• Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev starts with Moshe reminding the people that if they keep G-d’s laws, then G-d will keep the covenant that He made to their ancestors by giving them the land of Israel and children (7:12-26). However, Moshe later told the people not to feel like they deserved this land. Rather, it’s because other people are so wicked that G-d is giving the Jews their land (9:4-5). What is the point of a covenant if conditions have to be met for the covenant to be honored? Secondly, do we only get land and children because we’re not as bad as everyone else, and not because we were promised it or earned it?

    Rabbi David Block (alephbeta.org) suggests that all three reasons are simultaneously accurate. The initial covenant with Avraham (Abraham) was given to positively impact the whole world, not just Avraham and his progeny (Genesis 12:3). Avraham’s mission was to build a nation that will change and improve the world, a task that requires land and children to advance and accomplish those objectives. However, the covenant is conditional on our commitment to following the Torah’s laws. Therefore, our Parsha begins by reminding us to improve ourselves before we can enhance the world. Don’t wait until you’re rich to give charity, don’t wait until you’re happy to smile at someone, and don’t wait until you’re unemployed or retired to make time to study Torah. Small commitments today will provide us with bigger opportunities tomorrow.

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    In Parshat Ekev Moshe reiterates G-d’s assurances and perils based on His people doing what’s required and expected of them. Moshe declares that “G-d, your G-d is the G-d of gods and Lord of lords, the great mighty and awesome G-d…”, and in the very next Passuk (verse) follows that with “He executes judgment of the orphan and widow, loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing” (10:17-18). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wonders why such a grand statement is followed by a very specific statement in striking contrast, applicable to so few.

    Rabbi Sacks explains that G-d’s greatness is followed by His humility to teach us that greatness and humility must go hand in hand. You can’t be great without being humble, without thinking of those less fortunate or those that are forgotten.

    With a careful reading of the Pessukim (verses), one can take this lesson a step further: To love, feed and clothe a stranger is required to not simply be aware of their predicament, but to understand their need, appreciate their situation and empathize with their plight. Greatness requires appreciating the circumstances of strangers among us and even more empathy for the non-strangers in our lives. 

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev begins by exclaiming that should we listen to the laws, and follow up by keeping and following those same laws, G-d will in turn protect us and keep His end of the deal He made with our ancestors (7:12). The word “Shema” (listen) appears 92 times in Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy), and it appears in the most iconic and important declaration of “Shema Yisrael” (6:4), which qualifies it as a key directive. Rabbi David Cohen also points out (in his book Kol Hanevuah) that the Gemara (Talmud) is full of terms referencing hearing: “Ta Shma, Shema Mina, Mashma, etc. What’s most curious is that the word itself is not translatable, according to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It means many things: to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to understand, to internalize and to respond. How are we to understand such an obviously important mandate?

    Rabbi Sacks explains that Judaism is not about obeying laws, but about hearing them. G-d wants us not just to hear with our ears, but to listen with our minds. The bridge between ourselves and others is conversation: both speaking and listening, as Rabbi Sacks explains. Hence the double emphasis in the second paragraph in Shema of “Shamoa Tishma”, beseeching us to really listen, not just to His laws, but to others as well. Listening to G-d is easy, it’s listening to another human being that takes courage, a comfort in our self and defying our own vulnerabilities. Rabbi Sacks concludes that listening is the greatest gift we can give to another human being, but it’s also the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev is where we learn of the benefits and rewards, punishments and consequences, of following and not following the Mitzvot (commandments) set forth for us in the Torah. Among those commandments is a famous one (8:10), which says that “you will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.”  If you just ate food, why are you thanking G-d for land? You should be thanking Him for the food itself. Why be indirect? The answer lies in understanding the true difference between animals and people…What separates us from animals is our ability to choose, and our exercising of that choice. Our nature tells us what we need to do, while our mind (and religion) tells us what we should do. Therefore, the more things we do simply because of habit and without thinking, the less free will we’re exercising, which makes us more like animals. Conversely, the more restraint we exercise, the more freedom we’re expressing, because we weren’t slaves to our nature. What makes being a Jew so special is that we have so many ‘choices’ of commandments we can perform, and each of those positive choices make us less like animals and more like G-d.

    With this in mind, even if we already ‘perform’ Mitzvot now, if we do it out of habit and without thinking and actively deciding to do it, we’re just as guilty of doing it ‘naturally’. For Jews, deciding to do something is just as important as doing it, because then we think about why we do it, and the source, reason, and meaning of it all become part of the action. Now we can understand why we thank G-d for the land, when we merely eat its bread: We not only thank G-d for the bread we eat, but we also think of the land that it came from, because we’ve thought it through to its source, instead of taking bread at face value. The lesson of the Parsha is for us to think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and realize how much control we have. Perhaps we should think of at least one habit we have (positive or negative), and use this lesson to push us to overcome our natural tendency to blindly surrender to that habit.

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev introduced us to the popular phrase “Man does not live by bread alone” (8:3). However, end of that verse is far less famous, although the second part contains the true message. It reads, “Rather, by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” If the point is that G-d’s emanations are the source of our lives, why use bread as the subject, when bread only becomes edible through the toils of man? Wouldn’t fruits or vegetables be better examples of G-d’s influence on the world?

