Weekly Parsha: Ekev
Moshe’s continued address to the Israelites:
A. A Promise of Prosperity. Moshe assured the people that prosperity and good health would follow their observance of the Mitzvos (Commandments).
B. Conquest of Canaan. They had no need to fear the numerous Canaanites, for Hashem would be the Israelites’ protector. However, the conquest of Canaan was to be followed by the destruction of all forms of idolatry.
C. Wandering in the Desert. Moshe commented that the forty years of wandering in the desert served to test the people’s loyalty to Hashem’s commandments. The hardships there had disciplined them to learn that “man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the L-rd.” Moshe described the bountiful Land of Israel including the seven Minim (seven varieties of fruit).
D. The Danger of Prosperity. Moshe warned that the prosperity the Jews would enjoy in the Promised Land might lead them to disregard Hashem’s role in their welfare. Such ingratitude would be severely punished, and the disloyal Jews would share the fate of the heathen nations who perished.
E. The Jews’ Earlier Acts of Rebellion. Moshe reminded the people of their earlier acts of rebellion. After he had spent forty days on the mountain receiving the Luchos (Tablets of Stone), he had returned to find the people worshiping the Golden Calf. Hashem had declared His intention to destroy the people, but Moshe interceded on their behalf. He had broken the Luchos, destroyed the Golden Calf, and punished those who had honored it. He also recalled four other instances of the people’s disobedience at Taberah, Massah, Kibros HaTa’avah and Kadesh Barnea.
F. The Second Set of Luchos. After Moshe had championed the Israelites’ cause by asking Hashem to recall the merits of the Patriarchs, Hashem told him to return to the mountain to receive a second set of Luchos. These were to be placed in the Holy Ark, the Aron HaKodesh. The Kohanim and Levi’im had been appointed to perform the services of the Mishkon, and permission had been given for the people to continue the journey from Sinai towards Canaan.
G. What Hashem Requests of the Jews. All that Hashem requests from the Jews, Moshe said, is for them to love, fear and serve Hashem by keeping the Mitzvos. Their personal knowledge of His greatness, manifested by such incidents as the deliverance from Egypt, the miracle of the Red Sea, the experiences in the desert, and the miraculous punishment given to Korach, Dasan and Aviram, should be sufficient to assure their observance and fulfillment of the Mitzvos. The commitment to Hashem’s laws would ensure a successful harvest through the regularity of the autumn and spring rains; but these would be withheld if the people became disobedient. Moshe assured the people that their adherence to Torah would result in their victory over the Canaanites and the acquisition of extensive territory in the Promised Land.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Something To Say (R’ Dovid Goldwasser)
1. Grace After Meals. “You will eat and be satisfied.” R’ Beer Mezritch notes that the Grace After Meals needs more feeling than prayer, for prayer is a rabbinical decree whereas Benching is a Torah commandment. On this verse, the Karliner also notes that we should get satisfaction from the blessings after the meal.
2. Modeling G-d. “And it came to pass that because the midwives feared G-d that He made them houses.” R’ Baruch Mezbitzer commented that Hashem requires us to do whatever He does. As He is merciful and compassionate, so should we be so.
B. Rabbi Frand on the Parsha
Manna From Heaven. “The One who fed you manna in the desert in order to test you.” How is G-d’s providing the Jews with manna a test? On the contrary, it appears to be a tremendous blessing. Rashi explains that Hashem was referring to the laws that governed manna (e.g., that it couldn’t be stored for another day, that it couldn’t be gathered on Shabbos, etc.) That was the test. That is, would the Jews observe the Torah when they didn’t have to worry about their livelihood? Affluence can be as much a test as poverty, for it comes with tremendous responsibility. The Maggid of Mezritch once said that when we face trouble, sickness or mortal danger, G-d forbid, we all become religious. But, when things are going well, do we give G-d much thought? That was (and is) the test of the manna.
C. Living Each Week (R’ Avraham Twerski)
1. Always On Duty. “It shall come to pass, because you will listen to these ordinances and observe and do them.” The word use in Hebrew for “because” is “eikev,” which is a rather unusual word to convey this meaning. Commentators have ascribed various interpretations to this word. Rashi notes that eikev can also mean “heel” and the implication is that one must always take care to observe those mitzvos which are trod upon because people do not consider them “important” based upon their mortal understanding. Rabbi Moshe Lieb of Sassov offered another interpretation. With every eikev, or step, that we take we must pause and consider whether it is consistent with the Divine ordinances. “In your ways you must know G-d” (Proverbs 3:6) is a fundamental ideal of living a Torah life. Nothing is excluded from the domain of Torah observance.
