Category Archives: Ekev

Appropriate Pride (Ekev)

Appropriate Pride (Ekev)

If one takes pride in one’s craft, you won’t let a good thing die. Risking it through not pushing hard enough is not a humility. -Paul Keating

In the Torah reading of Ekev, Moses asks rhetorically, “What does God want from you?” He answers, “Only this: to revere God your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve God your God with all your heart and soul, keeping God’s commandments and laws, which I command you today, for your good.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

That’s it. That’s all God asks. The commentators spend a lot of time analyzing this verse, understanding the phrase “Only this,” and is it really as easy as that, or is it only easy from the perspective of Moses, who had a unique closeness and relationship with God?

Moses’ question is reminiscent of a different rhetorical question by the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does God require of you? Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

The Berdichever takes his commentary on Moses’ question in the direction of the principle of humility and being humble in all our ways and actions. He reiterates the prime importance of a humble bearing, of being humble in our lives. But he adds a caveat. There is one exception. There is one area of life where we cannot be humble. Indeed, we are meant to pursue that aspect of our lives with an appropriate measure of pride: In our service of God. In our service of God we cannot remain humble. We are allowed and even enjoined to be proud of our divine service.

The Berdichever brings two reasons for the importance of having pride in our fulfillment of the commandments: it’s what God wants, and it gives God pleasure.

Were we to demonstrate humility regarding our performance of the commandments, it would in essence be declaring that they’re not important – and there is nothing further from the truth.

Our performance of the commandments is of prime, vital importance and when we do so, we give tremendous pleasure to God. We need to know when and in what circumstance we should demonstrate pride and pursue things with pride. The Mitzvot, the commandments, are the place.

May our pride be reserved for the truly good things that we do.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Major Moshe, Rivka, Tamar, Batsheva and Yudi. Thanks for the wonderful hosting!

Three Powers of Prayer (Ekev)

Three Powers of Prayer (Ekev)

Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence. -Martin Tupper

Moses, in his final days with the nation of Israel, gives them what is in essence his God-mandated Last Will and Testament. In this week’s reading we have what has become the second paragraph of the biblically-prescribed Shma prayer. The very first verse of that paragraph enjoins us to serve God with “all of our heart.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 11:13 (Ekev) explains that to serve God with all of our heart is nothing other than prayer. He further elaborates that there are three particular powers to prayer. Prayer has the power to change nature. Prayer has the power to save one from danger. And prayer has the power to annul negative divine decrees. Rabbeinu Bechaye gives a biblical example for each:

  1. Changes nature: When Isaac prayed for his wife Rebecca to bear a child, his prayer changed her physical condition which had made it previously impossible for her to have a child.
  2. Saves from danger: He gives an example from Psalms (Chapter 107) which describes various travails, including sailors in a tempest, who cry out to God, and God subsequently replaces the tempest with tranquil waters.
  3. Annuls decrees: King Hezekiah (Book of Isaiah, Chapter 38) becomes fatally ill. The prophet Isaiah brings word from God that Hezekiah has been decreed to die shortly. Hezekiah cries out and prays to God profusely. God then tells Isaiah to inform Hezekiah that he’s received a reprieve and God will extend his life an additional fifteen years.

Rabbeinu Bechaye adds more background on the case of King Hezekiah. After Isaiah had given Hezekiah the initial decree, Hezekiah berates Isaiah and tells him to leave, for he has a tradition from his father’s house (he was a descendant of King David), that even if a sword is to your neck, you should not cease from praying to God for mercy. That in fact, prayer is more powerful than prophecy.

However, since the time of the second Temple, it seems Jews have lost the skill, the know-how to compose their own effective prayers. At that time, the Men of the Great Assembly (the Sanhedrin) composed a broader, catch-all prayer, the Shemona Esre prayer (said right after the Shma prayer), which includes praise of God, requests and thanks. The Shemona Esre is a platform to address all of our needs, both as individuals and as a nation. We ask for wisdom, repentance, salvation, healing, sustenance, justice, redemption and more. The Sanhedrin have given us the template; we need to fill it with meaning, with earnestness, and with our own personal call to God. He’s listening.

May we take the time to pray to God, and with these awesome powers at our disposal have the wisdom to know what to ask for and how to ask for it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Aryeh and Leora Lustig, on their wedding.

Size is Deceptive

Size is Deceptive

What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of a gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution. -Henri Frederic Amiel

In Judaism’s vast array of commandments, there are many that we may consider “minor” relative to others that we may think of as more “important.”

It is curious that those definitions are often highly personal ones and invariably accurately reflect the commandments that people either feel more attached to or those they are more dismissive of.

The Torah itself does categorize some prohibitions as more severe than others in terms of the punishment for violating them. However, when it comes to the performance of commandments, Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 7:12 explains the problem with underestimating the value of any commandment we consider minor:

 “We are not to weigh each commandment separately in our minds, to consider which one might yield a greater reward than the others and should therefore be given particular priority and attention. The paths of the Law form ever-widening spheres that merge into one another. We cannot, at one glance, predict the results of the observance of any one commandment. The results mesh with one another, as it were, and the very commandment that would seem to us most insignificant and least important may have the most far-reaching effects.”

