Saturday 31st July 2021 22nd Av 5781
PARASHAT EIKEV David Friedman, UMJC Rabbi, Jerusalem
Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25; Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3; Matthew 16:13 - 20
ON THE BORDER OF THE PROMISED LAND
As our parashah begins, our ancestors are standing on the border of the Land of Promise, readying themselves to enter by listening to Moshe’s teachings for a month-long time period. Our entire parashah illustrates a valid point for us today: unless we remember the past, our present has no foundation. As our people have put it often, ma’aseh avot, siman l’banim, “what happened to our ancestors in the past is a lesson for us, their descendants.”
The coming entry into Israel for our ancestors must have been an exciting time. Their nomadic existence was about to change, as they would now eat normal food, drink water from springs and rivers in the Land, experience cooler weather, live in their own private homes on their own private land holdings, and be able to pursue their own affairs. To live properly, according to the Torah, would be the center-point of this new national life. This alone would determine whether the tribes would be blessed by God in their new home. So we find Moshe busy, driving home lessons for the people to remember as they embark on their new life together.
Moshe emphasized something crucial in his tamsit (the overall main point of our parashah’s teaching). We find it in Deuteronomy 10:12–13:
And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God, ask of you? Only to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship Adonai your God, with all your heart and with all your life, and to keep the instructions of Adonai, and His statutes, which I teach you this day, for your good. (Chabad translation, modified)
Everything that Moshe instructs the people in today’s parashah centers around these two verses. Fearing God, loving him, keeping his instructions and worshiping him is what Moshe is encouraging them to do. Indeed, the things mentioned in these two verses are all-encompassing. All of life was to be brought under the protective and holy wings of God. Similar to Deuteronomy 6:4–6, which we read in last week’s parasha, these verses are telling us that every aspect of life is to be lived for God’s purposes. This is not a complicated message. It’s not secretive, it's not reserved for only kohens, Levites and tribal elders. It is what is required of everyone in the nation, from all 12 tribes.
What would be the consequences if the nation did what vv. 12–13 state? What would happen if the entire nation followed and obeyed God? Once again today’s parashah answers this question:
And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that Adonai your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your cattle and the choice of your flocks, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock. And Adonai will remove from you all illness, and all of the evil diseases of Egypt which you knew, He will not set upon you, but He will lay them upon all your enemies. (7:12–15, Chabad translation)
In these verses we see God’s intentions—that the people would be blessed richly through their obedience and Torah-loving lifestyle. But as always, Torah is honest and gives us both sides of the story. What would be the consequences if the nation didn’t follow and obey God? (The book of Judges details what this looked like in real history.) Our parashah tells us what ignoring God’s instructions will result in:
If you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, and worship them, and prostrate yourself before them, I bear witness against you this day, that you will surely perish. (Deut 8:19)
Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away and worship strange gods and prostrate yourselves before them. And the wrath of Adonai will be kindled against you, and He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that Adonai gives you. (Deut 11:16–17)
In a common ancient Torah discussion (termed pilpul, literally a “peppering” of questions and answers), our holy Messiah was asked: “Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah (instruction) in the Torah?” The questioner was asking Yeshua, “Rabbi, would you boil the Torah down to what we have to do to please God?” It’s not a bad question; in fact it’s a good one, one that lots of rabbis were asked and responded to throughout Jewish history, up until today. Our holy Messiah Yeshua responded: “‘Love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your life, and with all your wealth.’ 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 instructions.” (Matt 22:37–40 NIV, modified)
At the very end of our parashah, the previous instructions of Deuteronomy 6 are repeated. They explain to us that the Torah must always be set before us, as our blueprint, our guide, and must always encompass our ideals as a people:
And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your life, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way and when you lie down and when you rise. (11:18–19, Chabad translation)
So today’s parashah is Moshe’s tamsit for Israel, that is, his focus on a main and crucial point that he continually emphasizes throughout all of his teachings in the Torah. He strategically teaches it in today’s parashah, right before the entry into the Land of Israel. That time was a very historic and important set of days in which to review how to live in order to receive God’s blessings in the Land. And that is what we see him doing: teaching vigorously so that the people will take what is important to them into the Land, and remember . . . to love Adonai at all times. We should pay attention to this crucial teaching today, so that its truth will not be lost upon us, the banim (descendants) of ancient Israel. As it is written: ma’aseh avot, siman l’banim—what happened to our ancestors is a lesson for us.