, the Land of Israel, he set the stage for the establishment of a nation with all of the usual national assets: security and defense, self-government, agriculture, economy, natural resources, and so on.
Concern for the spiritual well-being of the Jewish people is the theme of the third blessing, which deals with the spiritual center of the Jewish people: Jerusalem. King David composed the first part, “For Your people Israel and Your city Jerusalem,” expressing our prayers for the spiritual state and unity of the Jewish people.
King Solomon added, “For the great holy Temple.” This reflects the highest goal: the spiritual elevation of all humanity. When dedicating the Temple, Solomon prayed that this holy building – “a house of prayer for all nations” – would ensure “that all the peoples of the world will know that God is the Lord, there is no other” (I Kings 8:60).
In this way, Birkat Hamazon bestows profound spiritual value to our private meals – a prayer that guides us, step by step, to a holier world.
The Promise of Beitar
One might become discouraged, however, when faced with the bitter reality of the exile and the current state of the Jewish people. Therefore, the rabbis of Yavneh, following the destruction of the Temple and the failed Bar Kochba revolt, composed the final blessing, “The good King and Benefactor.”
With the fall of the great city of Beitar, the last hopes for Jewish independence were crushed for thousands of years. Nonetheless, the Sages saw tremendous significance in the fact that the dead did not decompose, and were eventually given a proper burial. This was a Heavenly sign that even if the nation of Israel appears to be lifeless, struck down by the sword of our enemies, we nonetheless retain our spiritual essence, like an inner fire smoldering imperceptibly inside a black piece of coal, cool to the touch. We are confident that we will yet attain our highest aspirations, despite the many years we may have to wait. Just as those who sleep in the dust will return to life in the appointed hour, so too, the Jewish people will rise to national greatness in the end of days.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 218)
1 Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai transferred the Sanhedrin from Jerusalem to Yavneh after Jerusalem’s destruction at the hand of the Romans in 70 C.E.
2 A similar progression may be seen in the Amidah prayer.
From Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Elianna Yolkut
Humans have a strong capacity for remembering things which we would happily forget: embarrassing childhood memories, awkward moments in our dating life and when our own children repeat a private family story. We might even wish away memories of moments of tensions amongst friend we would have rather not seen. However, even if we could forget, edit out our most painful experiences would we really do so? Do you remember the movie Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind, which is a pop culture reflection on the adverse consequences of deliberate forgetting. In the movie, Clementine and Joel were in a loving relationship when things turned sour. Clementine ends the relationship and, moreover, wants to get him out of her memory as well. It then turns out that there is an obscure medical company, specializing in erasing memories no longer wanted. Soon Joel has disappeared from her memory. On learning this, Joel wants the same treatment to get her out of his memory. At this point you may already sense the tenor of the story. They meet again, fall in love again, and again the relationship fails. If you could have the power to erase your painful memories would you? Would about our collective historical memories?
In the Torah portion this week, Parshat Eikev, memory features prominently and holds great importance. As the parsha begins we read,
Remember the long way that Adonai your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that God might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep God’s commandments or not. (8:2)
Apparently, we could have made it through the desert with ease and speed but instead we wandered slowly and for great length. Why? Doesn’t God know what is in our hearts why is a test necessary for the discovery of our inner life? Why would God lengthen our journey? And why is the memory of this experience so important that it is repeated several times this week?
Inevitably in our rich and varied lives we wander in the wilderness of sorts, facing challenging times and struggle. Because of the circuitous nature of life’s winding roads the journey often feels desolate and elongated, we might even feel like the Israelites traveling from sorrow toward redemption but stuck along the way in a desert. Yet, in this journey there is wisdom to be found. This path the Torah reminds us, the crooked one, often bears fruit not possible via shortcut – we experience the fullness of life as we go off the direct route and in doing so learn our innermost feelings and thoughts, our hopes and our dreams. And during our people’s journey, those 40 years of wandering, they faced both joyous triumph and incredible challenge; the experiences breed learning and growth. The Torah itself reminds us of this truth in the verse which follows the commandment to remember, here with specific details as to what we should remember,
Adonai subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, in order to teach you that people do not live on bread alone, but that people are given life through all of God’s expressions. (8:3)
We knew and experienced both great abundance and challenging scarcity side by side. And when the time comes to enter and settle the land we might want to leave the journey behind and focus only on the redemption of the Promised Land. Yet, the Torah does not want to allow memory to fade, its lessons disappearing in our review mirror. This week’s parsha reminds us over and over again of the religious command to remember and to not forget, not only the long path to get there but the relationship with the Divine we have built as a result of the journey. Listen to the repeating message:
You must certainly remember what Adonai your God did to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians (7:19)
Take care lest you forget Adonai your God and fail to keep God’s commandments, God’s rules, and God’s laws, which I enjoin upon you today. (8:11)
Beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget Adonai your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; (8:14)
Remember that it is Adonai your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case. (8:18)
Though our instinct might be to, like the characters in the movie, forget the hardships and challenges of the journey, the Torah’s repetition is a reminder of the importance of doing just the opposite. We must hold the memory of the journey and all of its twists and turns, its length-, breadth and depth close. Why? In Pirkei Avot (3:1) we are taught, “Akavya ben Mehalallel said, “Think of three things and you will not fall into sin: where you have come from, where you are going to; and before whom you are accountable.” It is in remembering the entire journey, our beginnings, our challenges along the way and the relationship and responsibility we have to the Holy Blessed One that we are pulled to live a life of righteousness, to understand the lessons in the struggles and to remember our eternal connection to God through all of it.
A generic remembering of the journey is not enough we must use the memories for something more. Rabbi Dov Bear the Maggid of Mezeritch goes even further when he teaches on Deuteronomy Chapter 8:3
At the core of every existence is a divine utterance that created it (“Let there be light,” “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation,” etc.), which remains nestled within it to continuously supply it with being and life. The soul of human descends into the trappings and trials of physical life in order to unite with and elevate the “sparks of holiness” buried in the food it eats, the clothes it wears, and all the other objects and forces of the physical existence it interacts with. For when a person utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve the Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity revealing and realizing its Divine essence and purpose.
It is in the lived everyday life, remembering the details (good and bad) that we are able to elevate our existence to holiness and sacred connection is not separate from the hardships, from the triumphs or from the long road it is where we might in fact find God. God is nestled in life, in the nooks and crannies, around every corner for our discovery – not the cause of our pain but the presence we feel in our struggles drawing us toward sacred deeds and actions. There is divinity in the vulnerable moment between parent and child in the middle of the night when a bad dream has taken hold. There is holiness in the up and down struggle in finding the right partner. We are meant to hold onto to remembering as a way not to wallow in our suffering and struggles but to elevate the sacred in those experiences. If we remember the work of our lives: the monotony of making lunches for our children, the struggles and challenges caring for our aging parent or even fights we have with our spouse we might discover the sacred learning that happens in those moments of wilderness. The Torah’s instance on remembering the Israelite’s journey is a way of recalling our sacred task, assigned so many generations ago and continuing to this very day of remembering the long road, the journey and all of its ups and downs. For God is in there too. The Torah reminds us this week to relish the mundanity, the everyday road, the wrong turn and the long uphill climb each as a point of connection with the sacred.
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