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.