Torah Readings for Saturday, August 27, 2016
Ekev (“because,” “reward,” or “heel”)7:12-11:25 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
Ekev is the third sedrah in Devarim or the Book of Deuteronomy. It takes its name from the second Hebrew word in the first sentence of the weekly portion. The Hebrew word “Ekev” has more than one meaning. It can be translated as “because” as in “It shall come to pass because you will hearken (to) these ordinances…” (7:12). “Ekev” can also mean, “reward.” At this point, Moshe is telling the people that, “because” they will listen to the ordinances and obey them, God will reward them by keeping the covenant. “Ekev” can also mean “heel.” The Hebrew name for the patriarch Jacob is YaAkov, a name that contains the word Ekev in its root. As you may remember, Jacob was born hanging on to Esau’s heel. Does the word Ekev provide a connection between the concept of “reward” and the fact that Moshe is addressing the descendants of Jacob? Are the Jewish people a reward as well as the recipients of a reward? According to some commentators, Ekev marks the final part of the Second Discourse.
Repeatedly, Moshe calls upon the people to follow the law, describes the goodness of the land which they are to inherit, and describes the consequences of their failure to obey the commandments. Moshe continues to weave the history of the Israelites into his admonitions about proper conduct to ensure that they will prosper in the land which they are about to inherit. Some readers will see an element of prophecy here, of Moshe telling the Israelites what will befall them in the Promised Land if they keep, or fail to keep, the commandments. Others, for example those who think that Devarim was written at the time of King Josiah, will see these writings as an explanation and justification for the hardships that befell the Israelites once they entered the Promised Land. One of the challenges is for us is to realize that the “Reward” for obeying the commandments will not only come in the form of a piece of land, but will take other forms as well. The important thing is that Ekev continues to reinforce Moshe’s basic message repeated over and over again in Devarim. Follow God’s laws. They are the source of our blessing. You know what the law is, but you have to choose to follow it. You will muck up. You will be punished. You will be forgiven. Follow God’s laws.
Repeated Admonitions to Obey All of the Commandments (, 8:1, , 11:1, 11:8, , and )At least seven different times in Ekev Moshe calls upon the Israelites to follow the rules. Various reasons are given, most of which are tied to a specific reward such as material prosperity or help in driving the enemy out of the land. This quid pro quo language has troubled many commentators. Over the centuries Jewish commentators have stressed the importance of observing the mitzvoth because of their intrinsic value. In other words, the reward for observing a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself. Moshe’s specificity during the Discourses may have been a case of knowing the audience and tailoring the presentation accordingly.
Learn From the PastThroughout this sedrah, Moshe calls upon the Israelites to learn from their experiences in
Conquest of the LandOnce again we are faced with a command to totally annihilate the inhabitants () which certainly offends our modern sense of morality. Relax, it has offended many Rabbis as well and they have sought to soften the message. The command was part of whole series of admonitions designed to ensure that the Israelites would not adopt the pagan customs of the inhabitants of
Conquest of the Land IIEach time we read about commandments to destroy the inhabitants of the land we recoil with high-flown moral indignation. For the ancients, this was the only way of making sure that the Israelites would not turn to idolatry and forsake the teachings of God. The challenge for modern day Jews is to prove that we can maintain our identity and fully practice the faith of our fathers (both in terms of ethics and ritual since the two are mutually dependent on one another) despite the overwhelming temptations of a majority culture which does not make this easy.
Temporary InhabitantsJews like to refer to Israel as the Promised Land. This week we are reminded that, in one sense the promise is a conditional one (9:4-9:5). The Israelites do not get the land because of their virtues. They get it because the previous tenants have behaved abominably and therefore have lost their right to say in Canaan. And they get the land because of the promise made to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. In other words the present generation gets a reward based on the merits of those who have come before. When future generations of Israelites behaved in an abominable fashion they too were thrown out of the land. The difference between the Israelites and the Canaanites is the promised made to our Forefathers. In other words, our future redemption is based on the merits of our ancestors. (This should also remind us that there is no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman.)
Social JusticeIn words that will become part of the prophetic message of Social Justice, Moshe asks what God wants of us. He wants us obey the letter and spirit of His teachings (-13). Specifically, we must protect the orphan and the widow () and befriend (literally “love”) the stranger. In other words, the ancient Israelites and the modern Jew are to protect the weak, the disadvantaged and the underdog. Think about this admonition the next time you say “one nation, under God.” Gives it a whole new twist, doesn’t it?
Stiff-necked PeopleMoshe reminds us that we are a stiff-necked people (9:6). We remind ourselves that we are a stiff-necked people during the Yom Kippur service each year. We can be stubborn. According to some it is that same stubbornness that has helped us cling to our faith when a rational person would have thrown in the towel.
