Eikev 5773 – Gilayon #809


SHABBAT SHALOM


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Parshat Ekev

And the israelites journeyed

onward from beeroth-bene-jaakan

To moserah. There aharon died and he

was buried there,

And eleazar his son served

as priest in his stead.

From there they journeyed on to gudgod

 and from gudgod to jotbath, a land of brooks of water.

(Devarim 10:6-7)

 

From there

– [The Hebrew for "from there" is "misham"]

"Misham" begins with the

letter 'mem' and ends with 'mem'. [The numerical value of mem is forty]. This tells that us that all forty

years the well accompanied them. At that time God separated the tribe of

Levi. The adjacency of this passage to the previous one comes to teach that

the Levites returned Israel.

The adjacency of 'water' to "raise the ark" and "to

bless" is to teach that he [the priest] is required to wash his hands

before he raises them to bless the people.

(Baal HaTurim, ibid., ibid.)

 

The death of Aharon will not delay the nation's fate and its destiny on

its path to its future. Aharon departs from their midst,

his son serves in his stead and the nation continues to march towards its

destiny.

(RaSHar Hirsch, ibid., ibid.)

 

That there

exist a community or individuals whose mission in the service of God is most

important, but let them not in conceit think that the service of the Lord

cannot exist without them and that therefore they will not be punished for

their sins. … God's providence continues to advance towards its goals, and in

this process it passes over the generations and the personal of every era, be they

as great as they may be.

Aharon, too, is called to depart from his era in order to

be buried at the peak of the mountain, whereas the people encamped in the

valley continued on its journey towards its goals (see

10:6-7). And when Moshe recalls the death of his brother, perhaps he

also thought about himself and his imminent death. His death is a warning to

all future personages in Israel:

Do not forget, even Moshe was not absolutely essential to the leadership of the

Divine's goal. Moshe, too, died on the peak of the mountain, whereas the people

continue on its journey to its future.

(RaSHar Hirsch, Devarim 9:7)

 

 

The purpose of stipulations in the observance of mitzvoth

Studying parashat ekev

Gili Zivan

Translated into English, the opening world of our parasha is "If".

If you observe My commandments, you will merit an

abundance of goodness, but if you do not observe My commandments, terrible

calamities will befall you.

If you do

obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully

for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers. He will favor you and

bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the

produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd

and the lambing of your flock, in the land that He swore to your fathers to

assign to you. (Devarim 7:12-13)

Our parasha also ends with the famous stipulation:

If,

then, you obey the commandments […] I will grant the rain for your land in

season, the early rain and the late; you shall gather in your grain and wine

and oil" (Ibid 11:13-16).

How to understand the relation of this stipulation to observance of the

mitzvoth? Is this the preferred motivation to be employed in our education

to mitzvoth? Do we not preach "the reward of the mitzvah is the

mitzvah itself"?

This is not only an educational issue; it is also a question of

harmonizing our world view with that of Scripture. Does our behavior really

determine barometric lows? Can we indeed identify the sin which brings the

blistering eastern wind or the mitzvah which brings rain in its season? Humidity

and aridity of regions are determined by geographic location; the behavior of

their inhabitants cannot change their meteorological nature.

Many commentators and thinkers have dealt with these questions. I

should like to suggest two modern understandings of this issue.

Prof. Yeshaayahu Leibowitz

related to the first query, even intensifying the educational problem by comparing

the words of the "Shema Yisrael"

which command – with neither rationale nor stipulation  "And you shall love the Lord your

God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" […]

(Ibid. 6:4-9) with the words of "And

it shall be that if you obey". Leibowitz writes:

In absolute contrast to all that is implied in the "Shema" is "Vehaya

im shamoa" "And it shall be that if you

obey". […] How is it possible that the two be combined in the mitzvah

of reciting the Shema?

His answer, based on his understanding of Maimonides, seeks to

differentiate between the goals of the relative commands. Observance of the mitzvoth

with conditions attached is intended for those having an immature theological

perception, whereas the command which is independent of provisos and promises

of reward is the expression of the ideal faith:

The answer – in

its deepest and most penetrating formulation, reaching down to the bedrock of

religious faith – is given by Maimonides. […] There are two levels of

serving the Lord: There is the level of "lishma"

– for its own sake [lit. "its own name"

– K.G.] and there is the level of "lo lishma"-

not for its own sake […] The first part of the Kriyat Shema is the

expression of faith lishma, which is termed 'love' …its objective is

itself. Therefore it lacks any rationalization; were it possible to give

justifications for it, it would lose its meaning as a categorical imperative […]

Maimonides knew that the goal stated in the first portion of the Kriyat Shema

is "a very high and difficult level, achievable only to a few after very

much preparation … therefore they permitted the masses – so that they

remain steadfast in their faith – to perform the mitzvoth in the hope of

reward and to refrain from sin out of fear of punishment … until the

percipient perceives and knows the truth … "they permitted" is the key

to understanding "And it shall be that if you obey" … (Leibovitz, Emunah, Historia, Vearachim, pp.

