Parashat Ekev by David Friedman, UMJC rabbi, Jerusalem
Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3; Matt 16:13 - 20
So now Israel, what does Adonai your God ask from you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him, as well as to serve Adonai your God with all your mind and all your life; to watch over Adonai’s instructions and statutes that I am instructing you today, for your own good. (Deut 10:12–13, my translation)
These two verses are the center piece and crown of Parashat Ekev.
They are the summary statement of what God required (and requires) of Israel. Moshe is summarizing the lessons of 40 years in the Sinai desert, and this is his tamsit, Hebrew for what we call the “bottom line” lesson, of the experiences that the nation had just been through.
Why does Moshe give such a bottom-line conclusion here, in Deuteronomy 10? As Moshe summarizes the important lessons for the tribes to remember, his time to die is rapidly approaching. A new leader will take his place, and the people will reach their destiny, entrance into the Land of Promise. So Moshe is being strategic in his leadership: it was the moment to make things clear and definite! It was the time to spell things out so there could be no question as to what was needed to survive, prosper, and fulfill God’s calling. These were crucial days in which to review how to live in the Land in order to receive God’s blessings. The stakes were high!
What would be the consequences if the tribes followed and obeyed God?
And it will be if you hear and do these judgments (i.e. keep the Torah); that is, guard over them and perform them, that Adonai your God will enforce the covenant with its covenant-love that He swore to your fathers. And He will love you, give you reason to bow your knees in thanksgiving, make you fruitful with children, bless your agricultural produce—your grain, your wines, your oil; the calves of your herds, the lambs of your flocks, in the Land that He swore to give to your fathers. (Deut 7:12–13, my translation)
Following Torah as a people, in the Land, would be the key to living a happy, secure, and blessed life. Israel, possessing the Land and taking on the yoke (in a very positive sense) of Torah, would be like a foretaste of the Kingdom of heaven here on earth.
And what would be the consequences if the nation distanced itself from the Torah, the very words of God?
Just read the book of Judges, and there we see such results: chaos, oppression, poverty, and occupation by enemies. Entering the book of Judges, we encounter a totally different mood than we met in the preceding book of Joshua. One can almost feel the depression, the despair, and the evil forces that were harassing the tribes in the Land.
Moshe’s summary statement was given as a reminder to avoid entering such a sad reality. Moshe emphasized the need to love and fear God with all our individual and collective hearts. And this was to be expressed by a careful keeping of the Torah. So verses 10:12–13 constitute a clear summary teaching of all that Moshe taught Israel over the entire book of Deuteronomy.
Moshe’s issuing of a quick summary statement of needed action was a common method of teaching Torah in ancient Israel. Many ensuing rabbis issued their tamsit of what it means to follow and love God.
Our Messiah Yeshua took part in such a tamsit discussion in response to the question, “Rabbi, which is the greatest instruction in the Torah?” (Matt 22:37).
Our holy rabbi was being asked to quickly boil down the Torah and state what we have to do to follow God. Rabbinic literature records many rabbis being asked to do this very same thing. The prophet Micah does this in his chapter 6, verse 8. Habbakuk does this in his chapter 2, verse 4. Rabbis Shimon HaTsaddik and Yohanan have their teachings on this same question recorded. Tractate Makkot of the Talmud records a long, intergenerational discussion with different opinions and conclusions on this very question. Summary statements on how to please God by Amos, Isaiah, and King David are included in that discussion.
So our Rabbi Yeshua responded to this question with his tamsit, and gave a bottom-line summary:
“Love Adonai your God with all your mind, and with all your life, and with all your resources.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matt 22:37–40, NIV modified)
When we look at the teachings of both Moshe and Messiah Yeshua here, we see that they complement each other wonderfully. What Moshe explains, Yeshua extrapolates upon in simple, dynamic fashion (as he almost always did in his teachings).
So let us ask, “How do we love as Yeshua instructed us to love?” When we believe in Yeshua as Messiah, our mind begins a transformation that God will direct:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2, NIV)
This powerful and dynamic transformation includes learning our true identity—which answers the question, “Who am I and why am I alive?”
God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:16, ESV modified)
Messiah empowers us to know and to practice our true identity, who we are:
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh (God’s Spirit), who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5)
As his love fills our lives, we can show this very love both to him and to others.
Today’s parasha encourages us to remember the past and its lessons for today. Unless we remember the past, our present has no foundation. How is Moshe’s bottom-line lesson relevant to us today? In answer to that, we will end by asking this: Where can we—you and I—find the lessons of the past that give us the right perspective on the present? In the Torah and in our history; these are the tools that Moshe used to teach Israel.