Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Our rabbis said that the word “Ekev ” hints at things people tend to disregard. The greatest dangers that loom ahead are not necessarily horrendous crimes, but rather the little misdeeds which we have grown accustomed to committing every now and then that truly worry Moshe Rabbenu. A closer look at this portion reveals what it all means.
Generally, the Torah warns us of things that might happen to the Nation of Israel once they rub shoulders with the material culture and economic practices of the Promised Land. We must bear in mind what we’re dealing with: Israel was a nation that labored for two hundred years as slaves, and clearly had no concept of what economic well-being was. They then wandered forty years in a desert devoid of water and vegetation, totally dependent on God’s salvation. Though they had received their daily bread in the form of manna that landed daily outside the doors of their tents, they could never truly depend on this sustenance.
Truth be told, not everyone liked the manna, but it always came, and it didn’t require any effort. However, none of it could be stored, and anyone who tried to stash it away had the pleasure of watching it become infested with worms.
Finally, the People of Israel stood at the doorstep of the Promised Land, about to experience the greatest culture shock ever. From that point on, they would need to work, plowing and tilling the land, and waiting for the rains to come. Divine providence would not be as transparent as it was in the desert, but creativity and economic entrepreneurship were certainly welcome.
They could now begin to amass wealth, and they didn’t need to worry about worms obliterating their wheat. In the desert, everyone, rich or poor, ate the same food, but in the Land of Israel, after only a few months, some will be ahead of the pack, while others fall by the wayside. Moshe’s fear is quite understandable: how will his nation cope with this change? What will the rich do? How would they act towards those who had only recently been their neighbors, but hadn’t shared their success?
I remember that when I was young, I saw new immigrants from places which had never experienced the abundance of the Western world. They would enter the supermarket, and stare, awestruck, at the rich assortment of cheeses on the shelves.
The worst vice of all is when the most fortunate ones among us act arrogantly. The test of the parsha reads as follows:
“and your heart will become haughty, and you will forget Hashem, your God, who took you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of slaves”.
(Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:14)
Economic success could go to our heads, so much so that the value system at the very foundation of our nation’s existence becomes nothing more than a fleeting memory. What is worse is that our wealthy status could drive a wedge between us and our identity as Jews and human beings. At that point, we would be more likely to find common ground with the Canaanite aristocracy than with our own compatriots and families.
For the Torah, this is the gravest of all scenarios, and its only solution is to beseech us to remember – to remember our roots, and where we came from. The Torah commands us to remind ourselves that we weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths, and even if we were – there is no guarantee that it will always be there. Anyone living their lives with this in mind knows that the day could come when we’ll need to tighten our belts more than ever before, since abundance is never something we can take for granted.
Living in Israel today, we feel as though we are the masters of our fate, but there is still uncertainty. Did it rain or not? Will the government raise taxes? What about the price of gasoline? We can’t live the predictable lives our manna-eating forefathers lived, but faced with this world of uncertainty, we gradually come to internalize the fact that physical sustenance is not all there is to life.
The spiritual content we infuse into our existence is far more important. If we adopt this philosophy as a way of life, then living in Israel, with all of its physical challenges, takes on a whole new meaning, and our prospects here become hopeful and encouraging. Life in Israel is difficult, yet it is deeply meaningful. The desert nomads may have the clouds of glory overhead, taking care of their every need, but they will never sense the renewal we experience here, in the Land of Israel.
[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]
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