13-14)

A different approach to coping with these questions is suggested by Leibowitz's friend, Prof. Eliezer Goldman, z"l, who was disturbed by the chasm between our secular-scientific

consciousness ("the world functions according to its rules") and the

Torah's commands, which attribute natural disasters (famine, flood, etc.) to Man's

transgressions. As an avowed "Maimonidian",

he begins with a quote from Maimonides's "Laws of Fasting":

Biblical law

obliges us to cry out and to sound the trumpets at impending disaster […] and

this is part of the repentance process […] but if they should not cry out and

not sound [the trumpets], but say rather that this happened because this is the

way of the world […] this is a cruel path and causes them to adhere to their

wicked ways". Maimonides (in "The Laws of Fasting"), in

explaining the ways of Providence,

means to say that we are commanded to see misfortune as a stimulus to repentance.

Calamity should serve us as a warning signal flashing the need to scrutinize

our actions, to repent (Goldman, Iyunim U'mechkarim, pp. 356-357).

According to Goldman, then, rain which fails to fall in its season, or

other misfortunes befalling man are the results of acts of nature which operate

according to nature's laws. Jewish tradition, however, chose not to leave these

tragic events without normative significance; it transformed them into

catalysts in the religious and moral development of the individual and/or community:

A Jew whom

calamity has befallen must consider … how is he to link the

misfortune to his actions, the calamity is the trigger for self-examination…

We are commanded to relate to these events from a specific point of view. This

is not a substitute for the causal perception, but a totally

different perception which is not causal and does not seek to compete with natural

causality. […] The halacha

obligates us to relate to certain revelations of the natural world surrounding

us or the historical world in which we live, not only as they are in reality, but

also from a different point of view. (Ibid,

p. 356)

Goldman was very concerned about the duality of our religious-secular life,

in which we speak the language of causality in the field, in the hospital or on

the road, but the religious language when we read the portion of the week or

when we learn the laws of fasting during famine. In contrast to Leibowitz, he did

not agree to present a life of compartmentalization between man in the

laboratory and man in the synagogue; he sought a solution to the conflicting

perceptions which we hold simultaneously.

When pests infest our fields, Goldman (who was once farm manager of

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit Shean Valley) argues, we hurry to seek

pesticides, and when, forefend, a serious illness affects our loved ones, we go

to the doctor and seek a medicine to cure the disease, and when, forefend, a

truck swerves on the road and causes an severe accident, we check the condition

of the brakes, the speed of travel and the safety railing. On the other hand,

when rain is late in appearing, we add prayers, call for public fasting, and

ask "What is our sin?"

In order to cope with this duality, Goldman suggests a new reading of

the religious commands. He seeks to preserve both the religious and the

causal-scientific languages as two languages which relate to the same event but

react in two ways. One language is pragmatic, the second – educational. One

language exists in the world of causality, the second in our moral and inner

world. The "secular" language seeks the cause of the disaster; the

religious seeks not the cause, but comes to tell us that if misfortune (such as

famine) befalls us, we are to regard it as an opportunity for social

repair.

In the beginning of his book, he explains his complex world, saying:

In a lecture

on Providence,

I raised the possibility that the meaning of a religious statement can be a

signaling to take a position. Misfortunes which befall man muse serve as

stimuli to repentance; joyous events require praise and thanksgiving. A

statement is but a camouflaged normative demand (Mechkarim, p. 11)

The words of the Mishnah "One who is afflicted by suffering must

examine his actions" (Berachot, 5) –

were not intended, in his view – to provide an explanation for

suffering; their purpose was to guide man how to react to, and cope

with, his suffering. Thus, drought and barren soil are, according to this

reading, opportunities for examining our lives and determining whether we have

not strayed too far from "these laws", whether our hearts have not

become haughty, whether we have not forgotten the Lord our God who took us out

of the land of Egypt.                                                                                                                                                             Gili Zivan is co-director of the Yaakov Herzog

Center

 

 

Befriend the stranger – practice the similar attitude which God shows, in the reception

which the stranger entering your midst from outside receives at your hands, that you place the highest value simply on what

a man is worth as a man. The complete equality before the law, more, the love

the stranger is to find in the Jewish nation characterizes most strikingly the

land and the people as the Land of God, and the People of God, that there the

pure character of a man acknowledging God gives him that which, in other

circles, riches and origin acquire for him.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Devarim 10:19, Levy translation)

 

…Note that anywhere that a stranger is praised for

fearing God or criticized for lacking fear of God, "fear of God"

finds expression in behavior towards a member of a different nation, towards a

member of a minority. One's attitude towards the stranger, the powerless and

unprotected is the litmus test of one's own fear of God.

