Ekev 5755

(Based on RA material)

 

 

One of the well-known features of the book of Devarim is that its style is often couched in the language of Wisdom Literature-books like Proverbs or Job. Wisdom literature (which is, incidentally, not unique to Israel) seeks to teach a lesson, usually a moral lesson, a lesson on how to live and lead the good life. We recognize this genre in the little maxims ascribed to or collected by Ben Franklin; "The early bird gets the worm," "A stitch in time saves nine." You know instinctively that the proverb is correct and true, even if real life does not always live up fully to the generalization.

Deuteronomy is not only written in a proverbial style, but in fact the purpose of the book is to tell the Israelites how to live the good life. The specifics, the details of this good life are provided by the summary of the Mitzvot which make up the bulk of the book. The thesis of Deuteronomy is that if Israel adheres to God’ s commandments, the nation will receive a national reward. Not only will Israel be secure in its land, but the people will experience the good life-longevity, health, large families, prosperity and joy. On the other hand, if Israel sins, the nation will be punished with disease, death, drought, famine, poverty and ultimately will be forced out of the land.

It is not surprising then, that a book so concerned with instructing Israel on how to achieve the good life, on the rewards inherent in following God’s paths, and the punishments to be meted out if Israel abandons God’s teachings, should also deal with theodicy, the problem of good and evil -- in Hebrew we say Tzadik ura lo -- צדיק ורע לו , the righteous sufferer. The issue of theodicy is, if God really repays the deeds of individuals, if God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, why then do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper? Wisdom literature in general provides two solutions to this problem.

First, the Bible proposes that the period in which the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper is only temporary and transitory. There will be a final stage, a latter end, a future (in Hebrew אחרית הימים ) in which the proper rewards and punishments will be distributed. The righteous have a future, according to Proverbs 23:17-18: "Do not envy the sinner. but fear the Lord every day For surely there is a future and your hope shall not be cut off."

But the future of the wicked is gloomy. Thus Psalms 27. 37-38 tells us: "Mark the man of integrity and behold the upright , for there is a future for the man of peace; But the wicked will be destroyed together , and the future of the sinners will be cut off." Second, the Bible explains the suffering of the righteous in educational terms. Proverbs 3; 12 tells us that God corrects human behavior out of love, just as a parent chastises and punishes its child for its own good. "For whomever the Lord loves, he corrects even as a parent a child in whom he delights."

This educational theme is picked up in Dvarim דברים -- Deuteronomy, in almost identical language: Referring to the period of wandering in the desert as a period of unwarranted suffering, the Torah explains it as an educational process to discipline Israel’s behavior. "And you should consider very well That just as a person disciplines his child So the Lord your God has disciplined you."

The book of Dvarim goes further and picks up both these explanations of good and evil in two verses that stand back to back in this week's Parshah: "And you shall remember the entire way on which the Lord your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness that he might afflict you and test you to know what is in your heart whether you will observe his commandments or not. He afflicted you and made you hungry And then he fed you the Mannah which neither you nor your ancestors knew In order to teach you that not by bread alone does man live But by everything that comes from God’ s mouth. "(Deut. 8:2-3)

In these verses, the Torah poses an interesting question: If God loved Israel enough to take the people out of slavery, why was it necessary to punish them with forty years in the wilderness? Deuteronomy ignores the explanation given in Bemidbar, that the wilderness experience was a punishment for Israel’s faithlessness during the incident of the spies. It also ignores the explanation in Exodus that Israel was unprepared militarily to confront its enemies and conquer the land. Rather, Deuteronomy responds to the issue as if Israel’s suffering was unwarranted, and its response to this apparently unwarranted affliction is classically sapiential. First the suffering in the desert was educational:

 

"In order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Man lives by God’s word. Ibn Ezra comments that what this means is that Man does not live by bread alone, but rather from the strength that God gives him. God provided the Mannah -- the stuff of life. But we should not delude ourselves and think that the mannah sustained Israel for 40 years. The strength, the sustenance came from God’s word and in two pithy phrases the Torah combines the physical, namely food, with the spiritual, God’s word, as the appropriate diet for life and strength, sustenance and health. The forty years of suffering were thus educational in order to teach this profound, ethical and religious message.

In the same breath, the Torah uses the mannah motif to teach the other explanation of unwarranted suffering, namely that the righteous can rely on a blessed future. God fed Israel Mannah to test their faith: "God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments." The Mannah itself was a reproof, a form of unwarranted punishment. Having withstood the test, God would do good by Israel in the future (Deut. 8:16): "and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good." The Mannah was at once unwarranted suffering and a test of Israel’s faith. Having suffered and withstood the test of faith, God promises to do good for Israel in its future.

What is interesting then is that first the Torah admits that Israel suffered for no evident reason in its 40 year wandering in the desert. Throughout the period, Israel did not understand the reason for the punishment and affliction. Moreover, the Mannah itself was part of the affliction -- but the Mannah in fact served two purposes. First, to test Israel’s faith, and having passed the test, to do good by Israel in the future. And second, to teach Israel that man lives not by bread alone but by the word of God.

In our world of abundant materialism and overwhelming poverty, suffering and affliction, the Torah thus teaches us, reassures us of the hope in the goodness of the future, while reminding us that our very materialism, our prosperity is insufficient for a life of health and of sustenance.

