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Parashat Ekev 5780 — 08/08/2020

Parashat Ekev 5780 — 08/08/2020

Deut 7:12-11:25

Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does Hashem, your Gd, drive them away from before you, and in order to fulfill the word that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Ya’akov. (9:5)

Lest we think that the generation that was about to enter the Land was not a righteous generation, Or haChaim disabuses us of this notion: The generation did not have enough merit to inherit the Land on its own. It needed additional merit, passed down from the wholly righteous Patriarchs, and from the promise Gd made to them on the basis of that complete righteousness. On the other hand, this “merit of the Patriarchs” (zechut avot) by itself is also not enough to guarantee entry into the Land, as the previous generation, which had, by this time, all died in the desert, shows. They had the same “merit of the Patriarchs” on their side, but in the incident of the Spies they blew it big time and lost their chance to lay eyes on the “Land flowing with milk and honey.”

Or haChaim quotes Raavad (Provence, 1125-1198) on a Mishnah in Eduyot: The time set before Hashem is according to the number of generations, as it says (Yeshayah 41:4), ‘He proclaims the generations from the beginning’ (end of Mishnah). Raavad writes: because He sees that a [certain] generation will be worthy, He bears with [the interim generations] until that [worthy] generation, such as the generation of Yehoshua. (Incidentally, Raavad uses the word mitgalgel / “bears with” which literally means “rolls with” – as if Gd has to roll with the punches until the right generation comes along. Or perhaps He rolls his eyes at their actions.)

To answer the question, if the merit of the Patriarchs is the determining factor in the Jews being given the Land, why did the first generation coming out of Egypt not inherit it, despite its failings? He states that while the merit the Jews had was insufficient on its own to allow them to enter the Land, their lack of merit could well be enough to prevent them from entering the Land, and this is what happened with the generation of the Exodus.

If I may inject a personal observation, we visited Israel for 9 months in 1982-83.  We wanted to make aliyah on the spot, but had obligations back in the US. We thought we would finish our business, pack and go. Then kids, divorce, remarriage, jobs all somehow kept getting in the way. All experiences we needed to have, growth processes we needed to undergo, beautiful little souls who needed our guidance, and who in many ways guided us. But we never got back to Israel, except for brief visits. I have often reflected on my own lack of merit that has kept me sitting in the Diaspora. Perhaps the purpose is to increase my longing to make aliyah, or perhaps I’m simply not ready. At least I’m in good company – Moshe never made it to the Land either.

I’d like to explore the relation between our righteousness and the merit of the Patriarchs (the Matriarchs are included in this by the way). This time I’m not going to make an analogy from physics, but from genetics. The winter of 1944-45 in Nazi-occupied Netherlands was one of almost entirely man-made famine (the Hongerwinter or “hunger winter”). Children born during this period were, as expected, of low birth weight. However, unexpectedly, the children of those children were also of low birth rate, suggesting that environmental conditions had altered the genetic information in the first generation of children, such that the second generation was able to inherit those changes. Although apparently the original results could not be replicated, other examples have been found. The study of such changes is called epigenetics.

Epigenetics takes place on the level of the physical body. In general, physical matter is not so very malleable, as anybody who has tried to pound a square peg into a round hole can attest. The spiritual realm, the realm of consciousness, is easier to work with. We are all aware of the uplifting effect a calm, peaceful home life can have on a child, and vice versa. Children tend to take after their parents, not only genetically, but socially, culturally and vocationally as well. There is an interplay between inheritance and socialization that makes each of us unique.

I think we have a similar thing occurring with the Jewish people. The Patriarchs progressively purified themselves, reaching a pinnacle in Ya’akov. Or haChaim describes the purification process in his comments to Genesis. Briefly, the impurities in Avraham were drawn out and appear in Yishmael. Whatever impurities were left in Yitzchak went to Eisav, leaving no impurity in Ya’akov.  Since all of Ya’akov’s sons were righteous men and became part of the people of Israel, we see that there were no impurities left in that line. Our Sages tell us that Ya’akov was one of only 4 people who could have survived a world governed solely by the Attribute of Strict Justice (midat hadin). The process of self-improvement the Patriarchs went through was apparently passed down to their offspring. But then the family went down to Egypt.

Now the socialization aspect took hold. The Jews became “gripped” by Egypt, assimilating to the point that when Gd allowed the Jews to cross the Sea and drowned the Egyptians, the angels pointed out the injustice, since both were idolaters. Gd answered that the Egyptians’ idolatry was genetic, while the Jews’ was only epigenetic. Nothing that 40 years wandering in the desert couldn’t cure.

So as the nation stood at the doorway of the Land of Israel, they had in their spiritual DNA the “merit of the Patriarchs,” the changes that the Patriarchs wrought upon themselves and were able to pass down to their descendants. They also had their own hard-won state of consciousness, purified by the trials of the desert, and ready to actualize their destiny. In our generation we, as a people, have merited to come back to the Land, physically. Our mission is to deserve it spiritually as well.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Eikev

“…man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lrd 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 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 including all the streams, letters, words, stories, commandments that are Expressions of Gd and 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. The land, physical and spiritual, belongs to us; not just the land but “The Land”, Home in the Wholeness that is 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