Passing the BuckAs some of you know, I think the Torah is a classic manual on the subject of what we now call “middle management.” Usually, God gets all of the credit for taking the Israelites out of
425. The command to destroy the seven nations of
426. The command to show no mercy to these idol worshipers ().
427. The prohibition against intermarrying with the seven nations then resident in
428. The prohibition against attempting to profit materially from an idol ().
429. The prohibition against bringing into one’s home something disgusting ().
430. The obligation to bless God after eating ().
431. The commandment to love strangers who live amid the Israelite community ().
432. The obligation to be in awe, a kind of reverent fear of God ().
433. The commandment to pray to God and God alone ().
434. The commandment to treat nothing with the same reverence with which you treat God ().
435. The commandment to swear only by God’s name (and not the name of any other god) ().
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The ShemaEkev contains the second paragraph of the Shema (-21) or more properly what is called the Kriat Shema, or
Jewish Concept of PrayerWhen Jews ask God for something we ask on behalf of others, not on behalf of ourselves. Consider Moshe. Last week we saw how God rejected Moshe’s plea that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land. This week we are reminded how God answered the prayer of that same Moshe when he begged God not to destroy the Israelites for the Sin of the Golden Calf (-10:2).
The Self-Made Man“And thou say in thy heart: 'My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.'” (8:17). Starting with chapter 8, verse 7, Moses describes in detail the benefits the Israelites will enjoy in the Promised Land including flocks so big and harvests so plentiful that they will be able to eat their fill in “goodly houses.” But he warns them against taking all of the credit for their bounty saying in their hearts, “My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.” (8:17). In the end it is God who bestows this bounty upon us. Yes, we must work for it, but the Torah tells us not to take all of the credit. This is an apt lesson for our times. We have developed a tendency to declare that we are responsible for our own success. And by inference, if you are not successful, then it is your own fault. This Torah portion should remind us to look at our success and see how many people directly or indirectly helped us get to where we are. If we did so, it might help us to obey another injunction in the Ekev - caring for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst.
Blessings and EatingEkev provides another example of the interaction between the Torah and the Oral Law. The Torah says “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.” From that we find a whole series of blessings in the Oral Law that one is supposed to recite upon finishing eating. The most famous and the longest is the Birchat HaMazon or Grace After Meals. It consists of four basic paragraphs and is properly said only after eating a meal where bread has been eaten. Moshe, Joshua, David and Solomon and the Rabbis at Yavneh each wrote one of the paragraphs. You may not recognize the Birchat by name, but most of you will recognize its sprightly opening tunes when you hear them. In addition to the four basic paragraphs, there are “optional” opening psalms and a variety of closing benedictions. In modern times, the Conservative Movement has added special benedictions for the State of Israel and those being persecuted in foreign countries. There are many rituals that people do not perform because they are not part of their lives, or so they claim. However, everybody eats, so the ritual of Grace After Meals is one in which everybody could participate. The shortest version is “B’-rich Ra-cha-ma-na Eh-lah-ha-na Mal-ka D’al-ma Ma-ra D’-hai Pee-ta - Blessed is the Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Master of this bread.” According to some, the Grace After Meals can be said in any language so recite it in English if you so desire. For those of you who want to learn some or all of it in Hebrew, there are at least two websites that have audio versions of Birchat HaMazon. In speaking of the
Loving the Stranger“And you shall love the stranger…” (10:19). The Hebrew word used for stranger is “ger.” Only in this case the term “ger” is meant to refer to the proselyte or convert. No less an authority than Maimonides recognizes the special virtual of the convert because this individual has chosen to accept the yoke of the Torah. This Ger has actually done what our ancestors did at Sinai. Some traditional Jews have broadened this concept of “loving the stranger” to included welcoming all newcomers regardless of the situation. As Jews, we certainly know how awkward it can be to feel different. So it is incumbent on us to “smooth” the way for others. This hearkens back to the way Abraham provided hospitality to his visitors. Also, when Moshe uses the term ger, we cannot help but remember the fact that he named his son Gershom because at one time our great leader was a ger; a stranger living in strange land. For more on “Loving the Stranger,” you might want to read the Plaut Chumash, pages 1409-1411. This concept is important enough to be mentioned specifically thirty-six different times in the Torah.
The Wanderings“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might afflict thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no.” (8:1).
According to Exodus, the Israelites wandered in the Wilderness for forty years because they had rebelled against God, doubting his strength during the episode of the spies. Here, the Wandering in the Wilderness is described as a test for the next generation; a way of seeing if they have learned from the mistakes of those who came before them and establishing their worthiness to enter the Promised Land. In other words, one event can serve multiple purposes. At the same time, just because we know history does not mean we have learned from it. Apparently, in the case of our ancestors they did. Otherwise, who knows how many generations it would have taken before God would have been able to fulfill his promise of taking us into Eretz Israel.
