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Parashat Ekev 5779 — 08/24/2019

Parashat Ekev 5779 — 08/24/2019

Deut 7:12-11:25

There are three sections of our parashah that have to do with our dependence on Gd. They all approach the issue from a different angle, but they have this common thread, which of course is of crucial importance to the way we approach our relationship with Gd and with the world. The three passages are the passage of Birkat haMazon / Blessing after Eating; the blessing of the Land; and the second paragraph of the Shema.

With regard to Birkat haMazon R. Goldin observes:

In the words of the Meshech Chochmah, “When one eats and is satisfied, one is likely to rebel. Gd, therefore, commands the nation to recall His name and to bless Him, specifically at the point of satiation, and to remember that He is the One Who gives man power to succeed” (Meshech Chochma to Devarim 8:10). … According to the approach of the Meshech Chochmah and others, man blesses Gd for man’s sake, in order to enable man to achieve and maintain proper life perspective.

In praising the Land of Israel, Moses tells the people:

For the land to which you come, to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot, like a garden of vegetables. And the land to which you cross over to possess it is a land of mountains and valleys; from the rain of the heavens you shall drink water. A land that the Lord your Gd seeks out; constantly the eyes of the Lord your Gd are upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end. (11:10-12)

R. Goldin comments:

Couched directly after an admonition to observe the mitzvot and directly before the second paragraph of the Sh’ma, with its clear description of divine reward and punishment, Moshe’s message to the people concerning Canaan is succinctly summed up in the words of the Rashbam: “This land is the best of all lands for those who observe the mitzvot, and the worst of all lands for those who do not.”

… Gd, Moshe emphasizes, wants the Israelites to live in a land where their dependence upon Him will be clearly before them, front and center, each day of their lives.

Finally, in the second paragraph of the Sh’ma (11:13-21), the ultimate result of not keeping Gd’s mitzvot, and, in particular, of following “strange gods” (including the various “isms” that Jews have run after in the last centuries), is exile from the Land. Immediately following this Torah tells us “And you shall place these words of Mine upon your hearts and upon your souls, and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hands and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (The latter statement is the mitzvah of t’fillin.) The segue is strange. R. Goldin writes:

So troubling is this textual flow that a number of commentaries, including the Malbim and the Netziv, refuse to accept it at face value. The directives concerning mitzvah observance contained in this passage, these scholars claim, reflect “backward,” textually, rather than “forward.” The obligation to mitzvot is not to be seen as a product of exile, but as a preventative to exile.

How can you avoid seduction, sin, punishment and exile? Gd rhetorically asks the nation. By observing My commandments, you will lengthen your days upon the land. … Through the observance of mitzvot, Gd promises, you will avoid the tragedy of exile…

The reading of the Malbim and the Netziv has always seemed to me to be the natural reading, especially if you render the vav at the beginning of the phrase “you shall place these words…” as “but” instead of “and.” It contrasts a life of mitzvot, a life where Gd’s Word is truly on our heart, with the life of exile and estrangement from Gd.

In fact, in all three of our cases, we are presented with the necessity of acknowledging our complete dependence on Gd, and therefore the necessity of living life the way He wants us to, thereby coming close to Him. The question is, “How?” In this case, we cannot say that it is by performing the mitzvot – that is the goal, to be able to perform the mitzvot flawlessly! It is true that performance of the mitzvot gradually attunes our mind and behavior to Gd’s Will. Nonetheless, this is working on the level of the body, which naturally wants to go in the direction of material sensations. That is why we are constantly speaking of forcing ourselves to do what is right, to break the nature of the body, to battle the inclination to evil (yetzer hara). It is unnatural and a strain and that is why so many fail at it.

Much easier and better, I think, is to work on the level of the soul directly. Just as the body goes naturally after its own material nature, so the soul goes naturally after its spiritual nature. The soul is a “portion of the Divine from above,” and it naturally gravitates back to its source in the Divine, spiritual realms. All we need to do is to stop projecting outward and let the mind naturally settle down within, until it experiences the transcendent, the pure spirit at the basis of everything. This directly aligns our mind with Gd’s Mind, and our behavior naturally then reflects this alignment. We become more and more united with Gd, more and more protected and nourished by Gd’s infinite Grace. Punishment and exile will no longer be necessary and we will enjoy long life on the glorious Land Gd has given us.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat 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 be hard and, at the moment, impossible since some of the commandments depend on the existence of the Temple. 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, including each of the 613 Commandments.

Baruch HaShem