You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Eikev.
From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb AJR/CA
Our Parsha begins with the sentence, ” If you listen to these ordinances….”, but the unusual Hebrew word ‘Ekev’ is used to connote ‘if’ rather than the Hebrew word ‘im,’ the more common usage for the word ‘if.’ The word ‘Ekev’ also means the HEEL of a foot. Our sages suggest that in contrast to the study of Torah that is done with the head, the mitzvot are performed with the body, and are related to physical action. In accepting the mitzvot of the Torah, a person must commit his/her body to a certain way of life. It is with our actions, rather than just our intellect that Ekev is concerned with, as the actions of Israel would determine its fate.
Judaism teaches that by doing the mitzvot which creates a G-d consciousness and a behavioral pattern, we create a vessel that can act in a holy way. It is with our feet , with our movement and actions that we can create a reminder to the world that the world is meant to be a place of beauty, splendor, and holiness rather than a place of injustice, suffering and meaninglessness.
Our Parsha elaborates many of these holy ‘little deeds’ that creates the consciousness of connection to the Magnificent cosmos, such as beginning a meal with a Bracha (blessing) and ending it with gratitude by reciting the Grace after the meal. We place a Mezuzah on the door post as we enter our homes. These ‘little
acts,’ the little tasks performed regularly and faithfully by people, this is what gives the tone, content and character to our tradition. We are not called upon to perform extraordinary things, we are asked to perform ordinary things, little things, with extraordinary consistency.
In the higher dimension, one is not merely concerned with carrying out these legalities, but the ultimate test of religious authenticity, is when through adherence to these acts one has developed an ennobled sense of spiritual expansion, that through these acts a spiritual dimension is reached , a caring for humanity, and an enhanced compassion to all creatures.
Another important ingredient that these deeds give us is faith. And a unique way of seeing the world. We each struggle with seeing the world with either faith or fear. We can look at life and always see reasons either for grumbling or reasons for feeling grateful. We can feel that we have been shortchanged or humbly rewarded. We can constantly feel the cup is half empty or that ‘our cup runneth over.’
One of the commandments cited in our Parsha that enhances our ‘Faith’ is the trial experienced in the gathering and ingesting of the Manna (Bamidbar, 9:16). There are many explanations as to what the trial of the Manna tested; the commentators view it as a test of and a potential strengthening of their Faith. For eg., would the people adhere to the exhortation not to gather the manna on the Sabbath as G-d required? The manna represented a burden for the people who entered the desert without food and were totally dependent on the Manna. It was a strange food which could not be stored. Each day they were assailed by the doubt that it would not suffice. Each day they felt the anxiety of whether it would come that day; they felt a strong dependency on G-d’s Grace. So, it was a test of their faith, which became stronger as they relied on its constant manifestation. Every day they became more habituated to trust in G-d, and their faith became part and parcel of their nature. This faith did not mean to believe that sorrow will never invade their homes, or illness would never strike them or their loved ones. Their faith led them to feel that G-d will always give them the strength to endure and the power to hold on and see it through. It gave them the capacity to translate even trials and tribulations into moral and spiritual growth and learning.
Of course, there are times when we may retain our faith in G-d but lose our faith in humanity. We marvel at the ingenuity, and capacity of our fellow humans, but we tearfully and painfully also see the immense suffering that is still with us. And this suffering is often a result of the insensitivity, crass indifference, and blindness to the destruction that we have caused. We see our streets filled with homelessness, and hunger, and it tears us up inside. We see the continuation of war and violence around the world and in our streets, and we are filled with despair. We see our forests burning. We see crippled veterans with limbs severed returning from wars, and countries decimated by our bombing and indiscriminate power. Who cannot carry blood on their hands in war?’ There are times when the pain is so deep, that we can’t even express it, and if there is no one to listen to us, to support us, we may get so depressed and angry that it can lead to suicide.
One of my favorite poems that capture this despair is by William Butler Yeats. “The Second Coming.”
‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The Falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the Center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’
Yes friends, it is understandable to despair, but our tradition counsels us that even with our doubts and despair, we must not give up faith. As Psalm 30 states: ” In the evening I go to bed with tears, and in the morning, I wake up with joy.” Every day can be a day of new ‘birthing,’ of new creation of ourselves. We must rise from the ashes with greater strength and conviction to elevate the world, and the mitzvot are our guide to actualize our higher sensitivities. Our Parsha captures this (Bamidbar, 10:18-19) with the commandment mentioned more than any other in our Torah, a commandment mentioned 36 times! “You shall treat the stranger (the estranged) with love, the orphans, the widows, and all humanity with love, for you know the plight of the oppressed for you were slaves in Egypt.’ This is the prime teaching of compassion for all, for all who have less power than you, and are caught up in immoral regimes, in power hungry oppressive realities, in no clear way out of their plight without the strong hand of righteous humans seeking their justice and rights, their dignity as human beings created in the image of God. You know how hard it is to be estranged, for you were oppressed slaves in Egypt, your property and possessions were removed, you labored for others day and night without reward. Your rights and humanity were violated. You lived in fear and without protection. You also have lived through pogroms, and discrimination throughout history as a landless people at the mercy of others. Your rights and humanity have been constantly violated.
