Word for the Herd: Torah from your favorite teacher
This week's Parsha is Eikev. In it Moshe is continuing his reminders to the C-O-I to keep the mitzvot and lists the blessings they will inherit from Cnaan as long as they stick with G-d (The word for stick has the same root as glue --- Dalet, Vet, Kof).
In Eikev we find the second paragraph of the Ve'ahavta prayer, something most Conservative and Orthodox shuls recite silently during prayer or Tefilah. It outlines the specific agricultural blessings and curses that go along with following commandments.
Every Day when I was a kid both at Synagogue and at Minyan in Jewish Day School my friends and I would compete for who could get through that silent paragraph the fastest. I ended up memorizing it by 5th grade. Yah, no wonder I'm a Hebrew Teacher. But I have to admit, as a child the meaning of the passage was largely lost on me until my adulthood.
If the ultimate set of punishments and rewards relate to rain, livestock and produce how are everyday modern people supposed to relate to keeping the mitzvot? I'm not a farmer. And yes, if there is a draught then eventually food will cost more so I guess it all effects me, but won't I blame those issues on the weather and mother-nature and not on my behavior?
It's not so simple to say "OH! I can skim over this paragraph because it has nothing to do with me." This is what G-d promised in Torah-Times. These were the things that would make the C-O-I feel blessed; plentiful food and a healthy land to live in. Now adays, times are more complicated, more technological, and I'm nearly certain HaShem would have added in WiFi and Charging Stations and a world without the risk of chemical warfare had he been catering for our generation. But if we understand reason why HaShem would have made our ability to reside in the world comfortably as a blessing and in total distress as a punishment then we can understand the passage's importance.
No matter what we should continue to love HaShem with all of our hearts, souls and mights, and od what we can to pass the love forward from generation to generation.
WHY is the PARSHA named Eikev though? This we haven't yet discovered.
Eikev, like Yaakov (Or Jacob), means HEEL!? It is a weird word to name a parsha, and most Rabbi's translate the word Eikev to mean "Because," loosely related to the actual word.
So why did Moshe & HaShem use the word Eikev here. And not one of the many other words in Hebrew that mean "because."
Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher was a great sage of the 1300s. He also was known as Baal HaTurim. I like his explanation. He brings up the idea of Jewish Math: GEMATRIA. See that chart up above? Each letter in Hebrew stands for a number. Alef = 1. Yud = 10. Yud + Alef = 11. "The word eikev is used because it has a numerical value of 172 -- the number of words in the Ten Commandments. "
The word Eikev, is symbolically linked to all of the commandments that we are supposed to keep throughout this and the other portions of the Torah. G-d wants to remind us to keep mitzvot not only through traditional ways of rewards and curses but with symbolic and subconscious reminders. He starts out the parsha to connect our eyes, minds, and souls to the idea of the 10 commandments. Pretty cool technique right?
You might think the Torah just spews rule after rule at us... but really, there are some interesting and mystical that can keep us connected and learning for a long time.
Tomorrow is also called Shabbat Nachamu because the first words of the Haftarah from Isaiah are Nachamu Nachamu. If i close my eyes I can still hear my sister chanting it. The "comforting Shabbat" is the first shabbat since Tisha B'Av, the holiday when we remember the destructions of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Holocaust and many other times of Jewish suffering. Tisha B'Av is a fast day, that many Jews take to heart like Yom Kippur. Interestingly, coupled with this shabbat of comfort is Moshe's desperate plea to be allowed into the Holy Land. And while this Shabbat is supposed to give us a break from heartache and suffering, we get a glimpse into Moshe's pain, as his bakasha (request) is left unfulfilled.
We've all been there, Moshe. We've all felt what it's like to work for something so hard, to want something so badly, and to still not get it. I remember what it was like on some auditions that I spent weeks preparing for, and still, I was not cast in the show. I think of some of the boys i've dated, no matter how good I was, I still faced a rejection. Va'etchanan starts this way. Moshe is begging and pleading the great Hashem to let him go to Israel and cross the Jordan. And Hashem not only denies his heartfelt request, he has him anoint Joshua to take over.
