Shabbat August 24, 2019 Eikev Torah Reading Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Eikev, the third parasha in Deuteronomy, continues Moses’ recap
of the journey the people have been on and his preparatory remarks to
them before they enter the Holy Land. This week’s reading finds Moses
speaking in glowing terms of the land they will soon possess, calling
it “a good land… of wheat and barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive
trees, and honey.” The description is poignant, given that Moses
knows he will never see the Land himself. Rabbi Tanhuma bar Abba
taught that Moses prostrated himself before the Israelites when he
said to them “You are to pass over the Jordan” in acknowledgement of
the fact that they would cross to the new land but he would not.

To prepare the people for this momentous occasion, Moses reminds them
of their trials in the wilderness, assuring them that the hardships
they faced were tests of their loyalty to G-d, tests they have now
passed. And, although the hardships were great, he also points out
that the people were taken care of, too. They received manna, and also
their clothes did not wear out nor their feet swell in forty years of
walking. The latter is certainly a miracle!

Moses cautions the people to always stay loyal to G-d and observe the
commandments, even after they have gained the land and wealth which
will soon come to them. He warns that they may be tempted to forget
their past and decide that the wealth was all of their own making. In
this warning, he seizes on a too common human failing even in modern
times, concluding that any good that comes to you is of your own
making, a failing seen particularly among the rich and powerful.
Stressing the Israelites’ origins as slaves is meant to counter that
impulse.

Moses goes on to recount how the Israelites tested G-d’s patience,
with an emphasis on the sin of the Golden Calf. He tells how the
people had made a Golden Calf and worshipped it, and his anger at
finding that out caused him to break the tablets that G-d had carved
for him. He also tells them that G-d wanted to destroy the Israelites
and start anew, but Moses talked G-d out of it. Interestingly, in the
original telling of the story in the book of Exodus, Moses does not
reveal to the people G-d’s intention to kill them all nor his efforts
to save them. So, this is presumably the first time they hear how
narrowly they escaped.

G-d then instructed him to carve two tablets just like the first two.
Deuteronomy Rabbah, a midrashic source, says that G-d instructed Moses
to carve them as retribution for having smashed the original ones, a
sort of “you broke it, you replace it” move. The same source offers
several possible explanations for why there are two tablets: to
represent two witnesses, to represent heaven and earth, to represent
bridegroom and bride (with G-d the bridegroom and Israel the bride) or
to represent this world and the world to come.

As the parasha continues, Moses asks the people “What does G-d
want of you?” - a question he then answers. G-d wants love and
obedience to G-d’s commandments. We are exhorted to follow kol
hamitzvah
– all that was commanded – to merit the land about to be
given to us. As is true of much of Deuteronomy, the text is mostly a
recap of material from earlier in the Torah.

This parasha includes the second group of verses of the Sh’ma:
Deuteronomy 11:13-21. In those verses we are told that the reward for
keeping G-d’s commandments will be rain at the proper time leading to
a plentiful harvest. However, if the people don’t keep the
commandments, the rains won’t come and the land will be barren. For an
agrarian people dependent on rain at the proper time, a belief that
through good deeds they could ensure a good harvest may have been very
comforting. It’s an uncomfortable theology for many moderns, though.

One of the particular mitzvot recapped here is kindness to
others. We are exhorted specifically to love the foreigner, since we
were foreigners in the land of Egypt. This appeal to empathy for the
ger (foreigner or stranger) is first encountered in Leviticus
and repeated here with almost identical wording.

The parasha mentions the difference in agriculture between a
land like Egypt, where the Nile is the source of irrigation, and the
land they will enter where crops are watered by rain. Rashi’s
commentary delves into the agricultural issues, knowledge perhaps
gleaned from his “day job” as a vintner.

Haftarah Isaiah 49:14-51:3

This week we read another haftarah of consolation, the second
of seven. Like last week’s it comes from the book of Isaiah.

The haftarah begins with Zion lamenting that G-d has forsaken
her. The reader may be confused and anxious as the text begins,
wondering if this will really be a prophetic reading about
consolation. Anxiety is soon put to rest, though, as the prophet goes
on to describe G-d’s response. G-d will never abandon nor forget the
Jewish people for G-d’s love is everlasting. A number of
anthropomorphic images are used as allegories for G-d’s love for the
people. It is compared to the love of a mother for her child and a
husband for his wife. The people are assured that their punishment is
over and that G-d has “engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Rashi
explains that this means that G-d can never forget the people of
Israel, just as if a person had something marked on his hands he would
always be aware of it, since the hands are right in front of you. He
sees this metaphor as a sort of Divine crib sheet.

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