One is particularly sensitive as ‘strangers’, no one helps them. But Hashem does, joining with you, just as G-d brought you out of Egypt. Ani Ado’nai Elokeichem-“I am the Lord your G-d, the Lord of all of you”- (‘you is expressed in the plural). We and G-d are all responsible for each other- ‘V’ahavtem et Hager’, (And ‘YOU’ shall love the stranger, (once more) ‘YOU’ expressed in the plural- we are all responsible. Our faith, and more so our actions must rise up in these very oppressive times. G-d is either the G-d of all people, or the G-d of no people.’ (Heschel). We are to emulate G-d’s ways: ‘Just as G-d is loving and gracious so must we be loving and gracious.’ How? ‘By clothing the naked, by visiting the sick, by comforting mourners, by burying the dead, etc. (Sotah 14). We recite this every morning in our prayer service as we are called to action.
And it is our actions that are called upon today more than ever if our planet is to survive. Whether it be to protect our planet from climate decimation , working to find some solution for the homeless, for those who need affordable housing, for the protection of animals who suffer in inhumane farming conditions, whether saving our oceans from pollution, etc.
To conclude, our Sages express this importance of consistent, committed ACTION as the antidote to destruction in the following Midrash (Torat Kohanim, Chapter 4, Midrash 12). The Sages asked:
“Which is the most important verse in the entire Torah? Rabbi Akiva says, “Love your neighbor as Yourself (Lev.19:18). Ben Azai said, “This is the book of the generations of Adam, on the day that G-d created Adam, G-d made Adam in G-d’s image.”(Bereishit 5:1). This is the greatest verse. Ben Zoma says: ‘Shema Yisrael (Devarim,6:4) is the most important. And Shimon Ben Pazi says, it is: “The first lamb you shall sacrifice in the morning and the second lamb you shall sacrifice in the evening.”, referring to the daily (perpetual) offering brought every morning and evening (Shemot 29:39, Bamidbar28:4). Rabbi Ploni stood up and said that the opinion of Ben Pazi is the correct one!”
How is this possible? After all Ben Pazi speaks about daily lamb offerings and the others talk about universal, fundamental teachings. The Maharal answers that Ben Pazi’s opinion emphasizes that a person should serve G-d with absolute consistency on a perpetual basis.. The only way to transform our lives in a sustainable way is through continual daily commitment. Believing in the lofty declarations of each human being created in G-d’s image and therefore acknowledging that s/he must be treated with love and respect is obviously very important and a beginning of elevating our actions; BUT it is only though a continuous and consistent commitment, day in and day out, that change in ourselves, and the world can be truly evoked. This perpetual dedication is at the heart of a moral and spiritual life. The repeated daily ACTIONS become habits, and character traits which transform the person. So, Judaism is more about deeds than creeds and more about good actions than lofty thoughts which are often lost in abstractions.. The ordinary routines of daily life. Every day creating a new day, a new day of birthing holy deeds in our world. Every day creating ourselves anew through our deeds, our very creation of our own selves,. Every day the Torah is given anew, everyday G-d creates the world anew. Hope is never lost, and we are the ones who must act to create our new world. And let us do so! And we say amen!
May we all be blessed with renewal and abundant good deeds this week, and have a Shabbat Shalom,
From The Hebrew College
The End of Miracles
By Rabbi Avi Strausberg
We live in a time beyond the wondrous miracles that God performed for the Israelites in the wilderness. There are no staffs that turn into snakes or seas that split before our eyes. While we may discover the miraculous in small moments of wonder, the big miracles, the miracles that defy the laws of nature, these are a thing of the past.
In Parshat Eikev, Moshe reminds the Israelites of the wonders God performed for them. When they were hungry, manna fell from the sky. When their clothes were worn with years of use, they still remained miraculously new. When they walked for miles and miles barefoot, the soles of their feet remained unswollen (Deuteronomy 8:3-4).
Later in Devarim, Moshe again calls the countless miracles and wonders to mind but he adds, “Yet to this day, the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:2-3). Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the 19th century commentator often known just as “the Netziv,” writes on this line that the Israelites only required that Moshe first scout out the land with the spies because they didn’t want to live a life of miracles; they didn’t want to live a life in which God made the miraculous happen for them beyond or against reason. According to the Netziv, to accept these miracles would require the Israelites to live up to them, to act constantly as if they were performing before a King. And so, they said no to God’s miracles; they demanded to enter into the land by way of reason and within the bounds of nature. They no longer wanted to be the recipients of Divine Intervention and so that’s where the miracles ended.
When understood according to the Netziv’s interpretation, the end of miracles means the loss of Divine Intervention is a result of human inability to live up to God’s Divine grace. The miracles stopped not because God stopped believing in us; but because we stopped wanting to rely on God. Personally, there’s a loss and sadness in living in a world that is beyond miracles, a world that operates neatly and predictably within the bounds of nature. In some moments, I long for the world of the early Israelites in the wilderness, in which God makes God’s presence undeniably known through the performance of the miraculous.
Yet, the Meshekh Chokmah, Rabbi Meir Simchah HaKohen of Dvinsk, offers us another way of understanding this end of Divine Intervention. While the people were in the wilderness, God needed to make it easy for us to trust God this new God. And so, God brought them into a relationship with miracles. Who could say no to a God who performed wonders before their very eyes
According to the Meshkeh Chokmah, the people didn’t need “a mind to understand or eyes to see” while in the wilderness, as long as God saw to their needs in this miraculous fashion. But, a life lived with miracles was never the end goal of our relationship with God. Rather, the performance of miracles was always meant to be a temporary means to get us to the end—where we would choose again and again to be in relationship with God even without the crutch (or perhaps the bribe) of wonders performed before our very eyes.
As understood by the Meshkeh Chokmah, miracles were meant for the developing stages of our early coming into relationship with God; but to truly be in relationship, to choose God of our own free will without the promise of the miraculous, this is what it means to be in adult relationship with God.
