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Parashat Ekev 5777 — 08/12/2017

Parashat Ekev 5777 — 08/12/2017

Deut 7:12-11:25

          Hashem, your Gd, will thrust these nations from before you little by little; you will not be able to destroy them quickly, lest the beasts of the field increase against you. (7:22)

          But is it not true that if they perform the Will of the Omnipresent they do not fear beasts? … But it was revealed before Him that they were destined to sin.  (Rashi ad loc, quoting Sifrei 50)

          It requires greater merit to be protected from wild animals than from human enemies.  The verse speaks of the time of the conquest of the Land, when Israel was neither wicked nor perfectly righteous.  They were worthy of vanquishing their enemies, but not of supernatural protection against wild animals (Maskil leDavid).  (Artscroll notes ad loc)

         Then they [Yosef’s brothers] took him [Yosef] and cast him into the pit; and the pit was empty, there was no water in it (Gen 37:24).

         From the implication of that which it says, “and the pit was empty” do I not know that “there was no water in it”?  … There was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.”  (Rashi ad loc, quoting Talmud Shabbat 22a)

It’s easy to see the connection between the two verses as our Sages explain them.  In both cases animals, which of course are incapable of moral choice, pose a danger to human beings.  Also, other human beings pose a danger (the Canaanites in our verse, Yosef’s brothers in the verse from Genesis).  The question is: which is a more “difficult” situation for Gd to get our hero out of – the animals or the human beings?

Artscroll’s note to our verse quotes Maskil leDavid, a supercommentary on Rashi’s commentary, by R. David Pardo (1719-1792, Italy and Jerusalem), coming down squarely on the side of the animals.  I don’t have the text of Maskil leDavid so I don’t know what his reasoning is.  Apparently, having the “lion lie down with the lamb,” or rather, with your children, is a bigger miracle than defeating powerful enemy armies.  Perhaps forcing animals to act contrary to their instincts is more out of the ordinary that defeating an army in battle.  After all, in a battle somebody has to lose, and it’s certainly not always the more powerful army that loses.  The Canaanites may have been powerful, but the Israelites, hardened by 40 years of wandering in the desert, were no pushovers either.  So perhaps it only took a little bit of Divine assistance to overcome their human adversaries, while overcoming the wild beasts required a change in the order of nature.

In any event, there is an equation between “degree of difficulty” of the miracle and the level of merit that an individual or a group must have before Gd will perform it.  This fits in with Ramban’s dictum that Gd strives to run the world as much as possible according to the laws of nature, and will only create an open miracle if it is warranted by extreme circumstances.

In the case of Yosef it appears that we should reach the opposite conclusion.  I heard the following analysis in a lecture by R. David Gottlieb, who is on the faculty of Ohr Somayach, a Jewish outreach organization. The Torah text just tells us that Reuven prevailed upon his brothers to throw Yosef into the pit in order to save him from being executed.  The Midrash fills in the detail that the brothers had actually convened as a Beit Din and tried Yosef in absentia for threatening to overthrow Yehudah as the tribe from which the kings of Israel would come (past, present and future sometimes get conflated in Midrash).  He was duly convicted and sentenced to death for rebellion.

Reuven must have realized that this was a kangaroo court (although Australia was unknown in the Mideast at the time), and decided to save Yosef.  One opinion is that nobody knew that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit, because it was too deep.  The other opinion holds that Reuven knew that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit, but reasoned as follows.  If Yosef were completely righteous, it didn’t matter whether Reuven “saved” him or not – Gd would save him, either from the brothers or from the pit.  If he were not very righteous at all, again, it wouldn’t matter whether Reuven saved him or not – in either case Gd would let him perish, either at his brothers’ hands or by snakebite.

The only case in which Reuven’s action could have made a difference is if Yosef were of some intermediate level of righteousness, in which case Gd would have saved him from the lesser evil, but might not have saved him from the greater evil.  Since Reuven actually put him into the pit, he obviously believed that it takes less merit to be saved from animals, and more merit to be saved from human beings.  This is the opposite of what Maskil leDavid says.  R. Gottlieb goes on to state that while it is generally Gd’s policy to allow the world to operate according to “natural law,” He will make an exception if a particularly righteous person, whom He needs on earth, is in a dangerous situation.  However, if this dangerous situation involves other human beings, and to save the person it would require vitiating the other people’s free will, then it really requires extraordinary merit on the part of the endangered person before Gd will save him.

Free will is perhaps what makes us uniquely human, created in the image of Gd.  Gd gifted it to us, allowing us to act according to His Will, or otherwise.  May He also grant us all wisdom to choose the right path.

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Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parashat Eikev

Can we obey all the commandments that Gd gives in Torah? The benefit is: be blessed. If we do not, we will be cursed.

Perhaps the solution is given by Moses in this Parshah:

Moses says (Deuteronomy 11:20 “For if you shall diligently keep all this Commandment which I command you, to do it, to love the Lord, your Gd, to walk in all  His ways, and to cleave to Him…”

(Kabbalistic Bible, edited by Yehuda Berg)…then all be well, the Lord will drive out the nations before you and the land shall be yours.

Putting Gd  first, loving Gd, we are guided by His Love to walk in His Ways and our life is a life in harmony with Gd.

To me this means humbly preparing ourselves each day with whatever of Torah we can, whether it is letter or spirit, and innocently doing our best to live a good life, a holy life, being practical, but not letting our concept of practical dominate, letting it serve the purpose of loving Gd, loving Wholeness, not being lost in detail, being charmed by detail only to the point that it serves the growth of Love of Gd, of Wholeness, in our life, and spreads around us.

In this way, perhaps the appropriate commandments and the appropriate obedience will occur to us in a joyful, effortless way so that our lives become a blessing and Gd’s blessings come to us and through us to all around us.

It seems to me that, whenever I meet with members of our Congregation, I feel a lot of love and joy coming from everyone.

We, in our congregation, do seem to be blessed so we seem to be following Gd’s commandment as Moses presented it to us 3500 years ago and, as on the deep level of Wholeness, Moses is still presenting it to us, and Gd is still blessing us and giving us the simplicity to love and be Loved.

Baruch HaShem