The Path Before You – Parshat Eikev 5781

If you stay in one place long enough, your family becomes rooted and connected to that place in a deep way. Those of you with older siblings may know the feeling of walking into a new classroom at the beginning of the school year and having the teacher look at your last name on the roster and automatically associate you with any memories of your older sibling. It can even happen a generation or two apart, like when a grandchild who is working hard to start their own career, but in the same field as a grandparent, can’t escape the stories about living up to the legacy. In so many ways we find ourselves following paths laid years or decades before, and yet each human being is also their own person and thus different.

The Torah often follows this line of reasoning, including Parshat Eikev this week. We should trust God because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob put their faith in God, and God’s promises were fulfilled. At the same time, we’re reminded of all the ways in which the Israelites choose a new path and not be like their ancestors.

This week we read Parshat Eikev. We learn of the blessing and reward you receive if you keep the laws of the Torah and of the consequences for those who don’t follow those laws. The Torah recaps the lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moses’s prayer for the people. We finally receive the second section of the Shema, followed by a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments.

In the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident, which happened a while back, God and Moses are going back and forth on the merits of the Israelite nation. The concept of the “merit of ancestors,” or zechut avot, is often cited here. In other words, God should have mercy upon the Israelites because they come from meritorious people. They should receive mercy because they are the same as their ancestors, even in their differences. The thing is, Moses also makes the argument that it’s not just the “good” qualities that they have in common. They also share the same stubbornness, a stubbornness that has preserved them as a people through generations. 

We want to pass down only our best qualities, whether it’s older sibling to younger sibling, parent to child, or grandparent to grandchild. However, sometimes it’s not necessarily the “best” qualities that are the most important, but the ones that best serve us. 

Parshat Eikev reminds us that while the idea of zechut avot paved the way and may open doors for us, it’s up to us to go through the door and pave the way for those who will follow.

The Real Deal – Parshat Eikev 5780

When I applied to the University of Michigan for undergrad, I didn’t expect to get in. I had low test scores and a low-ish GPA (3.3). The application process was cutthroat, and most people in my high school with above perfect GPAs and excellent AP scores were concerned about their futures, so what chance did I have? I was sure a rejection letter was heading my way, so you can imagine my surprise when the acceptance letter came in the mail. You can bet that in addition to the letter, I also received a few glares from fellow students in my graduating class who’d been wait-listed or rejected, yet reached higher academic achievement than I had. How had this actually happened? 

While I don’t know exactly what singled me out, I have a feeling it was the authenticity in my application. It painted a true picture of who I was and who I wanted to be. On my application I indicated I wanted to be a Judaic Studies major. I had spent six months in Israel during high school, my volunteerism showed a commitment to my synagogue, and my essay spoke about my Jewish identity. Plus, my grades told the story: high grades in classes on world religion, social studies, and history, and lower grades on math and science. It was clear that I meant what I said, and I have to believe that’s why I was admitted. 

The happy ending to this story is that I excelled at U of M. I was a Judaic Studies major, I took classes I loved, and it was clearly the right place for me. I mean, I became a rabbi, didn’t I?

This week we read Parshat Eikev. We learn of the blessing and reward you will receive if you keep the laws of the Torah and the obligation to remove those from the community who don’t follow the laws. The Torah recaps the lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moshe’s prayer for the people. We finally receive the second section of the Shema, followed by a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments. 

As God is trying to give the final sets of laws and get the Israelite nation ready to enter into the land of Israel, God is also trying to figure out who the Israelite people really are. Chapter 8, verse 2 reads: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that he might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.” God tests the trust and loyalty of the Israelites.

Rashbam comments by asking, was this a test to their faith because they would never be sure the manna would appear the next day, or was the test to see if they would remain grateful to God even if they knew their food supply was assured?

When we’re true to ourselves and the journey we’re on, the path becomes clear. The Israelite journey had plenty of bumpy patches. Many times they thought about opting out and going back to Egypt, and yet they managed to hold fast to their belief in what could come next.  

Parshat Eikev is one of many reminders in the Torah to be true to your inner self. Be your most authentic self, rather than what you think other people want from you. And of course, go Blue! 

Testing My Limits – Parshat Eikev 5779

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It seems that when we feel comfortable around certain people, we tend to let down boundaries and test the limits of those relationships. While I know my spouse, Duncan, loves me, I also know I can rail, scream, cry, and otherwise vent to him after a tough day. He can take it because he loves me, I love him, and together we provide a mutual safe space to have this flood of emotion. My children are the same way. They usually keep themselves pulled together when we’re out in public, and then they have a release of emotion and let it all out when we’re home. And boy do they test the boundaries! But at least I know I’m not alone; this type of boundary testing has been going on as long as there have been deep, trusting relationships, including in the Torah.

This week we read Parshat Eikev. We learn of the blessing and reward you receive if you keep the laws of the Torah and of the consequences for those who don’t follow those laws. The Torah recaps the lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moshe’s prayer for the people. We finally receive the second section of the Shema, followed by a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments.