As with many of our human connections, the early stages of a relationship contain a bit of the miraculous. We do things for our new friends and blossoming loves in which we try to go above and beyond; we try to make it impossible for them to say no to us. We want to be the thing that defies their expectations. But while these early stages of a relationship are sweet and we are perhaps at our most compelling, this is not what it means to be in a true relationship. Real relationships only begin after the magic fades and the wonders cease. Real relationships require that we see past the worn clothes and the swollen feet, and despite—and perhaps because of—these, we say yes to each other again and again. While for me, there will always be a pull toward that early relationship time, where miracles abound and nature is defied, perhaps the end of miracles is not a loss at all. Rather, perhaps it’s a beginning, an invitation to be in a new kind of relationship, one in which we are with each other in the tired, messy reality of everyday life and we commit to loving each other in the midst of it.
I listened to this daily this week. I was so taken by the teaching and the practice.
2019-08-21 Parshat Ekev with Rabbi Sam Feinsmith Video on …
Mindless of Mindlessness: Working with the Forgetful Mind, Remembering to Remember with Rabbi Sam Feinsmith. 2019-08-21
A Moment That Is Always Present
BY DR BENJAMIN D. SOMMER,
Parashat Eikev is surrounded by matching bookends. The verse that ends the previous parashah, Va’et-hannan, and the verse that begins the subsequent parashah, Re’eh, both contain the word, hayyom, or “today”:
וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת־הַמִּצְוָה וְאֶת־הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לַעֲשׂוֹתָם:
You should carefully carry out the commandment,
the laws, and the statutes, that I command you today.
(Parashat Va’et-hannan: Deut. 7:11)
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה:
Look: today I set before you a blessing and a curse.
(Parashat Re’eh: Deut. 11:26)
In between those bookends the word hayyom, meaning “today,” appears no fewer than twelve times. In this respect, Parashat Eikev is typical of the book in which it appears, because the word hayyom is a leitmotiv in Deuteronomy, occurring seventy-four times. It serves as what the great Jewish theologians and biblical commentators Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig call a “guiding word”: its variations in Deuteronomy provide a key that unlocks a central theme of the book.
Hayyom simply means “today,” but it is not always clear which “today” Deuteronomy intends. The book of Deuteronomy consists largely of several speeches Moses delivered shortly before his death. Since Moses is the speaker, “today” must mean the day Moses delivered the speech, at the end of the Israelites’ forty-year journey to the Promised Land. In some verses, this is explicitly the case. In our parashah (9:1 and 9:3), when Moses refers to the fact that the Israelites are soon to cross over the River Jordan to enter the land of Canaan “today” means the day on which Moses is speaking. But in other verses, Moses, who after all is speaking as a prophet, appears to speak on behalf of God. This is the case in the many verses where we find the phrase אשר אנכי מצוך היום, “that which that I command you today.” God is the one who issues the commands, and so we might infer that hayyom refers to the day God revealed the law on top of Mount Horeb, at the very beginning of the Israelites’ forty years in the desert. This is clearly the case when the word appears in last week’s parashah at Deuteronomy 5:24.
But in this week’s parashah, it’s clear that the speaker of this phrase is in fact Moses, because the surrounding verses refer to God in the third person; see 8:1, 11, and 19. In those verses “today” must refer to a day at the end of the forty years. However, it’s possible that in some cases both meanings make sense: God commanded the Israelites at Horeb soon after they left Egypt, and Moses conveys those commands to the Israelites a little while before they enter Canaan. The word hayyom in the oft-repeated phrase “which I command you today” becomes charged with a double meaning referring to more than one moment in time.
We see this phenomenon toward the end of this week’s parashah. The phrase “which I command you today” occurs in 11:13, and in the two verses that follow God speaks in the first person: “I shall provide timely rain for you . . . I shall provide grass for your cattle.” This suggests that the speaker who commands the people “today” is God. Does that mean that God commands Israel on the day Moses delivers this speech? Or should we understand God’s commanding Israel “today” as referring to the event at Mount Horeb forty years earlier? Elsewhere in the same passage, it is clearly Moses who uses the word “today,” which must refer to the day he delivered his speech (11:8, 27, and 28). In a single passage, the shift between these two “todays” breaks down the specificity of the word’s reference. This repetition disconnects our guiding word from any particular day in the past, allowing Deuteronomy’s audiences through time to understand the word as referring not only to these two events in the past but, most importantly, to their own present, the day on which they read our parashah.
Ultimately, the “today” of which Deuteronomy speaks includes the “today” of the book’s audience—that is, the many “todays” of each person the text addresses. This is especially evident in 11:2–9 where Moses maintains that the members of the generation listening to his speech witnessed God’s miracles at the time of the exodus from Egypt—though in fact his audience is one generation removed from those events. Many of the Israelites in his audience were born during the forty years of wandering through the desert. Even the oldest among them were but children at the time of the exodus itself, since all the adults who left Egypt (other than Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) died during the forty years of wandering. But Deuteronomy implicitly claims that in each and every generation, people must see themselves as if they had gone forth from Egypt, and so Deuteronomy can refer to the children’s generation as having been present at their parents’ liberation from slavery. Similarly, in every generation people must regard the lawgiving at Mount Horeb as something they themselves witnessed (as last week’s parashah intimated at 5:3).
Deuteronomy wants the audience’s acceptance of God’s commands to occur “today,” not in the past. Religious meaning seems reserved for a moment that knows neither past generations nor future ones, but only an eternal now. This is the reason our parashah, like the book of which it is part, uses the word “today” to refer to several different days: the “today” that matters is whatever day we happen to be reading Deuteronomy. As Jews, we leave Egypt—that is, we accept our freedom—every day, or at least we should. And as Jews, we receive God’s command—that is, we accept the responsibility that comes with freedom—every day, or at least we should. Only when we realize that Parashat Eikev addresses each of us directly this Shabbat do we understand Deuteronomy’s message: that we need to embrace the law as our own right now.
