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.
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.
This week's parsha, is Masei. It outlines what places the C-O-I (Children of Israel) traveled thru the desert and camped out in the desert, where the boundaries of the promised land were to be and where the C-O-I were to go as refugees. And I sure can relate to the subject matter this week on many levels.
Being a refugee is no foreign topic for the Jewish People. Today in Israel, many of my family and friends have been uprooted in these last few days. Those who lived in the South are spending their days in bomb shelters because they only get 15 seconds warning when there are terrorist rocket attacks... sadly that happens more than 30 times a day. Some of my friends have been drafted or called up from reserves to serve in the army again, so they are on the base. Some of my American friends were stranded in Israel when the FAA banned all flights to and from Israel this week. And of course, I feel for all the innocent Palestinian families who have had to leave their homes because of the war in Gaza and how unsafe Hamas has made Gaza for them to live in.
I can't help but even think of my great great grandparents as refugees from Europe when I re-read the parsha this week. My relatives on both sides of my family escaped the horrible persecution Jewish people faced in Europe in the late 1800's and early 1900's by either going to America or to Israel (well then it was called Palestine because Israel was founded in 1948). Lucky for my family, they managed to find a new home and jobs when they were on the run. History has taught us that most Jews on the run in the 1900's were trapped in Europe, leading to the death of 6 million of our people who had no place to go.
To be accurate, the refugee situation HaShem was talking about was a little different, though. They were actually for people who were accused of crimes and at risk of being judged before they had a trial.
What was HaShem teaching us about being a refugee? After listing all the different places the C-O-I camped for a small time, at most year or two, we all can relate to not having a home. We know how difficult it is to being on the run. We know how hard it is to have a homeland in site but not have it In some way, all Jewish people have been refugees. From Egypt. From Spain. Europe. Even cast out from eachother --- We've all been unfairly accused of something in their lives, driven out of their homes for no reason. HaShem was teaching us, that all of us have natural human rights. Even people who are accused of things, deserve a fair trial, and a safe place to be before they are judged. Part of being Jewish is understanding that judging someone should only be reserved for HaShem and our appointed leaders---and in the meantime we have to keep all people's rights sacred.
Speaking of understanding the importance of a homeland...... This parsha again lays out why it is so important that we have Israel. Israel is the only place in the world designated to be for the Jewish people. After listing all the places we had to trek thru to reach our precious land, we see another reason why the Israeli Army (IDF) is fighting so hard these last 18 days of Operation Defensive Shield. They have to protect Israel for all the inhabitants and Jewish people around the world. We have no other choice. We will not be without a home again.
The third sentence in this week's parsha is something that most of us try to uphold:
If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.
Didn't we already get an assignment like this from Moses when he gave the 10 commandments? How is that different 9th commandment "You should not lie?" Or even the 3rd "Don't take the Lord's name in vain?" And why is it in this portion?
For my understanding, the answer lies in what just happened to the C-O-I. In fact, in general lets say we should always look at what happened in the plot of the Torah to know WHY we were given our mitzvot. Ya gotta know where you came from to know where you are going.
The C-O-I broke rule numero-uno: they worshipped idols. It wasn't just a few of them, it was many of the most powerful tribesmen and leaders who betrayed HaShem. Those leaders may have "talked the talk" plenty of times when it was going to bring about some great benefit to them, but they didn't "walk the walk." And of course, talk is cheap, as far as HaShem is concerned. When he first gave the 10 Commandments, G-d made it clear that the words we say are important. If we curse HaShem it's a major offense. And if we tell a lie about our neighbor, also--forbidden.
But what if you speak something and don't follow with your actions? What if the words were right and the actions were either wrong or totally hypocritical? This is the latest way in which the Torah is teaching us to be better people.
Being a person of action is important. In fact, a mitzvah is a deed. The rule in Matot doesn't say we are forced to make promises, but it does say that we have to fulfill our pledges once we do. And in theory, I am sure we can all agree the Torah is right. But in practice, it is much harder.
There are things we push off because of time, or lack of interest, or simply forgetfulness. Sometimes we don't mean what we say. Sometimes we make promises to get things from other people. The amount of times I promised to be "slave for life" to one of my siblings if they shared food with me... oh boy. Now, we all say things like that. So what is the Torah trying to get us to do?
After the leaders break their dedication to HaShem, G-d is reminding all people that they made a Brit, or covenant, to honor and respect his rules. So they have to KEEP their word. Yes, reading this portion right after hearing about bad behavior of leaders can make us think of how our modern leaders (Mayors/Presidents/Principles Cough Cough) have disappointed us. They promise certain things when they run for office and then don't measure up. They don't deliver or worse do the exact opposite of what they said they would.
And then there are normal people who don't value the seriousness of a pledge. Sometimes friends promise to keep a secret, and they let you down with gossip. Or an older sibling promises to make time for you and then cancels. Or a boyfriend says he'll love you forever and then - well - you find out he doesn't. Sure, there are much more dramatic stories we've all been through, and if you know me, you've probably heard some doozies. The Torah is reminding us how to behave in the best of ways, both just for our relationships with each other, and to G-d, the Universe. Just do what you say you're gonna do, ok?
I leave you with this quote from Justin Timberlake:
"I know people promises all the time
Then they turn right around and break them."
..... He must have been at synagogue when he wrote that song.