Parashat Ekev / Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh

August 26-27, 2016 – 23 Av 5776
Annual (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25): Etz Hayim p. 1037; Hertz p. 780
Triennial (Deuteronomy 10:12-11:25): Etz Hayim p. 1048; Hertz p. 789
Haftarah (Isaiah 49:14-51:3): Etz Hayim p. 1056; Hertz p. 794

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Dig Deeper and Find Softer Ground

Rabbi Benji Stanley, an alumnus of the CY, is Rabbi for Young Adult for Reform Judaism in the UK, engaging people in their 20s and 30s in transformative Torah and community.

There is a teaching in Ekev that makes me cry because at first it feels so hard and brittle, but closer exploration yields kindness.  In Deut 10:17 Moshe Rabbeinu tells us that HaShem is Ha’el Ha’gadol, Ha’gibor, v’Ha’nora,  “a great, mighty and awesome Divinity.”  These words, quoted in the first blessing of the Amidah, raise a tension between the prayer and God, suggesting an almighty transcendence that may, to some people or at particular times, feel inaccessible or even absent.

This difficulty was raised already in the Talmud (Yoma 69b), indicating even then how these words, so often said, can challenge life’s harsh realities.  The rabbis point out that Jeremiah, in his prayer (Jer 32:18), omits nora (awesome).  “Foreigners are destroying His Temple,” the rabbis attribute to Jeremiah; “where are His awesome deeds?”  And Daniel’s prayer (Dan 9:4) omits gibor (mighty) – “Foreigners are enslaving Her sons. Where are Her mighty deeds?” he is imagined to have protested.

But, the rabbis respond “On the contrary!  That She suppresses Her wrath reflects her mighty deeds; that He extends long-suffering to

the wicked shows His awesome powers.”  The Talmud concludes by saying that Jeremiah and Daniel spoke the truth as they saw it, and the bitter realities of their lives indicated that God, for whatever reason, may on occasion hide or withhold deeds of might or awe.

We glimpse here a world of suffering, in which a tear (a chasm?) has been rent between the world as it is and as we would like it to be. This Talmudic text suggests that prayer, tefilah, compels us to occupy that gap, to recognize simultaneously the truth of reality and the validity of our, and the Eternal’s, greatest aspirations.

One aspiration in danger at the moment is the resolve to care for those most vulnerable in today’s chaotic world. The stress in our lives and the tenor of political discourse tap into fear of others, strangers, including refugees. Yet, on closer examination, Moshe’s teaching of a great, mighty and awesome Power can,  surprisingly perhaps, teach us to dig deep, and never let go of our compassion and resolve.  In these very verses Moshe fleshes out the image of “the Lord your God [who] is great, the mighty and the awesome, who 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. So you too must befriend the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:17-19).

It is here, when hearing those words, that I begin to cry, even as I write this.  The academic Reuven Kimelman teaches that “the meaning of the liturgy exists not so much in the liturgical text per se as in the interaction between the liturgical text and the biblical intertext”. What an intertext. While the description of God by itself could seem to point to muscular, inaccessible power, the intertext suggests that the greatest show of strength is to care for the weak and the vulnerable.  I hope that, even occasionally when we say the Amidah, we can dig deep within ourselves and our textual tradition and hear a whisper that moves us to remember that this is not just God’s responsibility, but ours as well.

A Vort for Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Deut 8:2-3 says that God tested Israel through hardship in the desert, to learn what was in their hearts and if they would keep the mitsvot.  How was eating מָּן/manna such a test?  Manna, the rabbis said, could taste however the eater chose.  The Koheles Moshe (Moshe haCohen M’Tshodnov, 18th C Poland), citing Pirkei Avot 5:4 that Torah learning comes under the most simple circumstances – bread, salt and water, and a mattress on the ground – says that the manna really does test us.  One whose primary concern is material pleasure, such as gourmet and exotic foods, is probably not yet ready to focus on the challenging work of studying Torah.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Sitting across the Jordan, looking into the land, Moshe continues his review of the national history, intertwined with telling the people about the many qualities of the land that they are about to inherit and warning of what could go wrong if they leave God and the Mitzvot.

1) What fear of the people is Moshe addressing?  What is God’s response to their concerns (7:17-19)?  How fast will the conquest be, and why (7:22)?  What do the people have to do once they have conquered the land?  Why (7:25-26)?

2) The people are commanded to remember the 40 years that they spent in the desert (8:1-5).  According to this passage, what was the significance of the long time spent in the desert? For whose sake do you think that God did this test? (Does God need it?)

3) Moshe describes the land in 8:6-10.  What are the positive aspects of the land?  In the last verse (10) we have the basis for the Mitzvah to “bench” – bless God after a meal.  Why do you think that a person is told to bless after food?  What is it that we bless God for according to this verse?  Take a look at the second section of Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after a meal containing bread): What does that paragraph talk about? What verse sums it up at the end?

4) A stern warning follows the poetic description of the goodness of the land (8:11-18).  What danger lurks in having a good land? How is the land the cause of this problem?  Do we see this problem today as well? What would you suggest that people should do to avoid falling into the problem described in vv.14, 17?

5) In this parasha we read the second part of Shema (11:13-21).  It opens with a condition – ‘if … then…’  What are we supposed to do and what will we receive in return from God? How is this relevant to our lives today?  What might make us break our end of the deal?  What will be the consequences? What pattern can you see in v.17?

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