Deuteronomy is the first Jewish text that emphasizes “today,” but hardly the last. The need for divine command to be understood as coming to us in the present is a central theme for what is widely regarded as the greatest work of Jewish philosophy of the twentieth century, Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption. There Rosenzweig writes,
The imperative of commandment makes no provision for the future; it can only conceive the immediacy of obedience . . . Thus the commandment is purely the present . . . All of revelation is subsumed under the great today. God commands “today,” and “today” it is incumbent to obey his voice. It is in the today that the love of the lover lives, in this imperative today of the commandment. (The Star of Redemption, trans. William W. Hallo [Boston: Beacon Press, 1972], 177)
Similarly, in his influential essay “The Builders,” Rosenzweig proclaims that in order for Jews to observe Jewish law authentically, God’s command “must regain that today-ness in which all great Jewish periods have sensed the guarantee for its eternity.” (Zweistromland: Kleinere Schriften zu Glauben und Denken, ed. Reinhold und Annemarie Mayer [Dordrech: Nijhoff, 1984], 707. Adapted from trans. by Nahum Glatzer)
Abraham Joshua Heschel, too, speaks of the need for commitment to happen in a moment that is always present; this is true of commitments humans have to other humans, and no less so for one’s acceptance of commitments to God:
Revelation lasts a moment, acceptance continues . . . Sinai is both an event that happened once and for all, and an event that happens all the time. What God does, happens both in time and in eternity. Seen from our vantage point, it happened once; seen from His vantage point, it happens all the time. About the arrival of the people at Sinai we read . . . “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, on this day they came into the wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:1). Here was an expression that puzzled the ancient rabbis: on this day? It should have said, on that day. This can only mean that the day of giving the Torah can never become past; that day is this day, every day.* (God in Search of Man. A Philosophy of Judaism [New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1955], 213–15)
The command, or mitzvah, that is the heart of Judaism cannot function if we regard it as something from our people’s past. A command can only be a command if God’s commanding, and our accepting, take place today. This week’s parashah, like Deuteronomy as a whole and Rosenzweig and Heschel, comes to remind us, from one bookend to the next, that Judaism is alive only if we understand the Torah commanding us today, every day.
The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).
* Heschel cites Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) Yitro 7, BT Berakhot 63b, and Rashi to Exod. 19:1, as well as Deut. 6:6, 11:13 and 26:16. Elsewhere Heschel notes that this teaching appears in the work of his great-great-great-grandfather and namesake, Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Hasidic sage known as the Apter Rebbe. See the elder Heschel’s classic, Oheiv Yisroel (Zhitomir, 5623), to Parashat Ki Teiẓei, 172a. (Torah min Hashamayim B’aspaqlarya shel Hadorot, vol. 3 [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1990], 37, translated by Gordon Tucker in Heavenly Torah as Refracted Through the Generations [New York: Continuum, 2005], 672)
From My Jewish Learning
Graced With Food
By blessing after we eat, we elevate the act of eating by connecting with God.
BY RABBI JORDAN D. COHEN
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses continues his review of the exodus experience, reminding the Israelites of how God has cared for them in the wilderness. He reiterates the covenant and continues to review the general rewards that will benefit the Israelites if they are faithful to God and follow God’s commandments. It is simple: If the Israelites follow the Torah, God will bless them in the land, and drive out their enemies. If they do not obey God, then….
Moses warns them not to follow other gods or engage in idolatrous worship practices. Moses also reminds the Israelites of some of their earlier rebellious incidents, including the events around the building of the Golden Calf and the destruction of the first set of tablets. The portion concludes with the passage that is used liturgically as the second paragraph of the Shema. These words reiterate the connection between Israel’s piety and God’s blessing.
“You shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Eternal your God for the rich land that God has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
In the Torah, this verse comes after a passage in which Moses reminds Israel how God cared for them while they wandered in the wilderness. God gave Israel “manna to eat… in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone” (normally I would use the more gender sensitive and more literally accurate “human” for the Hebrew adam, but the quote is so much more familiar with “man”). It goes on to note that God did not let the Israelites’ clothes wear out nor let their feet swell over the 40 years of their wandering.
Moses then goes on to tell Israel what to expect in the Land of Israel, which they are about to enter. It is a “good land, with streams and springs and fountains.” It is a land of “wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” Moses continues this discourse by telling Israel that the land they are about to enter is, “a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing….”
Keep in mind that, despite the miraculous manna that God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, their biggest complaints were about hunger and the lack of variety in their food. This promise, then, must have been an incredibly attractive temptation for the people. However, Moses reminds them, they must never forget the source of their sustenance. Therefore, they must always remember, after they have eaten their fill, they must offer thanks to God.
This verse is the basis for the recitation of the grace after eating, called Birkat HaMazon (literally “Blessing of the Food”). The Talmud emphasizes this point by noting that, “It is forbidden to enjoy the fruits of this world without pronouncing a blessing, and whosoever derives such enjoyment without uttering a blessing has committed a trespass” (Berachot 35a). This passage is deemed to be a clear and unequivocal mitzvah, so much so that Rashi and most other biblical commentators do not even bother to comment on it.
However, that does not mean that this was not a matter of concern to our rabbinic sages. On the contrary, a great amount of discussion is devoted to exactly what constitutes eating and being satisfied and precisely how we are to bless afterwards.