Ki lo al halekhem levado yikhye ha'adam -- for man does not live by bread alone, ki al kol motza pi hashem yikhye ha'adam -- but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

 

Ekev 5756

 

This week's Torah portion is the third segment in the fifth book, Devarim, Parshat Ekev, encompassing Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25. It begins with the Hebrew words "veha'ya ekev tishme'un et hamishpatim ha'ele ushmartem va'asitem otam -- and it shall come to pass because you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors;" In many a text, in the English, the first Hebrew word is translated "if" -- but that is an incorrect translation, for the Hebrew "im" is if, and "ekev" comes from the root "akev" meaning heel, and suggesting following -- as in Ya'akov, the twin-brother that followed on the heel of Essav-Essau. The difference between "if" and "because" is fundamental and important. "If" implies that from the very beginning of the relationship between Israel and God we were put to the test, challenged to surmount an obstacle. "Because" suggests that following God's teaching is a natural condition for the Jews, bringing with it a consequence of blessings -- it is not a "free will" issue, where Jews may indulge in, for whatever reason they have for doing so, with attendant consequences. The Torah teaches us to have the right perspective on our history, on our own condition, and on the future.

The text tells us, "When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, "It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land"; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the Lord made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." [Deu. 9:4,5] Many readers would ask why we are "splitting hairs" arguing and reasons that Israel inherited the land. Only with knowledge of the reasons for events that occur can we control the events and insure or prevent them in the future. People that fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it. Our history, with all the tragedies that have befallen us, is certainly not worth repeating! Too many "hard knocks" in our school. Better attend a different school -- the one on "easy street." So we need to harken to the words of the text, that tell us that we are not so virtuous and deserving of God's salvation and protection. The text is very clear, "Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stiff-necked people." [ibid 9:6]

Still, God has chosen us -- for "zekhut avot" -- the merit of our Patriarchs. He has devised a manner for us to be worthy of His continued blessing. What is it?

The text tells us, "So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today." [ibid 10:12-15] There is no question but that we cannot "live up to the standard of God" -- for He is infinite, Master of all the yesterdays before our birth and all the tomorrows when we shall no longer be here; Master of the earth we know and of all the heavens which we know nothing about. However, He have chosen to love us -- to relate to us! Therefore we can relate to Him -- through serving the Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul, and keeping the commandments of the Lord our God and his decrees that He is commanding us.

The teachings of the Torah do not suggest that God will favor Israel in a manner that is supernatural and outside the parameters of nature. This is one of the big misconceptions that our detractors and defamers have held up to us. "If God is your protector," they asked, "Where is He now that you need Him..." Yet this week's parsha tells us, "Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today." [ibid. 8:17,18] God is the One that gives us "the power to get wealth" -- and with it all the powers to succeed, to improve the world around us, to bring the word of His blessing and His love to all mankind.

I cannot tell you how many times people have argued with me, throwing in my face the "facts of life" concerning the fate of the Jews. "How can you believe when God does not manifest Himself time after time, in Rome and in Spain, in Germany and in Siberia, in Argentina and in Syria. We have been put to the sword and the cross, we have been killed by zealot Christians and Moslems. The innocent have been massacred -- widows, the old, and the very young..." I tell them that the same "free will" that they claim as their right is also active in the service of the wicked, making possible exile and annihilation, pogrom and holocaust -- all the fruit of the mind of men -- and their handiwork! Yet I remind them, also, that the "time of God" is different than the time of man -- and in His time He does save us. The words of this week's Haftara confirm, as does history: "But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you. Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you. As I live, says the Lord, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on. Surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land-- surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away. The children born in the time of your bereavement will yet say in your hearing: "The place is too crowded for me; make room for me to settle." [Isaiah 49:14-21] We have seen, we continue to see the fulfillment of prophecy. This generation, which has seen Jewish fortunes go from the nadir to a new zenith of our existence -- surely we should be the most steadfast. For our eyes beheld deliverance on a grand scale -- and it is not over yet! Daily miracles occur, even as the prophet foretold, "Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? But thus says the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued; for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." [ibid 49:24-26]

Be strong and have faith, for we shall see a time of peace, a world that lives by the teachings of the Torah. Nation shall not lift up sword against another, and all shall recognize the God given sanctity of the human spirit. Then shall peace fill the earth and injustice become a historic anachronism. May we all live to see that day. Amen

 

Ekev 5757

 

 

I was challenged last week to give a lesson that will entertain and inspire while at the same time it will be light and easy to understand even by the youngest child. Well, I give up. I am not up to the challenge. I am reminded of a time when I was playing with my children, when they were quite small -- there were only two of them at that time, Tahl, just short of six, and Gil, three years her junior, but already a precocious boy full of vocabulary. We were 'horsing around,' rolling on the floor together. I was tickling the children and they were pinning me down, giggling, laughing and making nonsense sounds "booloobooloo booloo booloo," and "aaghrr aaghrr aaghrr!" Suddenly Gil looked at me and said, "Silly Abba, you're big, you can say real words!" That observation broke the 'magic' of our frolicking, and we changed our mode of behavior. The two children sat with me on the coach, and I read them a book called "corduroy" about a rag doll that had character and was much loved, even though it was old and worn...

That was a long time ago, and since then two other children entered Leah's and my life. We were rich with children, and we took care of them, and they matured and did well. We did not think very often of the times when we abandoned ourselves to the simple pleasures of pure and innocent enjoyment of life. We saw everything in terms of 'gains' and 'loses,' of what we do right and well, and what we don't seem to achieve, the areas where we fail. When all is said and done, I believe that Leah and I feel that we have done a good job, that we have lived a life of mitzvot and of moral values. We also feel that whatever we have done, we have made our own choices, and we have acted on the basis of our own understanding of what is good and what would be best for us and for our children. I am sure that not once did we ask ourselves, "Is this what God wants of me?"

