Sunday, August 21, 2011

Parashat Ekev - Devarim 7:12-11:25

Ekev – because; heel; “on the heels of”

Ekev is often translated as because or if. However it also means heel or "on the heels of". This makes sense if you change the words of the opening verse to "On the heels of you listening to these rulings…". By reading it this way you can see that blessings follow “on the heels of” obedience. Picture a mother animal, such as a cow, with her calf right behind. The calf always follows on the heels of the mother. In this same way, if you are obedient to His commandments, you know that the blessings will be following right behind.

Two sections to the portion
This Torah portion is divided into two sections with two different stories. Moshe is using contrast to further the point that he's trying to make.
Chapters 7-8 are one section. This section begins and ends with "because".
Because you are listening…
…because you will not have heeded…
Chapters 9-11 are a separate section. This section begins and ends with defeating nations greater and more numerous than the Israelites.

Parallels and Contrasts between the two sections

Obedience vs Disobedience
Section 1 - Blessings and miracles of YHVH
Because you listened, YHVH blessed you.
Moshe reminds the people of Israel that YHVH blessed them in the desert by providing food and water. Their clothes never wore out and their feet never swelled. As long as they were obedient, the blessings continued. These blessings will continue as they enter the Land if they continue in obedience.

Section 2 - Disobedience of Israel
You rebelled and YHVH wanted to destroy you.
Moshe reminds the people that they often rebelled against YHVH or His appointed messenger, Moshe. Each time they did, YHVH punished them and even considered destroying them completely and starting over with just Moshe and creating a new nation. The people were saved only through Moshe's direct intercession. Moshe destroyed the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments because of the rebellion of the people. When he saw the golden calf idol they had made while he was on the mountain, he refused to give them YHVH’s commandments. It took 40 days of fasting and intercession by Moshe before YHVH agreed to give them the commandments again and not destroy them.

Promised Land
Section 1 - Land of milk and honey
In this section, Moshe describes the Promised Land as a near-paradise that will sustain the people and enrich their lives. The land provides wheat and barley, grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates, olive oil and honey. The stones have iron and the hills have copper. The people will lack nothing in natural resources when they enter the land.

Section 2 - Rain only if YHVH allows it
Moshe tells the people of the rains that will water the fields. The land is a good land through YHVH’s  blessing. He reminds Israel that the fields in Egypt had to be irrigated because it’s flat. The water stays in the rivers and doesn’t get to the fields without help. There are pros and cons to this arrangement;  while it takes more work to get the water to the fields, the Nile River doesn’t dry up between seasons. There is never a shortage of water. On the other hand, the Promised Land has hills so when it rains, the water runs down to the fields without man’s help. However, because the water comes from the hills only when it rains, without rain, the fields will dry up. Rain is a blessing from YHVH. If Israel continues to follow His commandments, He will continue to send rain in its seasons. As He said, He will send the spring rains and the fall rains. If, however, Israel is disobedient, He will stop the rain and allow their fields to wither and die.

Give YHVH Credit in the Proper Manner
Section 1 - Don't give yourselves credit for prosperity
Moshe admonishes the people to remember the commandments so we will remember YHVH. If we are unwilling to keep His commandments, how are we remembering Him? By being obedient and keeping His commandments, we are constantly reminded of Him. We can’t wear tzitziyot or eat kosher and not be reminded of where these statutes originated. Moshe reminds the people again that blessings and prosperity are results of obedience and His blessing. They (and we) are not to tell others and especially themselves that they have prosperity or blessings because of their hard work.  They are to remember that the blessings came from YHVH.
Section 2 - Don't give credit to YHVH for military victory and claim it's because of your piety
In the second section, Moshe discusses giving YHVH credit incorrectly. The people are to give credit to YHVH for their military successes against the people they are driving out of the land. However, they are not to claim they were blessed for their own piety and righteousness. They must acknowledge that it's because of their enemies' wickedness that YHVH has removed them from the land and destroyed them.

Both of these situations indicate boasting and self aggrandizement. The first includes taking credit for being prosperous instead of praising YHVH. The second gives credit to YHVH, but claims credit for deserving it despite being unworthy.

This Torah portion shows us a big change in how Moshe addresses the people. Beginning with 9:1, the "Children of Israel" are now referred to as "Israel". This is Moshe’s way of showing that it is time to be spiritual adults and take responsibility for being obedient to YHVH. The current generation that are about to enter the Land are the generation that were children when they became “the Children” at Mt. Sinai. All of that generation are now adults, both physically and spiritually. They were trained for 40 years as they grew into spiritual adulthood. They no longer have any excuses for disobedience. Moshe continues from the previous Torah portions to remind the people of what has happened during the last 40 years in the desert.

For more on Moshe’s discussion of the 40 years, check out the video of this week’s Torah teaching on the B’nai Israel Messianic Assembly Sermoncast site at