Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Ekev

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Spiritual Nourishment

By Michael Chessen

     The Torah reading of Ekev continues a theme now familiar from previous readings that stipulates positive rewards for learning and keeping the laws of the Torah and warns of negative results for failing to do so. The opening verse of Ekev suggests that whereas the "merit of the patriarchs and matriarchs" in any event obliges God to deal with Israel mercifully, the extent that we will be genuinely blessed with well being and material sustenance is dependent upon our rigorous and loving adherence to the covenant which God made with our forefathers.

     The term "ekev" literally means "because" but alludes to an act of "following". At this advanced point in the Five Books of Moses, after having established us as a holy nation, inspired us with God's awesome power and instructed us to keep the Torah, God seems to now express primary concern for our sense of awareness and perspective. Accordingly Ekev opens by first exhorting us to "listen" to the laws, i.e. learn the Torah, and later makes certain statements such as the famous "Man does not live by bread alone"(Deut. 8:3).

     Although the Torah later instructs us that we are to bless God after having eaten and been satisfied, it goes on to warn us against a full stomach as potentially constituting the first step leading to our becoming "haughty" and forgetting God. In light of this, the rabbinical or halachic interpretation of "satiation" is here most instructive. Although maintaining a healthy balanced diet would certainly fall under the Torah's exhortation to "guard our souls", a person is required to recite the blessing after meals after having minimally consumed two slices of bread, regardless of whether one was able to completely "fill" one's self at a given sitting. For the verse stating that we do not live by bread alone concludes that we also live by "all that comes out of God's mouth", namely, the Torah. Therefore, our study of the Torah which accompanies our daily bread will spiritually complete our sense of "satiation". However, if one seeks to emulate the hospitality of Abraham, and especially if one is seeking to fulfill the commandment of tzedaka, literally "making justice", by providing a needy person with a meal, then one is obliged to provide for the other's physical satiation.

     If Torah study doesn't ensure our awareness of our dependence on God then the nature of the Land will. As compared to Egypt, continuously irrigated by the Nile, the Land of Israel depends on rain and is, therefore, "constantly under God's scrutiny" (Deut. 10:12). Rabbi David Samson points out that the city of Jericho, irrigated by the Jordan and receiving little yearly rainfall, constitutes a "sampling" of the Egyptian condition within the boundaries of the Holy Land. Perhaps to compensate for the appearance of God's concealment in Jericho, i.e., because of the area's "natural" irrigation, Jericho may have been singled out for certain "miraculous" revelations of God's powers.

     In his great love and benevolence, God sees to it that we maintain awareness of all that He does for us, in order that we may benefit ourselves.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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