The Torah reading for this week is Parshat Ekev, Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25. It begins with the words, "Veha'ya ekev tishme'un et hamishpatim ha'ele ushmartem va'asitem otam vshamar adona'y elohekha lekha et habrit hazot..." These words in the Hebrew are usually translated to mean, "If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; He will love you, bless you, and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you." Actually, translating the first Hebrew word as "if" is incorrect, because the Hebrew for 'if' is "im," and what you find in the text is "ekev," which comes from the root "akev" meaning heel, and suggesting following -- as in the name of our third patriarch, Ya'akov, the twin-brother that followed on the heel of Essav-Essau. The difference between "if" and "because" is fundamental and important. "If" implies that from the very beginning of the relationship between Israel and God we were put to a test, challenged as it were to surmount an obstacle. "Because" suggests that following God's teaching is a natural condition for the Children of Israel, bringing with it a consequence of blessings -- it is not a "free will" issue.

In other words, the Torah teaches us today a lesson that Gil understood intuitively at age three, ""Silly Abba, you're big, you can say real words!" We don't have to pretend to be untutored in the language of life. We don't have to childishly cling to infantile concepts of "tit for tat" -- you do something for me and I'll do something for you. Our tradition does not say that Jews who indulge in something that is against Torah, for whatever reason they have for doing so, will be "hit" by attendant consequences. The Torah teaches us to have the right perspective on our history, on our own condition, and on the future. We are adults, we can speak clearly and understand each other well.

God is the 'manufacturer' of our world. His instructions to us are the directions for proper use of His 'product.' We have free will to do what we please -- but if we abuse the product, we must expect consequences -- not because of the manufacturer's pique, but because of the nature of the product. God did not fashion Tahl, Gil, Naomi and Ilan -- Leah and I did. We can't turn to God now and ask why they are the way they are. We thank God for the gift of our children, for love and health and soul that He has given them -- and we recognize that we have a share in their successes and in their shortcomings. Above all we recognize the "ekev" -- the series of consequences that come from choices we have made. That is why we have lived a life of Jewishness, a life of Torah and a reverence for God.

 

 

Ekev 5758

 

 

This is a very special Shabbat for Leah and me, and for all parents, indeed. It is the "back to school" Shabbat, the first of the new school-year. It comes upon us early -- we are still in August, the summer heat is not abating, if anything it is getting worse! For Leah and me -- and for countless other parents, to be sure, it is the traumatic time of saying good-bye to the last child as he or she leaves the shelter of the family home to go to college and make his or her way in the world.

Many years ago, when I was contemplating the daunting job of child-raising, I remember thinking that one of the most important tasks of parenting is to "get through" the child-rearing years. Last week we read in the Torah the call words of our faith, the Shema, and its continuing verses, the "ve'ahavta." I remember thinking, at the time of my contemplation of child raising, "how can one be made to love the Lord?" That must be the most difficult task of parents. You have responsibilities to fulfill mitzvot in the life-cycle of your children: the boys must have a Brit Mila -- circumcision. The girls must be named in the synagogue before the open scroll of the Torah. Then there is the Bar/Bat-Mitzvah with the attendant corollary of training the children for that occasion.

This week, the Torah portion, Ekev, continues Moshe's report of the history and philosophy of Judaism. It begins with, "Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers." [Deu. 7:12] As we continue reading, we come to the passage that is the second paragraph of the Shema: "Veha'ya im shamo'a tishme'u el mitzvota'y asher anokhi metzave etkhem ha'yom..."If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and if you worship him, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons... So commit yourselves completely to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors." [Deu. 11:13-21]

Again we come back to insisting that we must love God, and we have an obligation to teach out children. I asked myself: how do you teach love? Well, over the years of raising my children Leah and I tried many things -- but we found that the best teaching we did was by personal example. Children watch adults all the time. When Gil was three, wearing thick glasses and a winning smile, he would ask people he met, "how old are you?" Why would he want to know the age of all he met? Well, actually, age meant nothing to him. He asked this question as a reflection of what he was asked. "Oh," people would say, "What a serious looking child! How well you speak -- how old are you?" As you sow, so shall you reap!

Now that our children are leaving the nest, there are new questions to ask: Is the time of our teaching over? Have we fulfilled our duty to "Teach them to your children" and are we 'off the hook?' What is the curriculum that one must teach, and when is there a graduation?

The answer, I believe, is that the obligation is over the very minute that the children we have given birth to stop being "your children " -- or in other words, never! Maybe that is why in the first paragraph of the Shema the word used is 'veshinantam' -- which means 'repeat over and over.' You will find a very profound lesson in the Mishna, the Oral teaching, in Avot 2:16: "Lo alekha hamlakha ligmor... He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the work -- but neither are you a free man to be entitled to refrain therefrom." So, you see, the nest may be empty for the moment, and Leah and I may have a chance to rest a bit -- but the job is never finished, and the obligation is never fulfilled. We shall continue to teach by word and deed, we shall continue to pray for their success and do all we can to support and love, which will reflect His love, and teach love to our children -- reflecting our love of them, and of the One who gave them to us, to cherish and raise as a sign of His love. Amen

 

 

Ekev 5759

 

 

This is a special and unique Shabbat for me, and for my family as well, because of a physical matter. You cannot guess it from reading this commentary. You see, I am celebrating this Shabbat in my home town of Jerusalem, the cradle of our national and religious existence. Unfortunately, my wife Leah and my kids are not with me, which puts a damper on my joy at being here. Nonetheless, on Shabbat morning I shall walk up Mount Zion to enter the Old City through the Zion gate, the one whose stones are crater-like, poked by hundreds of bullets in the battle for the Jewish quarter back in 1948. I shall walk down the road that hugs the wall, from the Armenian quarter to the Jewish quarter, and on to the large square that has been cleared in front of the wall since we recaptured the city during those six miraculous days in 1967.