Bread is considered to be the prototypical food. Therefore, the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon takes affect whenever one eats a k’zayit (an olive-size portion) of bread. If bread is not eaten, the obligation to bless still exists, but alternative blessings are recited.
Birkat HaMazon consists of four different blessings. The first blessing, called Birkat HaZan, praises God for providing food for all creatures. The second blessing, called Birkat HaAretz, expresses gratitude for the “good land” that God has given Israel, for the redemption from Egypt, for the covenant of circumcision, and for the revelation of Torah. The third benediction, called Boneh Yerushalayim, asks God to have mercy on Israel and restore the Temple and the sovereignty of the House of David.
The fourth benediction, called Ha-tov Ve-ha-metiv, expresses thanks to God and includes petitions to God to fulfill specific desires, such as blessing for the house in which one ate and sending Elijah the Prophet (the herald of the messianic time). This fourth blessing also provides us with the opportunity to petition for personal needs and reflect contemporary concerns in our prayers.
The first three blessings are considered to be some of the oldest extant Jewish prayers. The Talmud (Berachot 48b) attributes the first to Moses, after receiving the gift of manna. The second blessing is attributed to Joshua, after the Israelites entered the land of Israel. The third blessing was a combined effort of David and Solomon. David added the words, “For Israel Your people and Jerusalem Your city” after establishing the city of Jerusalem, and Solomon added the words, “For the great and holy House” after the completion of the Temple. The fourth benediction was added later, after the Bar Kochba rebellion (2nd century C.E.), with reference to those who were slain at Betar.
We see then that saying Birkat HaMazon helps to expand our consciousness in two ways: it makes us aware of the source of our sustenance and the chain of transmission that brings our food to our mouths, and it connects us with our history and the spiritual concerns of our ancestors.
The Yiddish term for Birkat HaMazon is bentsching , which means simply, “blessing.” In a sense, this reflects the attitude that blessing after meals is “the blessing” par excellence. Just as food is the sustenance of life, this recognition of God providing for all our needs becomes the substance of our spiritual lives.
For many of us, eating can be such a routine, almost unconscious, act. For all of God’s creatures eating is one thing we do each and every day. It is an essential, automatic, act. And yet by remembering to give thanks and blessing to God each and every time we consume more then a crumb of food, we elevate the most routine, ordinary act to a chance to connect with God. That, I believe, is really what this commandment is all about: connecting with God.
It is interesting to me that this text does not say “When you eat and are satisfied, bless God…” but “You shall eat and be satisfied and bless God…”. It is not conditional. Unless, God forbid, we are in a situation where we have absolutely nothing to eat and are threatened with starvation, eating is a regular part of our lives. For us as Jews, food is central to our consciousness (for better or worse). But rather then let it become mundane, we elevate eating to an act of worship. By bringing blessing to our food, we bring God into our daily lives. And that, ultimately, is the supreme spiritual act.
Our Rabbis taught: Where is the saying of grace intimated in the Torah? In the verse, And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless…. This accounts for the grace after meals. How can we prove that there should be a blessing before food? You have an argument a fortiori: if when one is full, one is to say grace, how much more so should one do so when one is hungry! (Talmud Berachot 48b).
Reprinted with permission from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Week 2; Ascent
No one has forgotten you
You are engraved upon
You are written on the palms
Raise your eyes
And see all about you
You have said
This place too tight for me
It has opened
You will be nurtured
And you will be honored
You will know and be
You will be comforted
Even among the ruins
You will hear music
And see beauty
You will find joy
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
Does Love Keep us from Being Alone
This is a 3 minute video from Reb Mimi
From Rabbi David Seidenberg
The Torah praises Canaan as “a land of mountains and valleys”. Only
“through the rain of the heavens will she drink water.” (Deut 11:11)
“She is not like the land of Egypt, which . . . you gave drink with
your foot (by pumping water from the Nile), like a garden of greens”
(Deut 11:10). By the same token, this land is also not like the garden
of Eden, for the garden of Eden was watered by four rivers, and was
the source of those rivers.
A land that must drink from the heavens is a precarious land, a land
where people can’t control irrigation and are completely dependent on
rainfall, a land that is subject to drought. How then could this be
the ideal, the promised land?
And yet it is, the Torah tells us, and the sign of this is that the
“the eyes of YHVH the Lord your God are on her always” (Deut 11:12).
This mystical-sounding relationship with the divine is simpler than it
sounds: it means that God is continually assessing whether the people
merit rain. Canaan is not like the land of Egypt, which can go for
centuries sustained by the flooding of the Nile and the technology of
the pedal pump, no matter the state of the weather or the state of
justice, until it finally gets its proverbial seven years of famine or
its ten all-consuming plagues. Unlike Egypt, the feedback loop in
Canaan is short and swift – the loop may be closed, the consequences
felt, within a season or two.
This paradoxically is what attracted our ancestors to Canaan: it was a
place where they could experience the immediacy of God’s judgment, and
hence God’s presence. It is this very fact – that our tenure is
tenuous – that makes Canaan/Israel a holy land.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Listen, Really Listen (Eikev 5778)
Some 20 or so years ago, with the help from the Ashdown Foundation, I initiated a conference at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, on the future of Jewish peoplehood. I feared the deepening divisions between secular and ultra-orthodox in Israel, between the various denominations in the Diaspora, and between Israel and the Diaspora themselves.
It was a glittering array of Jewry’s brightest minds: academics from 16 different countries representing all the shadings of Jewish identity. There were professors from Harvard, Yale and Princeton as well as most of Israel’s universities. It was a scintillating success, and at the same time, a total failure.
