This week’s portion is “Ekev” (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25). It is the second portion after Tisha B'Av and continues Moses' second discourse to the new generation of Israelites about to conquer the Promised Land.
“Ekev" means “on the heels of” or more loosely, “to be a consequence of” or “because". If the word sounds a little familiar, it is the base root of the name “Ya'acov". The name refers to Jacob being born second after Esau holding on to his heel, as if to pull him back so he could be born first and get the birthright. This word is appropriate as it sets up the next few chapters that the Israelites will thrive BECAUSE they follow the commandments.
The word is noteworthy as Moses is preparing this new generation of Israelites for not just conquering this new land but because they are living with Torah, God’s teaching, and merit that prosperity. Moses starts out telling them that if they obey and observe Torah and thus live up to their part of the covenant or “brit", then they will be rewarded with good fortune. Not only will the land yield plentiful produce and their cattle will thrive and multiply, but they will be blessed above all other peoples and have plentiful offspring.
They will also be victorious in battle. Moses is exhorting them to destroy all the native peoples lest they be tempted by their idolatrous and pagan rites and gods. This would lead them into debauchery and immorality. They need to therefore destroy all their pagan idols completely and not even melt down the ones made of precious metals for their own use which might remind them of those rites.
Chapter 8 starts out similarly with Moses proclaiming that if they do observe these instructions, they will possess the land. Moses also makes it clear that they are receiving this land not necessarily because of their own merit but again, BECAUSE of God’s promise to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So that the Israelite understand the severity of these exhortations, he reminds them of the hardships that the previous generation faced because they did not live up to their end of the “brit”.
Moses talks about how God fed their parents in the wilderness with manna and that “humans do not live by bread alone”. Not only do we need sustenance for our body, but we also need to delve into culture and the arts, and we also need Torah for our spiritual development. Verse 10 also commands to give thanks after eating our fill; this is seen as the commandment to recite the “Birchat HaMazon” the prayer we recite after eating bread with a meal.
Moses warns the people to remember what God did for them in the wilderness and not forget (double commandment, very important). God fed them and sheltered them, and their clothes did not wear out. If their hearts grow haughty and forget what God did for them, then God will withdraw his support. There is the tendency to forget that their prosperity comes from God’s graces and think that it is ONLY because of their efforts and merit.
Moses makes the point that God will withdraw his support if the people go and serve other gods.
Chapter 9 opens with Moses' confirmation that once they cross into the promised land, they will be victorious against peoples that are seemingly more powerful than they. He then warns them that it is not necessarily again because of their own merit but because of the wickedness of the peoples whom they will dispossess of the land. He also reiterates that they are possessing the land due to God’s promise to our forefathers and not because of anything they’ve done.
Moses then reviews the circumstances when he received the Ten Commandments. He talks out how he spent 40 days and nights on Mt. Horeb without neither food nor water. At the end of the time, God told him to hurry down as that previous generation had devolved into idolatry. Moses destroyed the first of the stone tablets. He then ground up the golden idol and made the perpetrators drink it. He then reiterates that they are a stiff-necked people (עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף) and God would have destroyed them and made Moses the head of a new nation had he not pleaded for mercy for them. Moses also pleaded for Aaron who helped make the Golden Calf.
Moses repeats how that generation also contended with God, but Moses returned up to the mountain where he stayed up there another 40 days and nights and received another set of tablets. He then follows God’s instructions to elevate the Levis to be God’s ministers.
Moses then exhorts them to once again to follow Gods path to treat everyone fairly and equally and not to favor anyone. He tells them to also show kindness to the widow and orphan and befriend the stranger, as we were strangers in Egypt.
He re views how 70 souls went down to Egypt and a multitude left. He reviews how God took them out with an outstretched arm and how he rolled back the waters of the Sea of Reeds so they could pass through safely but destroyed the pursuing Egyptians.
In chapter 11, we have the second paragraph of the Shema. Whereas the first paragraph, the “V’Ahavta”, is the aspect of mercy, the second paragraph here is the attribute of judgement. This is why it is phrased as reward and punishment. If the Israelites faithfully keep the commandments, then the rain will fall in its proper season and the land will produce its bounty so that that the land will yield its produce in its proper time and they will thrive and prosper. If not, the land will not produce its bounty and the people will suffer.
We are once again commanded to love God will all our hearts and souls as a community and we should all put on teffilin and tzitizis as in the V'Ahavta.