Sermons and Parsha'iot          Parshat Ekev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

    Summary

    The name of this week's parasha is Ekev which literally means "on the heels of." "Ekev" can also be understood as "the consequence of" or "the result of." In this parasha "the result of" the Israelites' following God's rules means that they will continue to enjoy the benefits of the covenant made by God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These benefits include health, abundant produce, and fertility, because "man does not live on bread alone, but on anything that God decrees." Moses reminds the people that, in addition to these blessings, all of their enemies will be defeated and they will be able to enter the Land with God's help.

    Moses recalls the hardships the Israelite people faced during their 40 years in the desert. Yet, despite everything, they survived - their clothing did not wear out, their feet did not swell, and there was manna to eat. Moses reminds the people that both the difficulties and the remedies were provided by God. Moses explains to the people that God disciplines them like a parent disciplines a child, in order to teach them to keep the commandments.

    Israel is about to enter the Land and Moses cautions them to maintain their faith in God and to remember that it is not by their own strength that the Land will be conquered or with their their hands alone that the Land will bear fruit. All that they have and all that they will enjoy comes from God. They are to remember this always. Moses tells the people that when they have eaten they are to bless God for the good land that they have been given.

    Moses warns them against smugness and self-righteousness. It is not on account of their virtues that they are to get the Land, but because of the wickedness of its previous inhabitants whom God is dispossessing. Moses reminds them that they, too, are without merit. As evidence, he cites their major acts of defiance: the making of the Golden Calf, complaints about the food and water, and the incident of the scouts spying out the land. Moses also reminds the people of how he interceded and pleaded their case with God. Moses tells them that it was because of what he himself did on their behalf that they are able to enter the Land.

    Again and again throughout this parasha Moses stresses to the people that they must obey the commandments and maintain their faith in God. In so doing, the people will enjoy lives of abundant goodness. Moses advises the people to "Cut away . the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For Adonai your God . shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You, too, must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:16-19). In particular, chapter 11:13-21 repeats the fundamental Deuteronomic theme: the Land of Israel is dependent on rain, and God will provide the rains in their season only if the Hebrews keep the commandments and stay away from idolatrous practices. (In its siddur, the Reconstructionist movement has proposed an alternative text from Deuteronomy to replace this passage about rainfall as the second paragraph of the Shema.)

    Commentary

    • Deuteronomy 8:10 is the basis for the Birkat Ha-Mazon, the traditional blessing after meals. After describing the good land that is waiting for the Israelites to enter, Moses instructs them that when they have eaten their fill from this land, they are to give thanks to God. He warns them that after they have eaten their fill, built fine homes, seen their flocks multiply, their gold and silver increase and everything they have prosper they must beware that their hearts do not become haughty and they forget Adonai their God. Commenting on Moses' warning, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt has written, "Moses recognizes that there is danger in this bounty: intoxication by plenty. It is the kind of intoxication that will lead them to forget the source of their blessing." 

    • This parasha refers to  the various hardships that the Israelites underwent in the wilderness as yisurin, a concept which the rabbis elaborated as "yisurin shel ahava" - usually translated as the "chastisements of love." (Indeed, the Hebrew word yisurin has the double meaning of "chastisement" and of "instruction.") The parasha speaks of these chastisements as God's way of disciplining the Jewish people - just as a parent disciplines his or her child in love. Does one have to suffer in order to be a better person? . a better Jew? 

    • This parasha contains the basis for the commandments of mezuzah and tefillin. Both these objects contain verses from the Sh'ma: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.) Maimonides taught that the mezuzah was a constant visual reminder of the presence God and that upon leaving or entering one's home, the individual seeing the mezuzah would be reminded to love God, forget unimportant everyday concerns and, placing God first, choose the right path of behavior. 

    Some Thoughts and Questions

    1. Moses tells the Israelites that God disciplines them like a parent disciplines a child. God's purpose in disciplining the people was to get them to obey the commandments. Why do your parents discipline you? What lessons or behaviors do they want you to learn? Share some examples. Discuss how discipline effects the members of your family. 

    2. Although this parasha commands us to bless after eating, the Talmud also commands us to bless our food before we eat it as well. Indeed, the rabbis say that whoever enjoys something pleasurable without making a blessing commits a theft against God. They also taught that "a loaf of bread on the table is a greater miracle than the parting of the Red Sea." What do you think they meant by this? What "miracles" does it take to get food on the table in your house? Is it easier and/or more significant to bless on a full stomach than an empty one? Why would eating without blessing be like a theft? Who do you usually thank for a meal? Why? How do you show your gratitude and appreciation when a meal begins and when the meal is over? 

    3. While they were wandering in the desert, the people were tested with hardships. In what ways is the Promised Land also a test of the people? What different set of skills were required for coping with the challenges of the Promised Land as opposed to coping with a life of wandering?

      What life circumstances affect your turning to God? In what ways is it easier or harder to follow God's laws when one is facing hardship? What is different about following God when one is in the midst of luxury? What do you think Dr. Lipstadt meant by the expression "intoxication by plenty?" Have you ever felt intoxicated by plenty? What were the circumstances? What was the outcome of this intoxication? 

    4. Moses is telling the people to be mindful of their relationship with God and that the blessings they will enjoy are not from their own hands but the source of these blessing is Adonai. To what do you credit your blessings? What about your hardships? Describe the ways you have tried to be or are trying to be mindful of your relationship with God? 

    5. Commenting on thihs parasha, Nehama Leibowitz has written that humankind sees only the visible miracles and not the hidden everyday miracles that are all around us. For this reason, the writers of our liturgy obligated us to give thanks on a regular, daily basis. We find these words in the Amidah: "We thank You and sing Your praises: for our lives, which are in Your hand, for our souls, which are in Your keeping; for the signs of Your presence we encounter everyday; and for Your wondrous gifts at all times, morning, noon, and night" What are some of those everyday "wondrous gifts" you often take for granted?