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Parashat Ekev 5778 — 08/04/2018

Parashat Ekev 5778 — 08/04/2018

Deut 7:12-11:25

Now, O Israel, what does Hashem, Your Gd, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your Gd, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your Gd, with all your heart and all your soul, to observe the commandments of Gd and His decrees, which I command you today for your benefit (10:12).
Deeficult for you, easy for me! Señor Wences

The commentators all question how Moshe Rabbeinu could tell the nation that Gd “only” insisted that we love Gd with all our hearts and we not deviate from Gd’s ways even by a hairbreadth?! Maybe for Moshe it was no big deal, and even he slipped up on occasion – after all, he wasn’t going to be entering the Land of Israel because of a deviation from Gd’s command when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it! What is this “only” business?

Abarbanel takes the approach that the sequence of expressions in our quote is a hierarchy of states, and that the “only” refers to the first state, which, in fact, should not be that difficult to attain. Thus:

  1. Lowest level: Fear of Hashem – this is fear of negative consequences of violating Gd’s Will, which, to a certain extent, is innate in everyone. We all naturally fear physical pain, discomfort and death, and those who were present at the various disasters in the desert – the golden calf, the spies, etc. – saw that pain and death were the consequences of not following Gd’s word.
  2. The 2nd step: Going in His ways. It is the individual’s responsibility to avoid transgression, and not to deviate from the path Gd has set out for us.
  3. The 3rd step: Love of Gd. This incorporates a higher level of fear – awe of Gd’s incomparable majesty.
  4. The last step: “For your benefit” – Gd does not need our service. Gd is complete and Self-sufficient and, truthfully, there is nothing outside of Gd. His commandments are a way to fulfill our potential to attach ourselves to Gd, which is the highest bliss one can attain.

It is not clear to me why the last item is a step in a progression; it rather seems like an intellectual understanding that one should have at the beginning of the path! Also, it seems like the second step is not much different than the first – if we are avoiding suffering, then the way to do it is to recognize that deviating from Gd’s Will leads to suffering! Admittedly, sometimes this connection is obscured, and some would argue that Gd purposely obscures it in order to give our free will enough play to either recognize Gd’s working in the world, or to ascribe our fate to “chance” or the working of the laws of nature. I find this latter view a bit unnerving, as if Gd, our loving Father in Heaven, is purposely setting us up to fail so that He can punish us for being imperfect. It also can lead to a pernicious blame-the-victim type of mentality we often see from TV talking heads who seem to have to have someone to point a finger at whenever there is natural disaster.

Nevertheless, human beings were put on this earth for a good reason, and that is to come close to Gd; what we get out of this is the feeling of intense bliss that comes from a real, lived, permanent connection with the Infinite. What Gd “gets out of it,” so to speak, is that Creation, which started out as an emanation away from Gd, i.e. in the direction of finite objects rather than infinite, pure, object-less Existence, has now come around full circle: human beings, the crown of creation, recognize that the entire creation is not now, nor ever was, separate from Gd. Gd, as it were, gains an even greater level of wholeness than was available without any creation at all.

Now it seems that Gd could have created His creation so that mankind naturally was on that exalted level of consciousness that knew Gd and could never slip backwards. Apparently that is not what Gd wants however. Gd wants us to become enlightened the old-fashioned way – we have to earn it. The Rabbis explain that when one lives on handouts, so to speak, one feels ashamed that he cannot earn his keep. So Gd gives us the opportunity to “earn” enlightenment.

This is where the issue of “only” comes in. It would seem impossible for anything finite to come into any kind of relationship with the infinite, let alone to “cling to” Gd. The Rabbis acknowledge this difficulty – on the verse (30:20) that commands us to cling to Gd, they ask, if Gd is a consuming fire (4:24) how can one cling to him. They propose that it means clinging to something else that is finite, but closer to Gd, such as Torah or Torah Sages. But this just pushes off the question. How does clinging to a Sage, help us cling to Gd? The Sage may be “closer” to Gd than we are, but he, being finite, is also infinitely far away!

I would like to propose another interpretation. It is our common experience that our minds seek out greater happiness at every opportunity. If we are engaged in a boring conversation and we overhear a snippet of something more interesting elsewhere, the mind immediately, without any effort on our part, goes to the more interesting conversation.

Now consider the following. Whenever we perceive an object there are three elements: the perceiver (that is us, our subjectivity), the object, and the process of perception. Now suppose the object begins to fade away, like a movie fading out at the end. When the object has completely faded, we are left only with the perceiver, our Self, awake within itself, in a state of pure consciousness devoid of any objects of consciousness. This state of consciousness is truly infinite, since there are no boundaries of perception, no things and therefore no space, nothing to move or change and therefore no conception of time either. This state is an infinitely settled, calm and blissful state of the mind, and therefore, given the proper direction, the mind will go in this direction automatically because of its natural tendency to seek greater happiness.

I think we now have a better insight into what Moshe meant by “only.” What he is asking us to do is not difficult, rather it is effortless. He is asking us to expand our minds to encompass infinity as a direct perception, a directly experienced reality. On that basis we have a significant way of loving Gd, of being in awe of Gd, and of being beyond the temptations of the world to violate Gd’s Will. This is our inherent capability. Moshe is telling us “only” to be what we innately are.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parsashat Eikev

“…man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.” (Deuteronomy, 8:3, translation)

Since everything comes forth from the mouth of Gd — all the diversity and stages of Creation were and are continually created from Gd’s words—this statement needs interpretation.

A good way to look at this is that Gd wants us to humbly open ourselves to the Wholeness that is Gd and not to be lost in fragments like bread.

This principle allows us to experience and act on all the commandments Gd has given in Torah — not just the Ten, but all 613.
Trying to obey them from the limited level of our individuality, this would hard. And yet Moses speaks Gd’s word to us in this parshah: obey and be blessed. Disobey and be cursed?

Through humility, however, we open our heart to Wholeness, to all the streams, letters, words, stories, commandments that perpetually reside in Wholeness, Gd, One.

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.  This harmony grows when we humbly prepare ourselves each day with whatever of Torah we can, whether it is letter or spirit, and innocently do 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 it to all lives.

In this way the appropriate commandments and the appropriate obedience occur to us as they are needed 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.

We, in our congregation, do seem to be humble, joyful, loving, blessed so we seem to be substantially 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, be Loved and to be restored to the Awareness that there is nothing but Wholeness, Gd, One and we are This One, playing the game of hide-and-seek, playing the role of our individuality and of all individualities.

Baruch HaShem