Halfway through the second day, I turned to my wife Elaine and said, “The speaking is brilliant. The listening is non-existent.” Eventually I could bear it no longer. “Let’s leave,” I said to her. I could not handle yet more skilled presentations from minds that were parti pris, lucid, coherent, but totally closed to ideas that lay outside the radius of their preconceptions. Far from being a set of solutions to the divisions within Jewry, the conference perfectly epitomised the problem.
We decided to travel south to Arad, to meet for the first time the great (and very secular) novelist Amos Oz. I mentioned this to a friend. He winced. “What,” he asked, “do you hope to achieve? Do you really want to convert him?” “No,” I replied, “I want to do something much more important. I want to listen to him.”
And so it was. For two hours we sat in Amos’s book-lined basement study at the edge of the desert, and listened. Out of that meeting came, I believe, a genuine friendship. He stayed secular. I stayed religious. But something magical, transformative, happened nonetheless. We listened to one another.
I cannot speak for Amos, but I can for myself. I felt the presence of a deep mind, a feeling intellect, a master of language – Amos is one of the few people I know incapable of uttering a boring sentence – and one who has wrestled in his own way with what it means to be a Jew. Since then I have had a public dialogue with him, and another with his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger. But it began with an act of sustained, focused listening.
Shema is one of the key words of the book of Devarim, where it appears no less than 92 times. It is, in fact, one of the key words of Judaism as a whole. It is central to the two passages that form the first two paragraphs of the prayer we call the Shema, one in last week’s parsha, the other in this week’s.
What is more: it is untranslatable. It means many things: to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to understand, to internalise and to respond. It is the closest biblical Hebrew comes to a verb that means “to obey.”
In general, when you encounter a word in any language that is untranslatable into your own, you are close to the beating pulse of that culture. To understand an untranslatable word, you have to be prepared to move out of your comfort zone and enter a mindset that is significantly different from yours.
At the most basic level, Shema represents that aspect of Judaism that was most radical in its day: that God cannot be seen. He can only be heard. Time and again Moses warns against making or worshipping any physical representation of the Divine. As he tells the people: It is a theme that runs through the Bible. Moses insistently reminds the people that at Mount Sinai: “The Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deut. 4:12). Even when Moses mentions seeing, he is really talking about listening. A classic example occurs in the opening verses of next week’s parsha:
See [re’eh], I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you listen [tishme’u] to the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you do not listen [lo tishme’u] to the commands of the Lord your God. (Deut. 11:26-28)
This affects our most basic metaphors of knowing. To this day, in English, virtually all our words for understanding or intellect are governed by the metaphor of sight. We speak of insight, hindsight, foresight, vision and imagination. We speak of people being perceptive, of making an observation, of adopting a perspective. We say, “it appears that.” When we understand something, we say, “I see.” This entire linguistic constellation is the legacy of the philosophers of ancient Greece, the supreme example in all history of a visual culture.
Judaism, by contrast, is a culture of the ear more than the eye. As Rabbi David Cohen, the disciple of Rav Kook known as ‘the Nazirite’, pointed out in his book, Kol ha-Nevuah, the Babylonian Talmud consistently uses the metaphor of hearing. So when a proof is brought, it says Ta shma, ‘Come and hear.’ When it speaks of inference it says, Shema mina, ‘Hear from this.’ When someone disagrees with an argument, it says Lo shemiyah leih, ‘he could not hear it.’ When it draws a conclusion it says, Mashma, ‘from this it can be heard.’ Maimonides calls the oral tradition, Mipi hashemua, ‘from the mouth of that which was heard.’ In Western culture understanding is a form of seeing. In Judaism it is a form of listening.
What Moses is telling us throughout Devarim is that God does not seek blind obedience. The fact that there is no word for ‘obedience’ in biblical Hebrew, in a religion of 613 commands, is stunning in itself (modern Hebrew had to borrow a verb, letzayet, from Aramaic). He wants us to listen, not just with our ears but with the deepest resources of our minds. If God had simply sought obedience, he would have created robots, not human beings with a will of their own. Indeed if He had simply sought obedience, He would have been content with the company of angels, who constantly sing God’s praises and always do His will.
God, in making human beings “in His image,” was creating otherness. And the bridge between self and other is conversation: speaking and listening. When we speak, we tell others who and what we are. But when we listen, we allow others to tell us who they are. This is the supremely revelatory moment. And if we can’t listen to other people, then we certainly can’t listen to God, whose otherness is not relative but absolute.
Hence the urgency behind Moses’ double emphasis in this week’s parsha, the opening line of the second paragraph of the Shema: “If you indeed heed [shamo’a tishme’u] my commands with which I charge you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 11:13). A more forceful translation might be: “If you listen – and I mean really listen.”
One can almost imagine the Israelites saying to Moses, “OK. Enough already. We hear you,” and Moses replying, “No you don’t. You simply don’t understand what is happening here. The Creator of the entire universe is taking a personal interest in your welfare and destiny: you, the smallest of all nations and by no means the most righteous. Have you any idea of what that means?” Perhaps we still don’t.
Listening to another human being, let alone God, is an act of opening ourselves up to a mind radically other than our own. This takes courage. To listen is to make myself vulnerable. My deepest certainties may be shaken by entering into the mind of one who thinks quite differently about the world. But it is essential to our humanity. It is the antidote to narcissism: the belief that we are the centre of the universe. It is also the antidote to the fundamentalist mindset characterised by the late Professor Bernard Lewis as, “I’m right; you’re wrong; go to hell.”