Spiritual and RitualFor some there seems to be a tension, almost a contradiction between Spirituality and Ritual - as if the two are mutually exclusive. In reality the two should be inclusive with the Spiritual providing the reason for Ritual and Ritual providing tangible support and evidence for the Spiritual. In chapter eleven, verses 18 through 20, we read words that have led us to wear tefillin, create schools and put up a mezuzah on our doorways. But verse 18 begins with the admonition to “put these words upon your heart and upon your soul.” How does one do that? There are those who would say that this is a call for one to believe, to believe in God. In other words, rituals only have their fullest meaning when we internalize the words of God. Ritual without belief can turn to superstition. Belief without ritual can be lost because people often need physical manifestation as a reminder of what they carry in their minds and heart.
Ill-gotten GainsThe Torah commands us to “not bring an abomination into thy house” (). This originally referred to idols or anything related to idolatry. So this must be an easy command to obey since we no longer live in a time of idol worship. Not necessarily, according to the sages. The Torah is a living teacher and the concept of an “abomination” was extended to include anything that was purchased with funds earned in a manner contrary to the teachings of the Torah. According to this interpretation, “the same lust that propels people to worship idols propels them to seek monetary gain in other forbidden areas.” The ramifications of this interpretation could have a profound effect upon Jewish fundraising if taken to its logical conclusion.
The Six RemembrancesAccording to some sages’ interpretation of the Torah, there are six occurrences that we are to remember at all times. In an effort to comply with this injunction, following the Morning Service, many Jews recite the Six Remembrances. Five of them come from Devarim and one from Shemot. The fourth of the Six Remembrances is found in this week’s sedrah. “Remember, do not forget that you anger the Lord your God in the Wilderness” (9:7). This is the Remembrance of the Golden Calf. This tragic episode came about because of the Israelites’ loss of faith. When Moshe did not return when they thought he was supposed to, they lost faith and created the Calf. As the notes in the Artscroll Siddur point out, the reading is a daily reminder “that we must have faith in God’s promise and never deviate from His Torah, even if we think that we have found a better way to serve Him.”
Ekev and a Play on WordsThe fact that the Hebrew word Ekev has various meanings including “because,” “reward” and “heel” has given rise to numerous commentaries and rabbinic tales. In one Chasidic story a man of little learning but great piety is disparaged as being an Ekev, a heel. The local Rebbe turns this term of derision into a term of praise by reminding everybody of the Talmudic sage named Akavya ben Mahalalel. The name Akavaya is a variant of the word Ekev so the sage’s name translates as “the Ekev of him who is mehalel El” or “the heel of him who praises God.” (El is a Hebrew term for the name of God.) Now if this great scholar can be a “heel” how could anybody use the term Ekev to disparage one of his fellow Jews? Here is a not so Chasidic twist on this same name. Akavaya is the one who provided these lines for Pirke Avot, “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know from where you came, and to where you are going and before whom you are destined to give an accounting.” All three of these require an Ekev, heel, to ensure the final Ekev, reward. Remembering that when people walk they go heel - toe - heel, one needs a strong heel (Ekev) to come from some place, one needs a strong heel (Ekev) to go someplace and one needs a strong heel (Ekev) when giving the final accounting because (Ekev) one must stand when one hears the word of his final reward (Ekev).
Rashi on EkevThe opening verse of this week’s portion reads, “And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” (). Rashi takes the word “heed” which in Hebrew is Ekev and applies another meaning of the word - “Heel.” He then says that If you will heed the minor commandments which one (usually) tramples with his heels (i.e., which a person treats as being of minor importance) then “the Lord, your God, will keep” His promise to you.
Ekev - A Personal NoteEkev can mean “heed” as well as “blessing.” Ekev is also the root of the name Jacob. If one takes heed of Jacob it will be a blessing. In my case I had an uncle (of blessed memory) named Jacob, of whom I took “heed” which certainly was a blessing in my life. And as if to double down on this, my grandson is also Jacob and he certainly is a blessing to us all.
“And to serve Him with all your heart” (11:13)This verse found in Ekev has given rise to several Chasidic commentaries and stories. Here are a few examples and variations. (For those of you, who are acquainted with such stories, please excuse the literary license.)
How can one who feels himself heavy with sin pray? A portly man who had been a reliable attendee at the local minyan stopped coming to the synagogue for an extended period of time. And then as suddenly as he had stopped coming he returned to the daily prayers with a fervor beyond that which he had shown before. Nobody understood the reason for the disappearance or the reason for the reappearance. Finally one of the congregants sought him and asked for an explanation. The man explained that one day while praying a thought crossed his mind: “How dare you pray to the Almighty when you are so full of sin?” I had no answer so I ceased praying. But then I noticed that when I would eat I never heard the question: “How dare you eat when you are so full of sin?” If a sinner could eat and his nourish his body, surely he could pray to nourish his soul, especially since his sinful soul needed nourishing more than his body. Thus I left and thus I returned.