As the relationship between God and the Israelite nation deepens, there are moments when the people lash out and moments when God lashes out. Now, at the end of the journey, God tests the Israelites one last time before they go into the land of Israel and become forever bound by the covenant.

Chapter 8, verse 2 reads, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.” What is God testing in the Israelites? They left everything they knew to follow these laws, so what’s left to test? Was it a test of their faith to see if, after everything, they still had faith? Was it a test of their gratitude to God, even if they knew they were going to survive and flourish?

Perhaps it’s the same kind of test we use in our closest relationships. We’re not trying to push the other person away, but the result is that we test and push the boundaries of that relationship. In a strange way, it’s how we reaffirm our love and commitment. In this moment, God is seeking that reaffirmation. Having these limits or boundaries with God and with each other doesn’t mean that there’s less love or that the love is restrained. In fact, it’s the opposite. Knowing when you can and can’t cross those lines (and when you can stretch them) is the ultimate kind of trust. And that’s true love.

Love Lift Us Up – Parshat Eikev 5778

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“Love is a four-letter word.” It’s a humorous nod to the frustrations and difficulties we encounter in even our closest relationships. Perhaps the real frustration is that love has so many sides to it. Think of all the ways we both praise and denounce this emotion in popular music. “Love stinks” and “love hurts” and “love bites.” Yet, “all you need is love” and “I will always love you.” Love is supposed to be this positive notion of warmth and connection, but there are plenty of challenges and harsh realities that go along with it. Letting go of a loved one can be extremely painful, and a broken heart at the end of a relationship hurts physically and emotionally. Sometimes love comes with strings attached, which complicates things further.

The Torah this week in Parshat Eikev brings us back to the give and take of a loving relationship. Last week we read the V’ahavta and learned about all that we should do to love God. This week we read of what happens when God loves us. The parshah begins with a reminder of the blessings and rewards of success that will come to the Israelites if they guard and observe the Torah and all its commandments. We are then reminded of our responsibility to remove idolaters from our midst. The final section of the parshah is a reminder of the Israelites’ experiences in the desert, their missteps, and what they learned from each of these moments.

The text begins with the main elements of God’s promises to the patriarchs in addition to the land of Israel. “And He will love you, and bless you, and make you multiply.” This relationship suggests that God’s love is a blessing, and that blessing manifests itself in the continuation of our nation. While being a great nation and inheriting a great land are essential for our prosperity, love is always included as a benefit of being chosen by God.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Only a blessing that flows from love deserves to be called a blessing.” Love is ultimately at the core of how God shows blessing to the Israelites and how we fulfill our end of the agreement by multiplying. How fitting that this lesson of love between God and humankind and from person to person comes as we near the High Holidays, a time when we ask forgiveness from God and our fellow humans. May we use this as a reminder into the new year to approach all our interactions from a place of love.

Room to Grow – Parshat Eikev 5777

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As the older sister in my family, I was lucky to get the brand new kid clothes; the hand-me-downs went to my younger sister and younger cousin. This was the case pretty much up until I was in middle school. In fact, when my sister was a toddler, she actually thought that “going shopping” meant going into our basement to get the next size up box of clothes. We had a great system going until both my younger cousin and sister were suddenly taller than me. By high school I was the one who started to receive hand-me-ups, and to be honest, I was fine with how the tables had turned. This was a time when I relied on my babysitting money for things like car insurance and my own gas, so the free, gently-worn clothes were welcome in my closet.

At a certain point, a college student can no longer wear clothing meant for a middle schooler, even if it fits. It’s a shame, in a way, because to this day I still have some favorite outfits that I can’t bring myself to part with even though they are neither fashionably relevant nor appropriate for a rabbi to wear.  

This week we read Parshat Eikev, in which we learn of the blessing and reward for keeping the laws of the Torah and the consequences for those who don’t. The Torah then recaps the stories and lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moshe’s prayer for the people. Finally we receive the second section of the Shema as well as a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments.  

In chapter 8, verse 4, God alludes to the fact that the clothes the Israelites took from Egypt did not wear out. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, these magic garments were still fashionable and practical, not to mention miraculously intact. The Midrashic commentary Deuteronomy Rabbah interprets this to mean:

The faith you practiced every day never wore out, nor did you outgrow it, while the faith you took out only on special occasions (like the Golden Calf) shrank and became too small for you. Similarly, your children’s religious outlook grew with them as they grew and matured.

Some aspects of our faith – of Judaism itself – change as we age just like our clothing sizes and clothing tastes. Our belief in God when we’re children doesn’t necessarily resemble our belief in God as adults. Our life experiences mold and shape us as we mature, so just as our size and style change as we age, so too our understanding of and relationship with our religion can and should change. However, when we outgrow clothes, we don’t give up and walk around naked. Therefore, we read Parshat Eikev as a reminder that if something in your Judaism doesn’t fit quite right, it’s a sign you should perhaps look through the “wardrobe” and decide what to donate and what to keep. In other words, it’s time to study, discuss, engage, and reevaluate your perspective. In Judaism and in attire, fresh eyes and an open outlook are always in style.