Parashat Ekev
August 11-12, 2017 • 20 Av 5777
Annual (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25): Etz Hayim p. 1037-1054; Hertz p. 780-793
Triennial (Deuteronomy 7:12-9:3): Etz Hayim p. 1037-1042; Hertz p. 780-784
Haftarah (Isaiah 49:14-51:3): Etz Hayim p. 1055-1060; Hertz p. 794-798


A Zero-Sum Conflict?
Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva, the Conservative Yeshiva, Jerusalem

In game theory a zero-sum game is one in which each participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participants. A person cutting up a cake who takes a larger slice thereby reduces the amount of cake available for others.

I imagine we are all only too familiar in these difficult times with video clips of confrontations connected to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The current crisis on the mountain blew up after the killing of two Israeli Druze policemen on 14th July, since when at least five Palestinians have been killed in clashes and three Israeli civilians have been stabbed to death. Israel’s moves after July 14th to ensure security on the mountain were perceived by many Palestinians as a threat to the status quo. Changes in the status quo are normally viewed by both sides as zero-sum, in other words that one side will gain at the other’s expense, and are therefore resisted vigorously. The mountain is a permanent flashpoint for violence since victory for one side is perceived as defeat for the other.

The opening chapter of Parshat Ekev, Deuteronomy chapter 7, reads the fight for ancient Cana’an as a zero-sum conflict too: 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples… 15 And the LORD will take away from you all sickness… but will lay them upon all them that hate you. 16 And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God shall deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them; neither shall you serve their gods; for that will be a snare to you. 

How can we Jews and Muslims immunise ourselves culturally from too simple a reading of our zero-sum texts; including this week’s parasha with its repeated motifs of dispossession, violence and supremacy? Here in Israel there is a devastating correlation between religious commitment and zero-sum primitive-particularist thinking. The more observant you are as a Jew or Muslim the greater your chances of being opposed to a meaningful accommodation with the other side. Zero-sum primitive-particularist Jews and Muslims are divided by language, history and religion but united by a common vision of their own domination, uniqueness and ultimate victory. Both sides bask in religion-fuelled fantasies of zero-sum cultural supremacy.

The prophet Isaiah had a very different fantasy about our sacred mountain. In Isaiah chapter 2 he dreamt of a time when the mountain that is currently the source of so much fury and grief would eventually become the source of international justice, peace and prosperity: 2 And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 3 And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

I pray for the day when sophisticated non-zero-sum Muslims will welcome their sophisticated non-zero-sum Jewish brothers and sisters onto our shared Holy Mountain to pray together to our co-Creator for and in peace and tranquillity, and when the idolatry of zero-sum primitive-particularism will have passed away from the world.

A Vort for Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Coordinator, Torah Sparks

Moses warns the people lest material success in the land of Israel cause them to forget the Lord and say to themselves ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy’ (Deut 8:17).  R’ Moshe of Kozhnitz (Hasidic rabbi, Poland, died 1828) said: when people are poor, down and out, they blame God, bad luck, anybody or anything but themselves.  But when they do well and become rich, they take the credit themselves rather than acknowledge the source of all wealth and the fact that they have been blessed.  The verse, he noted, speaks in the singularbut kal v’ḥomer, all the more so, it applies to the plural – to communities and even countries. A wise warning too often ignored.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

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)  7:12-15 discusses a reciprocal relationship between the people and God.  What will each side do?  How will a positive response from God look? What does it tell us about what people need? This reciprocity appears again in 11:13-15 (yes, it is the second part of Shema).  How do the 2 differ?

2)  Moshe describes the anticipated difficulties in conquering the land, and God’s help in the matter (9:1-6).  Why do you think that Moshe stresses the great effort that will be needed to take over the land?  How might the people [mis]understand God’s help?  Why is God allowing us to conquer the land (2 reasons)?

3)  In recalling the event of the golden calf (9:7-29) Moshe stresses God’s anger, which he had to deal with.  He does not mention how the calf came about, as it is told in Shmot 32:1-6.  Why do you think that he skipped that part of the story?

4)  After Moshe has broken the first set of tablets that contained the covenant with God, he was told to make another set of tablets, and a wooden container/ark (10:1-5).  What is to be kept in the container? What do you think is the significance of creating a place to keep the tablets?

5)  11:10-12 contains a comparison of the agricultural reality in Israel and Egypt.  How is irrigation done in each land?  Which do you think is preferable? Why?  How does it affect the relationship with God?