I shall join one or another min'yan and will hear the Torah reader chant the words of the portion of the week: "Veha'ya ekev tishme'un et hamishpatim ha'ele ushmartem va'asitem otam... Therefore it shall come to pass, if you give heed to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which he swore to your fathers; And he will love you, and bless you, and multiply you; he will also bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your grain, and your wine, and your oil, the produce of your cows, and the flocks of your sheep, in the land which he swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle." [Deu. 7:12-14] As I stand at the Western Wall, the last remnant of the holy Temple, I shall hear the text continue with the third paragraph of the Shema, "Veha'ya im shamo'a tishme'u el mitzvota'y... Vesamtem et devara'y ele al levavkhem ve'al nafshekhem ukshartem otam le'ot al yedekhem veha'yu letotafot beyn eynekhem; velimadetem otam et beneykhem ledaber bam beshivtekha beveytekha uvlekhtekha vaderekh uveshokhbekha uvkumekha... And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to my commandments... Therefore shall you lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." [Deu 11:13, 18,19] I shall think of my children and how I have endeavored to teach them, by word and deed.

Parents have an obligation to God and to their children, a responsibility to fulfill mitzvot in the life-cycle of their children: the boys must have a Brit Mila -- circumcision. The girls must be named in the synagogue before the open scroll of the Torah. Then there is the Bar/Bat-Mitzvah with the attendant corollary of training the children for that occasion. We must nurture the children and make of them strong yound adults ready for life on their own.

The mitzvah of teaching one's children is one of the least defined and set mitzvot in Judaism. Unlike, for axample, the mitzvot of milah (circumcision) and pid'yon haben (redeeming the firstborn). Actually, we find in the Talmud, "... If he can talk, his father teaches him Sh'ma and Torah and the holy tongue..." [Sukka 42] However, there is neither a curriculum nor a limitation on the obligation, and many commentators argued the matter. The big issue, as I saw it in relation to teaching my children and in principle always, is how do you teach anyone to love? To love God, to love one's fellow man, to love oneself -- that is the most important task of all. Rashi makes the comment, "until he is twelve, one plays with the child teaching him slowly and without forcing him to study Torah with all his might..." (After twelve, Rashi and others say, "yored lekha'yav" -- force him...) It is in this vein (of going easy at it) that the Torah teaches us, "Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors." [Deu. 11:21] This is not merely a "sign" posted on the door, or phylacteries on your arm and head/ It tells us that we need to "live our faith." If we do, we teach it to our children and to the future generations clearly and powerfully. Deeds speak louder than all the sermons in the world. Asking people top follow is much more effective than sending them to do our bidding. Children watch adults all the time. I am sure you are familiar with the saying, "As you sow, so shall you reap!" It is right on the mark on the farm, and in educating the young.

Our obligation is never quite done! We continue to teach by our deeds as long as we live, and we shall continue to do all we can to support and love our kids, all Jewish kids, reflecting His love, teaching love of God -- reflecting our love of them, and of the One who gave them to us, to raise in love even as He loves us. Amen

 

 

 

Ekev 5760

 

I write this week’s comments while away from my home and my congregation. This Shabbat we shall continue to read Moshe Rabenu's report of the history and philosophy of Judaism. The portion of the Torah, Ekev , begins with, "Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers." [Deu. 7:12] As we read on, we come to the passage that most Jews should recognize - since it is the second paragraph of the Shema: "Veha'ya im shamo'a tishme'u el mitzvota'y asher anokhi metzave etkhem ha'yom... If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and if you worship him, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons... So commit yourselves completely to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors." [Deu. 11:13-21]

So, once again we come back to the teaching, which we read last week in the first sentence after the actual Shema Yisra’el, “ve’ahavta et Adona’y elohekha - and you shall love the Lord your God...” - insisting that we must love God, and we have an obligation to teach this to our children. I asked myself: how do you teach love? Well, Leah and I tried many things over the years while raising our children - and we found that the best teaching we did was by personal example. Youngsters watch grown-ups and learn from their actions all the time. You know the old saying, “As you sow, so shall you reap!” This is just as true in education and child-rearing as it is in agriculture. And the task of raising children is not only the responsibility of parents - it is also the responsibility of the community at large. It starts in the single individual and goes to the whole community and ends in the global village. No adult can say, “the time for teaching my children is over!” “I have fulfilled my duty to "Teach them to your children" and now that they are old enough to make their own way - I am 'off the hook.'” Or, if one did not have children, one does not need to teach... We are all responsible, and we all must and do teach.

Well, if that is so, we may well ask, what is the curriculum that one must teach, and when is there a graduation?

The answer, I believe, is that the obligation is over the very minute that the children we have given birth to stop being "your children " -- or in other words, never! Maybe that is why in the first paragraph of the Shema the word used is 'veshinantam' -- which means 'repeat over and over.' We must live a life that is a lesson to the children day after day all year long, all life long.

In this week’s portion we read Moshe’s recollection of the time after the revelation at Sinai: “When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord made with you, then I stayed in the mount forty days and forty nights, I did not eat bread nor drink water; And the Lord delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.” [Deu. 9:9,10] We assume that God took forty days and forty nights to prepare the tablets for Moshe and Israel. However, think for a minute: God created the heaven and the earth, the seas and its content, the trees and the grass and the animals and mankind – all of it – in six days. How can it be that it took forty days to prepare a couple of tablets, even if they contained the whole Torah?