(Nehama Leibowitz, Iyyunim Be-Sefer Shemot, pg. 33)

 

"It was not by

their sword that they took the land, their arm did not give them the

victory"

"Remember that it is the lord your god who gives you the power

to get wealth" – It is known that that Israelites are brave,

courageous in battle, for they have been compared to lions and to rapacious

wolves, and they vanquished the kings of Canaan in war, therefore He said, if

you think "My own power and the might of my own hand have won this

wealth for me," remember that it was God who took you out of

Egypt, and there you had no strength and power whatever. Remember further that

in the desert you have not the wherewithal to live, there He provided you with

all your needs. So also this wealth which you made with your strength, it is

God who gave this strength to make it. If you forget God, your strength and

might will wither and you will be lost just like them, for all who abandon God

will be lost… and this is what David

said (Psalms 44:) "It was not by their sword that they took the

land, their arm did not give them the victory, but Your right hand, Your arm, and Your goodwill, for You

favored them".

 (Ramban, Devarim 8:18)

 

It is written "When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you

as a possession" – "It was not by their sword that they took the

land, their arm did not give them the victory" but rather "The

right hand of Lord is exalted!" in order to give them the

inheritance of nations, and it is out of place for the begrudging to say "My

own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me", because

it is God who gives you strength and this [wealth], therefore it is proper that

you give of His to the poor of His people. And if you disobey his word, and

become one of those begrudging people who credit themselves for their

possession, then "I will inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the

land you possess," meaning: In that place where you attribute the

possession to yourself as if you are holding on to it with the strength of your

hand…

(Kli

Yakar, Vayikra 14:34)

 

The temptation mentioned here (Devarim 8:12-17) is

not one that could trap Israel in its net immediately upon their

arrival in the land and during their first acquaintance with its landscape.

Rather, it is a temptation that comes later, after the land is well in their

control and they have settled it, after they become rooted in the land and reap

success in productive work. It is a temptation that springs from a feeling of My own power and the might of

my own hand have won this

wealth for me. It is a temptation which replaces the worship of the Creator

of the world not with nature and the worship of nature-gods, but with man and his pride. The Torah

opposes man's confidence in his own powers with the memory of the great and terrible wilderness

with its seraf serpents

and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, the sojourn through the

wilderness in which man sustained his own existence.

(Prof. Nehama Leibowitz z"l, Iyyunim b'Sefer Devarim pg. 95)

 

A Land of Which Demands are Made, and Which Makes

Demands of those Who Living Within It

But the land you are crossing into to possess is a

land of hills and cleft-valleys; from the rain of the heavens it drinks water;

a land of which God always makes demands, the eyes of the Lord your God are

upon it from the start of the year until the end of the year.

(Devarim 11:1-12)

 

A land of

which God makes demands. A land of which demands may be made, e.g., to set aside challah, heave-offerings,

and tithes.

Could it be possible that such demands be made of other

lands as well? We derive from the passage of

which demands may be made

– but not of other lands.

(Sifri, Ekev,

40)

 

For the land which you are entering to possess; it is not like the

land of Egypt, from which you went out, where you sow your seed and water it

with your foot like a garden of greens; But the land you are crossing into to

possess is a land of hills and cleft-valleys; from the rain of the heavens it

drinks water; a land of which God makes

demands The Yalkut,

on Ekev, (860) concludes

that "it alone is

subject to demands, such as the giving of halla, heave-offerings,

and tithes – but not other lands…." and whosoever has eyes to see and

heart to understand must wonder at what he sees – what is the connection of hallah and terumah to the subject at hand? And how are we

to understand the word ota ("it" – the land) as

implying exclusion of all other lands with regard to teruma and tithes? And why is this exclusion mentioned

here? But, he [the editor of the Yalkut] must have wanted to give

a rationale for the Land

of Israel being obligated

to give challa, teruma, and maaser more than any other country. He said:

In all other lands, all the effort is upon you, even when growing wheat. You

must irrigate with your feet, like the garden of greens, and therefore the

Torah freed you of the obligations of terumot and maasrot. But

the land which you are coming to possess, from

the rain of heaven it drinks water. This

being the case, half the

effort is yours and half is God's, therefore it is right that you give God's

share to the servants of our God. And this explains why there were people who

despised the land, because they were hard-hearted,

uncharitable persons, who had no will or desire to leave a land of

exemption for a land of obligation, and they admitted this freely: We remember the fish that we used

to eat in Egypt for free – this

is explained in the Sifre as "free from commandments."

(Kli Yakar, Bamidbar 26:64)


 

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