There are multiple stories as to how the observance of just one “minor” commandment led to life-altering benefits. Likewise, the converse is true. People who have been dismissive of even the “lightest” commandments have had cause to regret it. The commandments are part of an entire tapestry that weaves our lives into a whole spiritual reality. Each thread is important; each commandment that we can observe is part of the entire picture.

May we strengthen our commitment to even one “small” commandment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the small, undisclosed acts of kindness that often go unnoticed and unmentioned.

 

God is in the Details

 

 Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things. -Lawrence D. Bell

detailsThe name of this week’s parasha, Ekev, besides meaning “because” can also be translated as “heel”. The Kabbalists state that this alludes to the small or minor commandments that one is likely to trample on with their heel.

There are an abundance of commandments that have not made it to the general awareness of our day. For example:

  • “Shatnez”: A prohibition to wear any garments that mix wool and linen.
  • Shaving: Cannot use a razor on your face/neck.
  • Haircuts: Cannot shave the hair over the mandibular joint.
  • Tattoos: Prohibited.
  • Horoscopes: Prohibited.
  • Castration: Prohibited to castrate any being.

Besides the lesser-known commandments, even amongst the more widely known ones such as the Sabbath or eating Kosher, there are countless details and minutia that people choose to remain ignorant about or to be less than careful about.

The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1871) states that every single object – including the smallest detail or act – has a divine aspect to it. Hence the almost obsessive compulsion of Jewish law with the minutest details of our existence. By taking care of the small items, we merit to connect their divine sparks to the highest spiritual levels.

May we take the small stuff seriously.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the arrival in Montevideo of Rabbi and Rabbanit Kruger.

 

 

Fashionable Resurrections

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Ekev

Fashionable Resurrections

If that vital spark that we find in a grain of wheat can pass unchanged through countless deaths and resurrections, will the spirit of man be unable to pass from this body to another?  -William Jennings Bryan

vampire coffin

It is a principle of Jewish faith that at some point in the future, the dead will come back to life. We have it listed as 13th of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith: “I believe with complete faith that there will be a revival of the dead when it will rise up the will from the Creator, blessed be His Name.”

This precept raises multiple questions:

  • In what body will we return?
  • Will we return old or young?
  • If we suffered the loss of a limb, will we return whole?
  • If you believe in reincarnation, which person will return?
  • And finally, will we return dressed or naked?

While I have faith that all of these questions will be taken care of satisfactorily, the Baal Haturim does provide in Deuteronomy 8:3 the answer to at least one of the questions. He states that the resurrected will return fully clothed. He gives the analogy to wheat. If a seed of wheat can be buried in the ground “naked”, decompose, and return fully grown and “clothed” then so too, those destined to return from death will return fully clothed.

One less thing to worry about.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all innocent victims of violence.

Unusual Success

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ekev-unusual-success/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ekev

Unusual Success

“The supernatural is the natural not yet understood.” -Elbert Hubbard

As modern men of science, we are in love with the laws of cause and effect. This is true not only in the physical laws, but also in the social and economic laws. This linear thinking certainly dominates the world of business, where one expects that thorough research, good planning, intelligent decisions, skilled personnel and hard work should ostensibly lead to success.

While all these things are generally prerequisites, we are still witnesses to abysmal failures of well executed and well funded ventures as well as the uncommon successes of businesses that one can only say that extreme “luck” was on their side.

The Netziv on Deuteronomy 7:13 introduces another unusual source of success. According to the Netziv the study of Torah, the daily encounter and familiarization with Jewish law and tradition is an uncommon source of blessings. He states that by learning Torah, God bestows blessings over and above the laws of nature. There is some supernatural power in the study of the Torah that can have an influence beyond the rational.

Let’s take advantage and reach for those supernatural blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Robin Williams. You were an uncommon success who made us laugh. We will miss you.

For a speedy recovery of Jackeline Denise Eliana bat Ana Osnat.

The Illusion of Reality

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ekev-the-illusion-of-reality/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ekev

The Illusion of Reality

“Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.” -Lily Tomlin

One of the more insightful films of recent years was the popular “The Matrix” produced by the Wachowski Brothers. The writers imagined a reality that was a sophisticated illusion. Humanity it turned out was dormant, dreaming a collective dream as the machines fed upon human energy. However, the dream felt real. All of the senses were engaged. The brains of the trapped humans saw, felt, heard, smelled and tasted what they perceived as reality.

Only a select minority was free of The Matrix and saw reality for what it was. Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 8:3 alludes that our world may also be merely a façade for a deeper reality. He explains that the Children of Israel did not live on bread, but rather by the more divinely obvious Ma’an that descended from the heavens daily. He correlates the bread to the courser, more material, physical reality, while the Ma’an is much more representative of the deeper reality of God’s underlying power and will, which is what truly sustains our existence.

May we see through the illusions of our life to the profound truths of our universe.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the people on different sides of the planet who assisted us in many timely and stress-relieving ways in the reality of moving from one existence to an apparently different one. Though the strain may be a temporal illusion, the relief and friendship are real.