Our sages suggest that it was not in the task of making the tablets of testimony that Moshe and God spent their time. The forty days and forty nights were spent with Moshe learning from God by means of observing Him, even as a parent teaches his children. That is why Moshe told the people, “I did not eat bread nor drink water” - as God does not require nourishment, so Moshe did not require it while absorbing God’s lessons by example. I spent this past week in the company of 2700 Jewish educators, Rabbis, teachers, social workers and other professionals, and the one thing that they all had in common is an outpouring of love for others. Filled with Torah, they were living mitzvot, tzedaka and other qualities which they transmit by word and deed to our young and old, to keep God’s teaching alive. I was inspired and I was motivated to come back to my post and to redouble my effort. To sing the praises of God and the good fortune of those who live by His teachings, by His torah.

So here I stand, tired but content. I shall continue to teach by word and deed, through prayer and song, by love and kindness which will reflect His love, to rear a new generation Jewish children who will reflect God’s love of all His children, and sing the praise of the One who gave them to us, to cherish and raise as a sign of His love.

Amen

 

 

Ekev 5761

 

This Shabbat we shall continue to read Moshe Rabenu's report of the history and philosophy of Judaism. The portion of the Torah, Ekev , begins with, "Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers." [Deu. 7:12] As we read on, we come to Moshe’s accounting of the Tablets he brought down from Sinai: "And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. And the Lord said to me, Arise, get down quickly from here; for your people, which you have brought out of Egypt, have corrupted themselves;" [Deu. 9:11,12] Of course, you know what happened - Moshe came down the hill, got angry at the people and smashed the tablets. Our text continues, therefore, with the telling of how Moshe went back to Sinai, and brought down a second set of tablets, "At that time the Lord said to me, Cut two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me into the mount, and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were in the first tablets which you broke, and you shall put them in the ark." [Deu. 10:1,2] What do we learn from this story? Well, maybe it is that is you don’t succeed at once, try, try again.

To prove my point I direct you to the recent controversy over the United Nation's role in the kidnaping inside Israel of three Israeli soldiers last October. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, acknowledged - contrary to his prior position - that his Lilly-white international body possessed videotapes that shed light on the Lebanese Hezbollah carrying out kidnaping. These tapes, viewed this week by IDF officers in New York, show Hezbollah towing away two vehicles believed to have been used in the raid along with real and forged U.N. paraphernalia, documents and uniforms. According to reports, Hezbollah perpetrated the kidnaping disguised as members of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The evidence was withheld from Israel for fear that disclosing it would help Israel’s investigation and be seen by the Arab world as collaboration.

Keep in mind that Lebanese Terrorists have exploited the international forces and committed a heinous crime under U.N. flag. The U.N.'s response to this action is to protect the criminals for fear of being seen as favoring Israel. Arafat is watching this and aware presumably that he can make international observers work for him in the West Bank as much as international forces assist the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Before Hezbollah became the terrorists of choice in South Lebanon, another group used that country as a base from which to attack Israel - the PLO. When UNIFIL forces would capture a PLO operative attempting to infiltrate Israel, they would politely disarm him, drive him to the Lebanese side of the border zone, return his gun and send him on his way. Arafat knows this firsthand because he and his men wrote the book on how to use UNIFIL to his advantage. That is one of the reasons he now insists on putting "international observers" (read UNIFIL clones) all over the West Bank and Gaza boundaries.

Meanwhile, the news from Jerusalem looks grim: More than 19 dead - six of them children - and 70 wounded in a suicide bombing at Sbarro's - a franchise in Israel as in Washington, D.C. and on the New Jersey Turnpike. The world awaits in trepidation for Israel's reaction. Arafat is shrieking "foul!" Send in the observers before the blood of Palestinian children flows in the streets! Will the Sbarro outrage be the one that triggers a massive Israeli retaliation? Nobody knows. What we do know about the latest attack is that it wouldn't have been prevented by the introduction of the so-called "independent" international monitors. The never stop brigands and cut-throats - they only censure the peace seeking nation that has been living in the hope of peace from day one.

In recent days, the American State Department has come down harshly on Israel - for retaliating against Palestinian terrorists - than it has on Arafat for permitting terror to be

committed from within his ranks. Reports out of Foggy Bottom last week suggested that "State" was once again considering the proposal to permit international observers into the struggle. But the grotesque videotape incident and the prior history of the PLO in Lebanon demonstrates the misguided nature of this idea. Maybe today's news will allow the White House to realize that the "Foreign Desk" is on the wrong track and a wild goose chase. Perhaps if they hadn't rushed so quickly to "correct" Vice President Cheney's statements voicing tacit approval of Israel's policy of retaliation in recent days, those six infants who were killed for the love of pizza would be alive today.

It is almost impossible to react rationally to the kind of terrorist outrage that took place yesterday in Jerusalem. For anyone personally affected, the pain caused by the death of a family member or a friend drives out orderly thought, leaving only grief and anger. Such feelings are hardly mitigated by the discovery that a loved one was "only" wounded or even by the relief of finding out, after hours of anxiety, that someone who was in the vicinity was unharmed, and only lost touch because he or she were helping rescue lives. Even for those not directly touched by such an attack, instinctive feelings, including the desire for revenge, tend to overwhelm rational calculation.