That could seem way harsh of G-d to just deny Moshe, an old, loyal man. And how does this fit into the idea of comfort?
Its not news that Moshe is not allowed to enter Israel. What is news here is that he's broken up about it. Maybe Moshe included this section in his retelling of receiving the Torah to have a release. Prayer afterall can feel good. It can feel good to voice your deepest desires and put them on record---regardless if you get them met.
Or maybe Moshe was finding a way to tell future generations, including Joshua, that one can still be a great leader and ultimately die with no comfort. We are not required to be leaders without feelings and strife. In fact, if our greatest prophet, Moshe, couldn't swing it, I bet anyone will ever be able to just lead without emotion. Part of being a leader is being emotionally invested. And we all will get our hearts broken, we all will suffer enormous consequences for our actions, The comfort is that if MOSHE couldn't be perfect then you don't have to either.
And perhaps an even deeper understanding of this portion is that we get the 10 commandments for a second time. Regardless of what Hashem gives us, we are required to go along with his plan. Who told you life would be comfortable? Life is full of disappointments and rules. Who told you you would get everything you wanted? Many times the key to survival is not getting what we want and knowing how to dust yourself off and try again and again.
Try again. Fail better.
We've started the last book of the Torah this week, Devarim or Deuteronomy. Devarim דְּבָרִים means spoken things. Deuteronomy means the second law, and it's because in this book Moshe repeats the 10 Commandments to the C-O-I. But this book of spoken things starts off with a very dark cloud hanging. The C-O-I aren't rejoicing after being freed from slavery. Oh no. A lot of time has passed.
Moshe is is old and dying. Moshe knows he has to step down from being the leader and will never enter the promised holy land. Beyond that, he's been dealing with whinny complaining disobedient people. THE C-O-I have already faced fighting and are about to embark on several battles with their neighbors. Their trials of the desert and wilderness are just evolving, but not disappearing. And Moshe knows that these people are still barely a united front.
There's a lot to focus on here. Why are we going to have a repeat of the same laws? What will get the C-O-I thru this hard transition? How will they make it without Moshe?
Earlier in the portion Moshe calls up to his people and says:
12. How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself? יב. אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם:
It is heart breaking to hear that Moshe feels so troubled and burdened by the C-O-I. They are so disobedient, so hard on him as a leader and perhaps have caused him to miss out on ever getting into Canaan. We see that Moshe feels alone. And if Moshe, the leader and confidant to G-d himself isn't feeling taken care of, how can we expect the Israelites to feel good and comfortable. It sounds like Moshe isn't only frustrated, he's scared and alone. He has to go on to continue to describe all the battles that they will encounter and his feeling of being LEVAD, alone is palpable.
The text I put at the top of this entry is really the point of what we have to keep in mind as a mantra. When the going gets tough we have to remind ourselves we are in it together. And beyond that, we are protected from above. Essentially the message is "Do not be afraid because God is fighting for us, along side us."
The way we approach our fears when we move on to a new chapter in life (Middle School/HighSchool/College/Work)..... the way we open a chapter of a book... they are all related. We all have to go through hard times as Jewish People; as a nation that constantly faces persecution or hardships, knowing the hardships will only continue to come can get overwhelming. It is hard not to have anxiety about the unknown, the changes that lie ahead, and ultimately the threats in the world. For the C-O-I it was battle, and for Israelis not much has changed. There is a brutal war going on with soldiers dying every day. What is the cure for fear? Knowing that G-d is by your side.
But for us Jews in America, our fears and worries are about ourselves. I think we are weaker than Israelis--- we don't know how to fight our enemies... .The fear to fight... The fear to start.... And the fear to fail. We all have fear. May Hashem guide us on the battle fields, wherever we find them.