2. Nutrients of the Soul. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that emanated from the mouth of G-d does man live . . . you shall eat and be satisfied and bless G-d.” The Chassidic works ask: our bodies receive our nutrition from the food we eat. But, how does food sustain the neshamah (soul)? The answer is that nothing in the world could exist without having a nucleus of G-dliness. When we eat food, our bodies are nurtured by the physical components of the food, while our soul is nurtured by the Divine nucleus (the food’s spiritual component). The preparation for absorption of the spiritual component is the blessing before/after eating it, in which we express our gratitude to G-d for providing our physical needs. This, then, is the meaning of the above verse – we do not survive only because of the physical component of bread, but by the Divine word that is within it. That is why one must recite the blessings – to enable our souls to receive its nourishment.
E. Growth Through Torah (R’ Zelig Pliskin)
Be Willing To Make Positive Changes. “For you are a stiff-necked people.” S’forno comments that it is impossible for there to be righteousness and straightness of heart together with the trait of being stiff-necked. Being stiff-necked means following the arbitrary feelings of his heart and his own subjective thinking, even if it is inconsistent with a Torah viewpoint. We must, of course, act based upon our mortal understanding; however, if thinking is mistaken, then we must resolve to make the necessary changes. Often, this is difficult, for it much easier to repeat old habits. It takes a strong act of will to bring about real changes in our behavior. The dividends, however, are limitless.
F. Torah Gems (Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
1. Individual Observance. “It shall come to pass that if you hearken to these judgments, and keep and do them, the L-rd your G-d will keep . . . and He will love and bless you.” The warning to observe the commandments is in the plural, whereas the promise of reward is in the singular since it is different for each of us.
2. Fear of Heaven. “What does the L-rd your G-d require of you, but to fear the L-rd your G-d always.” R’ Hanina said, “everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.” (Berachos 33). In order to fulfill the commandments, one typically needs something (e.g,. a house upon which to hang a mezuzah, a garment upon which to put tzitzis, etc.) The exception is the commandment to fear G-d for it can fulfilled regardless of the situation.
G. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Awareness of how Hashem has already helped you will enable you to overcome worry. “If you say in your heart, these nations are more numerous than we, how can I conquer them. Do not fear them, remember what the Almighty, your G-d, did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt.” Bitachon (faith in Hashem) eliminates worry. What is worry? Worry is being afraid that in the future there will be a situation that you will not be able to cope with. But if you remember how Hashem has helped you in the past, you will find it easier to trust Him in the present and, in turn, eliminate worry.
2. Reflect on the entire context of the good that happens to you. “[Lest] your heart be exalted, and you forget that Almighty, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery.” Ibn Ezra explains: Lest your forget that you were slaves who were in a very lowly state of mind and that Hashem took care of your needs. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter commented that this teaches us a lesson in gratitude: it is not sufficient for us just to be grateful for the specific good we receive; rather, we must reflect on the entire context of the good. For this we must think about our situation before we received this kindness. The more we are aware of our pre-existing situation, the greater will be our appreciation for the kindnesses which Hashem and others bestow upon us.
3. Difficult life-tests elevate you. “In order to afflict you and in order to test you to do good for you in your end.” The Chofetz Chaim commented that the affliction of the Israelites was in order to test them out to see if they would behave in an elevated manner even though they had difficulties. The Hebrew word “masoscho,” which means test also means to be elevated. Both concepts fit together. When someone acts in an elevated manner when he has difficult life-tests, he becomes elevated. We should look at difficulties in our lives as opportunities to improve our character traits and elevate ourselves. When we view difficulties in this light, they will be much easier to cope with.
4. Joy helps you appreciate Hashem. “And it will be if you forget the Almighty, your G-d.” We find in the Midrash that the word “vehayah” refers to joy. What joy could there possibly be in forgetting Hashem? The Kotzker Rebbe said that this verse can be understood by dividing the words differently: “If you forget to be in a state of joy,” that is, if you forget the vehayah which refers to joy, this will cause you to forget Hashem. If someone lacks joy, he will find it difficult to appreciate Hashem. Hence joy is one of the forty-eight tools for acquiring Torah. Lack of joy leads to many faults and difficulties. When in a state of joy, you have a greater appreciation for Hashem and all that He has given you.
5. Have compassion for all living things; Focus on satisfaction not desire. “And I will give grass in the field for your animals and you will eat and be satisfied.”
a. The Talmud states on this verse that one must feed his animals in the morning before he himself eats. This is to teach us compassion for all living creatures. Even when you are hungry, your first thoughts should be of helping those who are unable to help themselves.
b. The Brisker Rav noted that the blessing for animals is that they should have a large quantity of food, but the blessing for us is to feel satisfied when we eat. Eating excessively can be hazardous to one’s physical and spiritual well-being. Keep your focus on satisfaction and aware from desire.
H. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
The True Fear of G-d. Torah writings are replete with the fundamental requirement that a person must have yiras Shamayim (fear of heaven). This term is usually understood to refer to man’s fear of G-d. The Baal Shem Tov gave the term a twist by interpreting it as the “fear that G-d has.” But how can we say that G-d fears anything? The Baal Shem Tov explained this with a parable. A parent wishes to protect his/her young child from injury and therefore warns him that if he exposes himself to danger, he will be punished (e.g., a parent may discipline a child who runs into a street where he might be hurt by a car). The child will then refrain from running into the street because he fears being punished by his parent. If the child has more understanding, he would realize that the reason he should not run into the street is to avoid being injured, rather than to avoid being punished. So it is with G-d and man. We are given various mitzvos and prohibitions, whose transgression causes harm to our soul. Like the young child, however, we may be unable to understand why we shouldn’t violate these commandments.
Hence there is a punishment attached to the transgression to deter us. Ideally, however, we should fear the harm of the transgression rather than the punishment. G-d “fears” for our welfare, and being a devoted father, fears that in our folly we may do things harmful to us. It is the fear for our welfare, says the Bal Shem Tov, the fear of the harm of the transgression rather than the punishment, that a mature person should have.
I. Wellsprings of Torah (Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman)
Every step you take. “And it shall come to pass because you hearken to these ordinances . . . ” For the conjunction “because” the Torah uses the expression “eikev” which, when used as a noun, means “heel” (i.e., the part of a foot used in walking). This is to teach us that whenever a person takes a step, literally or figuratively, he must first reflect whether it would be in accordance with the will of Hashem, and if he should find that it is not, he must desist from it. (Or Tzaddikim, attributed to the Rabbi of Sassov) As Rabbi Twerski tells over in Living Each Week: Rabbi Ben Tzion of Bobov was once visited by the chief of the gendarmes of Poland, who described the many taxing duties of his position. “When I get home at the end of the day,” he said, “and I remove my cap, I am off duty.” The Rabbi smiled and said, “Inasmuch as I never remove my yarmulke (skull cap), and I wear it even in my sleep, then I am never off duty!”
J. Majesty of Man (Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz)
Giving ourselves credit. “And you will say in your heart, ‘it is my strength and the power of my hand that did this valorous deed.” As the Israelites were nearing Israel, Moshe took the opportunity to warn them of the possible emotions they might experience as they forged their way into the Promised Land. Their conquering of the seven mighty nations could give rise to feelings of pride causing them to perhaps believe that it was their hand — rather than Hashem’s — which led to their miraculous victory. How could they have made this mistake and denied Hashem’s hand? Our evil inclination can force us to deny Hashem’s role, and instead believe that our cunning, talent and strength were the sole reason for our success.
K. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman Posner)
The spark within each Jew. One can almost hear the pleading tone in Moshe’s voice as he urges the people, “What does G-d demand of you except to fear Him . . . and love Him and serve Him!” The Talmud wonders at Moshe’s expectation — is fear of G-d so simple a matter? And the Talmud answers that for Moshe, fear was an elementary experience, a “small thing.” But Rabbi Schneur Zalman notes that Moshe was speaking to Israel, people for whom true reverence was hardly a “small thing.” How does Moshe treat it so lightly? The Rabbi answers that every Jew has a spark of Moshe inside him/herself, an intuitive reverence for G-d and His word. Moshe meant not to deprecate fear of G-d, but to emphasize that it is within the grasp of everyone. The spark of Moshe in the Jews’ heart may be concealed to the point of seeming disappearance, but when the Jew desires, it reveals itself. When that spark shines, then no spiritual height or religious experience is out of reach.
L. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
The Bircas Ha’Mazon (Grace After Meals). “And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem your G-d for the good land which He has given you.” This verse implies that the Bircas Ha’Mazon isn’t merely a formal offering of gratitude for the meal we have eaten, but an acknowledgment that Hashem is the source of all things. Indeed, we even submit our thanks to Hashem for providing us with our land. Why is it necessary to specifically mention the land during Bircas? Horav B.Z. Baruk, z’tl offers the following analogy in response. A person who was hunger stricken and thirsty is walking in the desert, completely exposed to the elements. Suddenly, a plane lands and a beautifully furnished home complete with a table laden with various delicacies ready for his consumption appears before him. Obviously, in such a situation, his gratitude would extend beyond a simple acknowledgment of the delicious meal. He would appreciate everything. Similarly, we should acknowledge that every meal is a brand new creation, resulting from Hashem’s benevolence.