Israel needs to respond to this attack. This statement is not based on ardor, ache, or outrage. Emotion, as a rule, is a bad guide to policy, which is supposed to lead to a goal. In this case, the goal should be to minimize - if not eliminate - the possibility that another such attack will take place, and to do that, Israel must respond to this attack. But the spectrum of possible

responses ranges from doing close to nothing - all the way to full-scale war against the Palestinian people.

There is a longstanding debate about whether or not terrorism can be defeated by coercive means alone. In theory, the debate cannot be resolved, because the argument that terrorism can be crushed cannot be categorically disproved until the effect of resorting to measures more extreme than those already tried is tested in practice. But in practice, the debate has already been

resolved, because Israel cannot resort to such measures. The most that Israel can conceivably do is to reoccupy the whole of the West Bank and Gaza and re-impose military rule, that is, revert to the situation that prevailed before 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was created under the

umbrella of the Oslo Agreement. And even that stretches to bounds of credibility. The clock of history cannot be turned back, even if the regional and international context allowed Israel to try (which it doesn't). And if it could be turned back, that would only recreate a situation that involved enough terrorism to raise and topple governments and eventually convince the country of the need to change the situation.

Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon was swept into office on the promise that he had a better answer to the challenge of Palestinian violence. Voters fed up with Ehud Barak's inability to stop the violence bought Sharon's rejection of negotiations under fire and endorsed his determination to insist that the Palestinian Authority must force all Palestinians to stop all violence before he would agree to talk about resolving the conflict that is the source of the violence. In doing so, they ignored the fact that no violence anywhere has ever stopped for very long without a political agreement, a compromise of some kind - except when one side was able to impose unconditional surrender on the other.

But Israel cannot do that. It is not the Allies of World War II, and the Palestinians are not Germany or Japan. That is why, six months after the election, Sharon has still not delivered on his promise, and why he will not deliver in another six months.

So what is left? Peres and the liberal left in Israel says, negotiations. Not negotiations, alone. Diplomacy is not an alternative to force, and renouncing military measures of either a passive or active nature is a prescription for failure and an invitation to further demands, backed by more violence. But it is a necessary complement to such measures. In other words, talk and shoot, shoot and talk. The nationalistic right says that there is nothing to talk about, since the only thing the Arabs will accept is Israel’s total capitulation. The fundamental alternatives facing Israel, however, have been the same for some time. These alternatives are usually expressed in terms of one narrow spectrum - should Israel continue its policy of restraint or not. The more important debate - which must be resolved now - is between two diametrically

opposed approaches within the unity government.

The State Department, and even Shimon Peres, see the solution in going back to the negotiating table according to the Mitchell framework. According to this framework, Arafat can expect to receive confidence-building measures, such as restrictions on Israeli settlements, and perhaps additional territorial concessions, without committing to a full cease-fire. Arafat knows that if he were to stop terrorism for just one week, the floodgates of pressure would be opened on Israel, with concrete benefits to follow. However, Arafat is not satisfied with such delayed gratification - he wants Israeli concessions right away, before and without stopping terrorism. As the Turkish Prime Minister implied to Sharon this week, Arafat wants Israelis to get used to the idea that it is "unrealistic" to expect a complete cessation of terror before negotiations resume.

There is an alternative approach - one that has not been tried yet, and that may have a much greater promise of success: defeating Arafat's terror offensive. It is somehow automatically assumed that declaring such a goal implies a massive military operation against the Palestinian Authority, and "the world would not stand for it." Alternatively, it is often assumed that defeating Arafat's offensive means banishing him from office, and from the region. But defeating Arafat does not necessarily mean either of these things. Defeating Arafat's offensive does not necessarily mean abandoning military restraint or insisting that Israel will only deal with a post-Arafat Palestinian regime. What it does mean is that the only way to end Arafat's offensive is to raise its military-diplomatic cost so high and make the possibility of benefit so low that he has no other choice but to end it. Already there are reports from the Palestinians that they are "surprised" and "amazed" by Israel’s tough stance and willingness to stand its ground.

Israel’s leaders should stop wringing their hands and declaring "there is no military solution." Sharon, Ben-Eliezer (the defense minister), and Peres must repeatedly declare

that Israel's goal is not defeating the Palestinian people, or even Arafat per se, but defeating the terrorist offensive that Arafat has unleashed against Israel. They should declare again and again, "our goal is to defeat Arafat's terror offensive by a combination of military and diplomatic means. We shall do whatever must be done, and we shall await the message of dove."

There is absolutely no reason to talk to Arafat before he does what President George W. Bush just demanded of him: "Act now to arrest and bring to justice those responsible and take immediate, sustained action to prevent future terrorist attacks." Arafat has a huge backlog of unfulfilled promises and commitments, to Yitzkhak Rabin, to Shimon Peres, to Bill Clinton, and most recently those made to CIA Director George Tenet. He must start delivering before there is anything to talk about with him.

Now, in the aftermath of the terror attack in the heart of Jerusalem, is the time for action. Israel can no longer play into Arafat's hands with tit-for-tat retaliations; the military pressure on all terrorist elements should be greater and relentless. At the same time, we must act in fairness and compassion for the suffering of the Arabs people in the land. Let us remember and live by these words from this week’s portion, "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s your God, the earth also, with all that is in it. Only the Lord took delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked. For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, mighty and awesome, which favors no person, nor takes bribes; He executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and garment. Love you therefore the stranger; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." [Deu. 10:14-19]

Amen

 