At what speed should one pray? “Reb Yisrael used to take a long time over his prayers. Reb Shalom would recite his prayers hastily.” Both prayed at the proper speed. Reb Yisrael loved his prayers “so much that he could not bring himself to part with them.” Reb Shalom loved his prayers so much that “he could not restrain his eagerness to make them his.” One should pray at the speed that enables him or her to ensure that they are serving Him with all of their heart.
When praying, must one feel a sense of ecstasy? It is the custom among some Jews to study before reciting their prayers. A man was bothered by the fact that he felt totally immersed in the Divine Spirit when he would study. But when turned to recite his prayers, the feeling was lost. He was troubled by this seeming dichotomy until his Rebbe asked him, “So what does it matter to you if you pray before you say your prayers?” In other words, there is more than one way or time to feel the Divine Spirit. Revel in the moments when you do and work to extend into the rest of your life.
Giving the 10 Commandments - The Rest of the StoryLast week’s reading contained a short-form version of the giving of the Ten Commandments. This week Moses fills in the gap. In other week, it takes two weeks’ worth of readings for him to provide the whole story as told in Exodus. No explanation is offered for this form of the recreation of the events. But there is no doubt that Moses wants the people to remember that he went to bat for them; that he interceded with God on their behalf? Could this be his way of asking for somebody to intercede with God on his behalf so that he could enter the Promised Land? We can only speculate, but we will never know.
Bible QuizWhy will God “cast out” the inhabitants of
In Ekev, what two miracles does Moses say took placed during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness? The clothes did not wear out and the feet did not swell. (8:4).
Why did Moses say that the Levites were to have no inheritance or portion of the land? The Lord is the inheritance of the Levites. (10:9).
What is the difference between(Source: Nelson’s Amazing Bible Trivia Book One)
and Egypt Canaan as regards water? The
was watered by the hand of man. The land
of Canaan was watered by the rain from heaven. land of Egypt
Haftarah49:14-51:3 Yeshayahu (Isaiah)
The Man and the Book: Chapters forty through sixty-six of the Book of Isaiah are probably the work of an unknown Jewish author who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. during the Babylonian exile. We know nothing about his personal life, not even his name. In fact, we do not even know that the author was a “he.” The Haftarah Commentary by Plaut points out that the author was “highly innovative in his literary work. For example he employed female imagery for the Almighty.…” Could the use of female imagery at this time be an indication that this was the work of a woman? Nobody knows, but it does give one pause to think. It would appear that the message of this Second Isaiah helped the Jews avoid assimilation during the exile. He reminded them that they had “a special relationship to God, but because of their sins” they had been exiled. However a merciful and forgiving God would pardon them if they would repent in a sincere manner. Just as God had forgiven the Israelites for the Episode of the Spies and let them enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering, so He would let the Jews finally return to
from the Babylonian Captivity. Jerusalem
The Message: The reading opens with the Israelites sounding like “a deserted and forgotten wife bemoaning her fate.” Of course, it is the Israelites who had deserted God, but God does not remind them of that. Instead, he responds reassuringly. There are several moving images of connectivity followed by the famous question, “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, Where with I have put her away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you?” (50:1). The Israelites transgressed and were punished for their transgressions. But God has not severed His relationship with them. They will return to their former glory once they have shown themselves to be true followers of Adonai. And how does one “seek the Eternal?” One seeks the eternal by pursuing Justice.
The Message/The Power of One: “Why when I came, was no one there, why when I called would no one respond?” (50:2).
“Listen to Me you who pursue justice, you who seek the Lord…Look back Abraham your father and to Sarah who brought you forth. For he (Abraham) was only one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.” (51:1-2).
The haftarah carries a secondary message on the importance that God places on the actions of each individual. In a sense of bewilderment, God asks why not even one person responded to Him. Would the outcome have been different if one person had? We do not know. All we know is that since not even one person responded, the whole House of Israel suffered its fate. At the same time the Lord reminds us that we cannot put off our obligation to create a just society until we have sufficient numbers to support the cause. After all, the House of Israel began with only one person who heard the still small voice and acted accordingly. Since each person can make a difference, each person must make a difference.
Theme-Link: The connection is not with the text of the sedrah. The connection is with the calendar. This is the second of the seven special prophetic readings known as the Haftarot of Consolation read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. They are meant to comfort the Jewish people after the loss of the
They also provide a reminder of God’s forgiving nature as Jews prepare
for the upcoming Penitential Season. Temple
Copyright, Mitchell A. Levin, August, 2016