    I heard Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg and saw Rav Hirsch explain that bread is used as the subject because it exemplifies the toils of man, and that the message here is that even when you toil for the bread you eat, don’t forget that Hashem (G-d) has toiled for everything that we have, and His goal is not just to sustain us, but to help us live physically AND spiritually. We should not only seek physical nourishment from the work of our hands, but should seek spiritual nourishment from the word of our G-d.

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev introduced us to the popular phrase “Man does not live by bread alone” (8:3). However, end of that verse is far less famous, although the second part contains the true message. It reads, “Rather, by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” If the point is that G-d’s emanations are the source of our lives, why use bread as the subject, when bread only becomes edible through the toils of man? Wouldn’t fruits be a better example of G-d’s influence on the world?

    I heard Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg and saw Rav Hirsch explain that bread is used as the subject because it exemplifies the toils of man, and that the message here is that even when you toil for the bread you eat, don’t forget that Hashem (G-d) has toiled for everything that we have, and His goal is not just to sustain us, but to help us live physically and spiritually fulfilling lives. Man should not only seek physical nourishment from the work of his hands, but should seek spiritual nourishment from the word of G-d.

  • Daily Aliya for Ekev, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe informs the Israelites that if they follow G‑d’s ways and cleave to Him, they will easily occupy the land of Israel, and no man will stand up against them.

    The “deal” that the Parsha began with is repeated at its conclusion – If we will keep all the mitzvot, motivated by a love of G-d; if we follow in his footsteps (by performing acts of kindness) and cling to Him… then we will prevail against mightier nations than ourselves. The Parsha concludes with promises of successful conquest of the Land – if we keep our side of the deal.

  • Daily Aliya for Ekev, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe tells the Israelites that the land of Israel is constantly dependent upon G‑d for irrigating rains, and that the land is constantly under G‑d’s watchful eyes. We then read the second paragraph of the Shema prayer. In this section we are admonished to observe G‑d’s commandments, which will cause G‑d to supply bountiful rainfall and harvests. Non-observance will lead to exile. We are commanded regarding prayer, tefillin, mezuzah, and teaching Torah to our children.

    This Aliya contains the second paragraph of Shema, and includes the phrase “if listening you will listen” (11:13). Rashi explains that the double language teaches that if we study what you’ve already learned, we will discover a new and deeper understanding. The Torah is unique in that it offers so much on so many levels, from appreciating the basic story, to the subtle terminologies, to the extra words providing hidden messages to those that care to analyze them. How lucky we are to have such brilliance to enjoy!

  • Daily Aliya for Ekev, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe charges the Israelites to love and fear G‑d, and to serve Him. He expounds on G‑d’s greatness, and impresses on the Israelites their great fortune: that G‑d has chosen them to be His treasured nation. He again reminds them of the many miracles G‑d had performed on their behalf since they left Egypt.

    This aliya contains the instruction to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (10:16), a rather difficult assignment considering there is no such thing. Rather, just like men are born with foreskin that needs to be removed to “complete” the Jew, here too people are born with the natural tendencies to follow their desires, and need to rein in those desires by purging our hearts of certain physical tendencies. That doesn’t mean that we need to ignore our physical desires, because the instruction is to remove the extra layer so we can get to our hearts. So the ultimate goal is to do what’s appropriate for our hearts, and the best way to do that is to remove the physical layers that might be in the way of that goal. How? The Passuk continues… “don’t be so stubborn!” Embrace change, grow, improve!

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev is where we learn of the benefits and rewards, punishments and consequences, of following and not following the Mitzvot (commandments) set forth for us in the Torah. Among those commandments is a famous one (8:10), which says that “you will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.”  If you just ate food, why are you thanking G-d for land? You should be thanking Him for the food itself. Why be indirect? The answer lies in understanding the true difference between animals and people…What separates us from animals is our ability to choose, and our exercising of that choice. Our nature tells us what we NEED to do, while our mind (and religion) tells us what we SHOULD do. Therefore, the more things we do simply because of habit and without thinking, the less free will we’re exercising, which makes us more like animals. Conversely, the more restraint we exercise, the more freedom we’re expressing, because we weren’t slaves to our nature. What makes being a Jew so special is that we have so many ‘choices’ of commandments we can perform, and each of those positive choices make us less like animals and more like G-d.

    With this in mind, even if we already ‘perform’ Mitzvot now, if we do it out of habit and without thinking and actively deciding to do them, we’re just as guilty of doing it ‘naturally’. For Jews, deciding to do something is just as important as doing it, because then we think about why we do it, and the source, reason, and meaning of it all become part of the action. Now we can understand why we thank G-d for the LAND, when we merely eat its bread: We not only thank G-d for the bread we eat, but we also think of the land that it came from, because we’ve thought it through to its source, instead of taking bread at face value. The lesson of the Parsha is for us to think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and realize how much control we have. Perhaps we should think of at least one bad habit we have, and use this lesson to push us to overcome our natural tendency to blindly surrender to that habit.

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