Ekev 5762

This Shabbat we read the third portion in the fifth book of the Torah - the words of our great leader and teacher Moshe. In this week's portion we read Moshe's recollection of the time after the revelation at Sinai: "When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord made with you, then I stayed in the mount forty days and forty nights, I did not eat bread nor drink water; And the Lord delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly." [Deu. 9:9,10] In the "historical account" of the event, in the book of Exodus, we read, "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand; the tablets were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets." [Exodus 32:15, 16]
What an amazing and incomprehensible object Moshe held in his hands. Two stone tablets, hewn by God, and inscribed by Him with all that went on at Sinai - all that God said, all that God commanded. Here was Moshe, coming down the mountain, hearing the voices of the people below, shouting obscenities in their vulgar and lascivious celebration of the golden calf. Moshe stood at a point between God's emanation and the wickedness of a slave people recently set free from all that was evil in the earthly kingdom of Egypt. The golden calf was part of their past experience - make to mistake about it!
What happened next? "Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands, and broke them beneath the mount." [Exodus 32:19] is the "historical account." The Rabbis explained that Moshe became so angry that the tablets shook in his hands and he could no longer carry them. The burden had become too great, and the sight before him sapped his strength, and thus he threw the tablets out of his hands and they broke. The story is told differently in this week's portion. "And I took the two tablets, and threw them out of my two hands, and broke them before your eyes." [Deu. 9:17]
Here Moshe is not on the mountain. He has arrived in the camp, and surveyed the straying of the Israelites, and wanting to impress them with his anger he "took the two tablet" - as the text says - the tablets he had brought down from the mountain, the same tablets that were already "delivered" to the people of Israel. He took those tablets, the holy objects that was hewn by God, and inscribed by Him - raised them up in the midst of the people, "and threw them out of my two hands" – with intent and self control he threw them with great force, so that the people would witness the be aware of what had just happened.
What had just happened?
The rabbis and sages of Judaism and of other faiths that share the teachings of God in our Scriptures have argued the issue for over two thousand years. Did Moshe sin grievously by destroying the handiwork of God? Why did Moshe do it? Was the second set of tablets an exact replica of the first?
The interpretation of the event is given in three layers - the simple, the comment, and the mysterious. On the simple level, the sages said that Moshe broke the tablets in a moment of total loss of reason, as one feels when confronted with a great tragedy. Imagine of getting the news that your "world" - your husband or wife, your child or parents - came to some great harm totally unexpectedly. Multiply the shock of such news a thousand thousand times - and you begin to understand Moshe's state of mind as he realizes that the people, his charges, only forty days removed from the great revelation, have broken the revelation most fundamental teachings.
By way of commentary, the sages teach that Moshe was totally conscious not only of the nature of the tablets (which is to say, the "holy objects that was hewn by God, and inscribed by Him") – but also what was the message of the text. The commentaries thus suggest that Moshe broke the tablets to give the people a chance to say, "I did not have a text before me, and I did not know what I am not allowed to do." Yet another interpretation offered by the commentators suggests that Moshe broke the tablets precisely because they were hewn by God and inscribed by Him. Moshe's action teaches us that holiness is not in an object - but in our behavior. Worship of the golden calf cancels the holiness of the tablets, even though they were hewn by God, and inscribed by Him.
The most interesting and important lesson is taught by the third method - the Jewish mystics. These sages suggest that the first tablets were "the words of God hewn in stone." They were complete and without any argument. They were simple and definitive to the last detail. Life, however, is not simple or definitive or set in a particular groove from birth to death. Life is a long and arduous journey - replete with detours, setbacks, and pitfalls. Given the nature of life, Moshe realized that the Israelites could not survive for any length of time in the strict world of the first tablets. They needed room to slip and slide, to give and take, to fall and rise again. Thus they reason that Moshe had no choice but to break the tablets – and go back up the mountain to fashion the second set of tablets himself. The first tablets, we were taught, were kept in the holy ark, broken to small segments. Thus Israel learns a smattering of the teaching of God, mitigated, explained, made more acceptable and humane by the words of Moshe. Maybe that is why we are told in the text of the Torah itself, that this is "the teaching of Moshe" - Torat Moshe. "Torah tziva lanu moshe morasha kehilat ya' akov – Moses commanded us a Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." [Deu. 33:4] May we always have great teachers and leaders who understand the word of God and the needs of the people who serve Him. Amen


Shabbat Shalom

 