Listening is a profoundly spiritual act. It can also be painful. It is comfortable not to have to listen, not to be challenged, not to be moved outside our comfort zone. Nowadays, courtesy of Google filters, Facebook friends, and the precise targeting of individuals made possible by the social media, it is easy to live in an echo-chamber in which we only get to hear the voices of those who share our views. But, as I said in a TED lecture last year, “It’s the people not like us who make us grow.”
Hence the life-changing idea: Listening is the greatest gift we can give to another human being. To be listened to, to be heard, is to know that someone else takes me seriously. That is a redemptive act.
Twenty years ago I sat in a lecture hall in a university in Jerusalem and listened to a series of great minds not listening to one another. I concluded that the divisions in the Jewish world were not about to heal, and would never heal until we understood the deep spiritual truth in Moses’ challenge: “If you listen – and I mean, really listen.”
 Technically, reciting the Shema is not an act of prayer at all. It is a fundamentally different type of action: it is an act of Talmud Torah, of learning Torah (see Menahot 99b). In prayer, we speak to God. In study we listen to God.
 See George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
 Bernard Lewis, “I’m right; you’re wrong; go to hell,” The Atlantic, May 2003.
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.
From Rav Kook
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 Rabbi David Kasher
ABEL’S REVENGE – Parshat Eikev
Moses is standing on the other side of the Jordan, looking across the plains of Moab toward the land of Canaan, and he is telling us the story of everything our ancestors went through to get here. He talks about the ten plagues, and the splitting of the Red Sea, and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. And then he mentions one of the great crisis points in the desert journey, the mutiny against his leadership, and the miraculous response by God that defeated Moses’ enemies:
…what He did to Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav son of Reuven, when the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them, along with their households, their tents, and every living thing that was there with them, from amidst all of Israel. (Deut. 11:6)
וַאֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֜ה לְדָתָ֣ן וְלַאֲבִירָ֗ם בְּנֵ֣י אֱלִיאָב֮ בֶּן־רְאוּבֵן֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר פָּצְתָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֶת־פִּ֔יהָ וַתִּבְלָעֵ֥ם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּיהֶ֖ם וְאֶת־אָהֳלֵיהֶ֑ם וְאֵ֤ת כָּל־הַיְקוּם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּרַגְלֵיהֶ֔ם בְּקֶ֖רֶב כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
That’s right – they challenged Moses’ authority, he put them to a test, and the earth opened up and swallowed them alive.
But wait. Where is Korach? Moses names Korach’s two henchmen, Datan and Aviram, and their families, who all fell into the pit. But there is no mention of the ringleader, Korach ben Yitzhar, who we know was also swallowed alive by the earth that day.
Now this makes no sense. Korach was the real enemy, the leader of the rebellion, who first rose up against Moses and sought to discredit him. He said:
You have taken too much! For everyone in the community is holy… So why do you raise yourself above the congregation of the Lord? (Num. 16:3)
רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים… וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ה
Korach is Moses’ greatest nemesis. He is the iconic figure of opposition, and the story of the rebellion is standardly referred to by his name. Datan and Aviram are usually just an afterthought – the men Korach took along with him for muscle. And yet here they are, listed prominently as the main players, while Korach is nowhere to be seen. So why doesn’t Moses mention him here?
It’s a classic parshanut question – just the sort of thing that sets the commentators on alert. We have a story told twice, once in Numbers and once in Deuteronomy, and the second time around, suspiciously, the main character is missing. So the commentators must know – why??
Yet the answers given are rather paltry. Only a few of the medieval commentators even bother asking the question directly. Nachmanides is one of them, and he says:
Korach and his community are not mentioned, because a fire went out before the Lord and consumed them, for he had offered a strange incense offering, which is one of the prohibitions of the Torah, and so he was punished for all time… and therefore not recounted among the wonders in the wilderness.
ולא הזכיר קרח ועדתו שיצאה אש מלפני ה’ ותאכל אותם בעבור כי איש זר הקרב להקטיר קטורת הוא מלאוי התורה ולעולם הוא נענש לדורות …על כן לא מנאו באותות המדבר
Okay, so the idea is that Korach brought the wrong kind of offering before God… and that was such a terrible sin that he is being punished by never being mentioned again. Well, first of all, this is a strange form of punishment – especially for a guy who’s already been devoured by the earth.
But what’s more, it is hard to believe that Korach’s name could be so unutterable in a verse which follows right on the heels of an explicit mention of Pharaoh. Are we meant to believe that the cruel dictator who oversaw a regime of slavery can be spoken of freely, but because a man burned the wrong incense, his name becomes a dirty word?
Nitpicking explanations like these seem insufficient to account for such a significant omission. And so modern academic scholars take a different approach. In the world of critical biblical scholarship, which sees the Torah as a composite of various independent sources, the story of Korach, Datan and Aviram is taken as a classic example of an interwoven text. Korach’s rebellion was one story, Datan and Aviram’s was another, and some redactor put the two of them together in the Book of Numbers. What we have here in our parsha, then, is some fragment from just one of the sources, the Datan and Aviram version, and that’s why Korach is absent (for an excellent summary of this approach, see here).
Those of us in the parshanut tradition, however, will be unsatisfied with such an explanation. We are more interested in reading the Torah as a literary whole, and so our task is to harmonize rather than to deconstruct. For us, then, Korach’s absence here must have a meaningful purpose which fits into the overarching narrative of the Torah.
One of the ways we seek this literary harmony – in fact, the primary way – is to search for linguistic connections between different passages in the Torah. Recurring words and phrases establish patterns across the text, and put separate stories in dialogue with one another.