Ekev 5763

This Shabbat we read in the Torah the portion of Ekev, which is the third portion in the fifth book of the Torah, Dvarim, the "things,"or "words" which Moshe spoke before leaving Israel in the hands of his long time aide and assistant Yehoshu'a - Joshua. The text continues Moshe Rabenu's report on the history and philosophy of Judaism. The portion begins with the words, "V'ha'ya ekev tishm'un et hamishpatim ha'ele ushmartem va'asitem otam – Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, v'shamar adona'y eloheykha lekha et habrit v'et hakhesed asher nishba la'avotekha – that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers." [Deu. 7:12]
The name of the portion, the first meaningful word in the portion, is a lesson for us, all by itself. "Ekev" is related to the name of our third patriarch, Ya'akov – Jacob. You may recall that he was given the name because he was the second half of twins born to Rivka, wife of Yitzkhak. The Torah says that "his hand took hold on Esau's heel;" [Gen. 25:26] Thus his name comes from the noun "akev" meaning heel. However, following "on the heel of" anyone is NOT the mark of leadership – and hence, Ya'akov became Yisra'el, the one who struggled with God and men and persevered.
Let me go back to our portion for this week: Moshe tells the children of Israel that God is a faithful Master who does not, as the ancients believed about their idol-gods, act out of caprice or mood or any attempt by men to sway His "mind." The God of Israel has established the world with natural laws that cannot be broken. There is cause and effect, measure and counter-measure.
I remember all too well when I had to chastize one of my children for not doing his homework. I prepared a sign using my computer, in large print, which I asked him to place in a prominent place on the wall in his room. It read: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." This is not something I invented, nor is it "Torah stuff." It is a law of physics, and thermo-dynamics. It is the way the world works. It is also a law in chemistry. We never realized it, but it also applies to human behavior, to our lack of concern and care for the environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the vegetables, fruits and animals we raise for food.
You can well imagine that my child was not happy to look at that sign on the wall – it took years before I was informed that the lesson was learned, and the truth was recognized. Where did that wisdom come from? My child became aware of the "facts of life." As you sow, so shall you reap. What you invest brings back a profit – and what you squander is soon forgotten and forever lost. Where did I learn the lesson I gave my child? Why, of course, it came from this week's portion. "it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness."
As you sow, so shall you reap... Yesterday afternoon there was a massive power failure in the north eastern part of our country and part of Canada as well. This event was precipitated by hot weather putting a greater demand on the power supply, joined with an equipment breakdown somewhere in a grid that connects much of our nation to take better advantage of production capacity and public need for electric power and energy. The gargantuan blackout that resulted caused great anxiety to many people. Some saw the event as another terror attack, in the shadow of nine eleven. Others saw a government failure to insure the "public need." Still others read into the event all sorts of conspiracies to subject the public in general and themselves in particular to discomfort, loss of property and even some kind of a humiliation.
Of course, it was nothing of the sort. The system that has been created is smart and works quite well. In fact, one can almost say that the event proves how well it works. The shut-down prevented a great melt down breakdown with long term loss of power production. It would be expensive and inefficient to have stand-alone power grids for each city, town and hamlet - ready to satisfy the peak need of each community. The power needs of a nation that stretches from shore to shore occur in sequence, and can be provided at a great saving in up-front costs for building and maintenance of facilities, in precisely the manner that exists in our country.
As for the fear of terrorist attacks – again, the "law of physics" prevails. We are at peril today because we allowed the terror beast to grow, as long as it did not attack us! We turned a blind eye to terror in South America, in the Phillippines, in Eastern Europe, in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Now it is at our gates, and eradicating it will take a major and long term effort.
And yet, there is hope, and there is no need to despair! For God is faithful, and He will keep His covenant with all His children. When we listen to His judgments, His teachings, His mitzvot - and keep and do them, He will keep His covenant and His lovingkindness with us, and bless us with good, with happiness, and with peace.

Amen

Shabbat shalom

 

Ekev 5764

This week we read the third portion in the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim, Deuteronomy, Parshat Ekev. This portion encompasses Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25. It begins with the Hebrew words “veha'ya ekev tishme'un et hamishpatim ha'ele ushmartem va'asitem otam – Therefore it shall come to pass, if you give heed to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which he swore to your fathers;" [Deu. 7:12] This is an incorrect translation, for the Hebrew text reads "ekev," and the Hebrew for “if” is "im." "Ekev" comes from the root "akev" meaning heel, -- as in the name of our third patriarch, Ya'akov, the twin-brother that was born holding on to the heel of Esav-Esau. “On the heel of” is an idiomatic expression for following. The difference between "if" and "following" is fundamental and important. "If" implies that from the very beginning of the relationship between Israel and God we were put on notice and at the same time given a choice, challenged to surmount an obstacle. "Following" suggests that learning and fulfilling God's mitzvot, His teachings, is a natural condition for the Jews, bringing with it a consequence of blessings. Tt is definitely not a "free will" issue, where Jews may indulge in whatever act they wish, for whatever reason they have for doing so, without attendant consequences. The Torah teaches us to have the right perspective on our history, on our own condition, and on the future.
The text tells us, therefore, “"ekev" – following on the heels of – or in simpler terms, in consequence of the fact that you give heed these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which he swore to your fathers”
And here comes the second part of this lesson: the word ekev is the root of the Hebrew word ikvi, which means constant. There is a lesson to be learned, a lesson that is repeated again and again in our portion, making it the theme of this week’s entire reading: God is constant, faithful, true to His word. He will love you and bless you. You will not fear your enemies, because God shall be with you to protect you.
The other side of the same coin, of course, is each one of the Children of Israel. It is I, and it is you. You and I, too, must be constant. We must not stray after the Gods of the nations that God is going to allow us to overcome. It was God Almighty who led us through the forty years in the desert, to bring us near the Land of Promise, the land that Israel would soon inherit. Moshe reminds the Israelites that he brought down the Tablets of the Covenant of Sinai, and because the people had strayed he broke those tablets, and God forgave them and had him come back up to the top of Mount Sinai, to receive the second tablets.
The portion concludes with the verses that have become a staple of our liturgy as the second paragraph of the Shma: “And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in its due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil.
And I will send grass in your fields for your cattle, that you may eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord’s anger be kindled against you, and he closed the skies, that there should be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gives you. Therefore shall you lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them upon the door posts of your house, and upon your gates; That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.” [Ibid. 11:13-21] Notice that in this passage, unlike the first paragraph of the Shma, it is each and every one of us who must diligently give heed to God’s mitzvot, to serve him with heart and soul. This is not “to teach the kids,” nor is it “if you give heed...” It is a proactive stance – no ifs or buts about it – that avoids the wrath of God and brings His favor and blessing.
The name of our portion is Ekev, and its message is to be ikvi, constant, and to follow on the heel of God’s mitzvot, to find and keep His love. May we learn this lesson diligently, and may His blessings fill us with joy, love and contentment.

Amen

Shabbat shalom


 

 

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