Our stories of the earth swallowing these desert rebels have just such a connecting phrase embedded in them. Each of them speaks of the earth “opening her mouth.” In fact, the language used to describe this is phenomenon is unusual (liftzot – לפצות) not the standard verb for opening (liftoach – לפתוח). In our parsha we read:
The earth opened her mouth (patztah ha-aretz et pi-ha) and swallowed [Datan and Aviram] (11:6)
פָּצְתָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֶת־פִּ֔יהָ וַתִּבְלָעֵ֥ם
And in Numbers also, Moses says:
If the Lord brings about a new creation, and the ground opens her mouth (patztah ha-adamah et pi-ha) and swallows them up. (16:30)
וּפָצְתָ֨ה הָאֲדָמָ֤ה אֶת־פִּ֙יהָ֙ וּבָלְעָ֤ה אֹתָם֙
Although interestingly, there, when the earth actually does open up, the Torah uses the more standard language for opening:
The earth opened her mouth (va-tiftach ha-aretz et pi-ha) with their households, all Korach’s people… (16:32)
וַתִּפְתַּ֤ח הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֶת־פִּ֔יהָ וַתִּבְלַ֥ע אֹתָ֖ם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּיהֶ֑ם וְאֵ֤ת כָּל־הָאָדָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְקֹ֔רַח
So the question is: why does Moses use this uncommon language for opening, and does it occur anywhere else in the Torah? And, of course, the answer is, it does, or I wouldn’t be telling you about it. This phrase is used in only one other narrative in the entire Torah, one of the very first: the story of Cain and Abel.
In that classic tale of the first brothers, Cain offers a sacrifice to God, but when his brother Abel does the same, God prefers Abel’s offering. So Cain is filled with a jealous rage, and kills his brother out in the field. When God confronts Cain, Cain famously denies any responsibility with the reply: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And so God curses Cain, with the following language:
Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Therefore you shall be more cursed than the ground, which opened her mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Gen. 4:10-11)
ק֚וֹל דְּמֵ֣י אָחִ֔יךָ צֹעֲקִ֥ים אֵלַ֖י מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃ וְעַתָּ֖ה אָר֣וּר אָ֑תָּה מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר פָּצְתָ֣ה אֶת־פִּ֔יהָ לָקַ֛חַת אֶת־דְּמֵ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ מִיָּדֶֽךָ
There’s that phrase again. The ground “opened her mouth” (patztah et pi-ha), with the same unusual verb. We have, then, the hint of some connection between this story and the later tales of earth-swallowing. And if we think about them carefully, we can begin to identify other parallels. Both are stories of jealousy over preferential status. Both have two offerings, one accepted and one rejected. And both are family rivalries – for Korach and Moses are cousins, both descended from the tribe of Levi.
So we begin to get a sense that the stories of Korach’s rebellion may be referencing the Cain and Abel narrative, intentionally replaying the same themes of violence and jealousy, in order to borrow the emotional weight of historical trauma. Korach and Moses are playing out the Cain and Abel tension once again, generations later.
But where a literary sensibility might detect subtle psychological connections between the two pairs of rivals, the mystics of the Kabbalah make those connections explicitly. In his Sha’ar HaGilgulim, the great 16th-century master of Jewish mysticism, Rabbi Chaim Vital, gives a detailed account of the spiritual family tree of the Hebrew Bible, by tracing the reincarnation of souls through the generations. And here is what he has to say about Korach:
Know that Korach ben Yitzhar is descended from the spirit of Cain, from the evil side of him… and therefore he wanted to kill his brother Abel, who is our teacher Moses. (Ch. 33)
ודע, כי קרח בן יצהר, הוא מבחי’ הרוח של קין מצד הרע שלו… ולכן היה מקטרג להבל אחיו שהוא מרע”ה
In a Kabbalistic framework, this is more than just the replaying of a family feud. For Rabbi Vital, Korach is Cain, and Moses is Abel. And Cain is still jealous of his brother, still wants to murder him.
But this time, it is Cain who will die, and be swallowed up into the ground. Because this time, Abel knows better than to wander out into the field with his brother. This Abel – in the form of Moses – is ready for the fight. And as Korach falls down into the earth, it is as if Abel finally has his revenge on Cain.
But what does all of this have to do with our original question? Why is Korach missing from the record of this battle in Deuteronomy?
Well, remember that Deuteronomy is distinct among the books of the Torah in that is almost entirely narrated by Moses. This is Moses’ first-person account of the events of the previous books.
So if the language of Deuteronomy references the Cain and Abel story, it is Moses doing that referencing (remember that it was Moses who used the same language even back in Numbers). And if Korach is omitted from this version of the tale, it is Moses who leaves him out. Moses is the Great Redactor of Deuteronomy – and he has redacted cousin Korach right out of existence.
This, then, was the ultimate revenge. Cain killed Abel and left him in the ground. So that same ground would later open her mouth again and swallow Cain, in the form of Korach. But that was not enough. For Abel had no children, no legacy for future generations. He had been completely wiped out of existence. In fact, even the word, ‘Abel,’ means ‘nothingness.’
So Moses did not content himself with the physical death of Korach, his falling into the earth. No, Moses sought an even greater obliteration. Korach would be erased from memory, extracted out of the story itself, and turned into nothingness. Moses first buried Korach deep in the ground – but then buried Korach again, in the text itself.
And the Torah opened her mouth, and swallowed him alive.
From Rabbi David Ingber
The Lion’s Roar Heals
The Seven Species
Rebbetzin Chana B Siegelbaum
From the Maqam Project
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 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.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
“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?
Secret of Addiction
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).
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
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.
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!
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.”
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)
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.
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 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 Rabbi Miles Krassen
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.
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.
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