Posted by: Subway Conductor | August 7, 2020

A Derasha on Parshat Eikev

This week’s Torah portion contains the second paragraph of the Shema. Last week’s portion included the first paragraph. When we talk about the Shema, it is usually the first paragraph that we have in mind. Certainly the “Watchword of the Jewish faith” “hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One” is the best-known verse in the entire Bible for Jews. The continuation, “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” reminds us that our desire to study the Torah and observe the mitzvot should be motivated by love. This first paragraph is termed “The acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven” meaning that this paragraph affirms our belief in the one G-d who is the king of the world.

The second paragraph which we encounter in this week’s parsha is termed “the acceptance of the yoke of the commandments.” Let us look at its contents.

“And it will come to pass that if you continually hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your G-d, and to serve Him, with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of the Lord will blaze against you. He will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce. And you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which the Lord gives you. Place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes. Teach them to your children to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way. When you retire and when you arise. And write them upon the doorposts of you house and upon your gates. In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the ground that the Lord has sworn to your ancestors to give them, like the days of the heaven and the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-21)

We should recognize that part of this section is a repetition of the first paragraph. But what is different?

Here it is stated what will be the consequences of observance or non-observance. Hence it contains the concept of reward and punishment. Basically, it comes down to rain. To understand the significance of rain we should look elsewhere in our parsha. “For the land which you are about to invade and occupy is not like the Land of Egypt from which you have come. There, the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors like a vegetable garden. But the land you are about to cross into and occupy, …. soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which the Lord your G-d looks after. On which the Lord your G-d always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end.” (Deut. 11:10-12)

In Egypt, the source of water for agriculture was the Nile river. One could irrigate the land from the waters of the Nile. However, the Land of Israel is completely dependent on rain as a source of water, therefore, it depends on G-d to provide rain. In the Land of Israel, obedience to G-d’s commandments will determine whether there is rain or not. All prosperity depends on that rain. Without rain, there are no crops, no feed for livestock, and hence there is little choice but to leave the land. We recall from the Book of Genesis that several times the patriarchs were forced to leave the land and go down to Egypt because of a famine. This, of course, is the background for the descent of Jacob and his sons to Egypt.  Life in the Land of Israel is only possible with G-d’s help. Therefore, our behavior is the crucial factor. This is the notion of reward and punishment which the Shema announces. And this is why this paragraph is called the “acceptance of the yoke of the commandments.”  We should note that the reward and punishment is collective or national, not individual. And also that it is carried out through natural means which one could attribute to a cause other than G-d. The ultimate reward for the People of Israel is that it will long endure on the land which G-d has given them.

Although this paragraph of the Shema makes a clear link between the observance of the commandments and reward and punishment, we should note that also in this section, the primary duty is to love G-d and serve Him with all our heart and soul. Although Judaism does indeed instruct us that there is reward and punishment for our observance of the commandments, obtaining that reward should not be our primary motivation for doing the mitzvot. We should do them out of love. I believe that this is comparable to the situation of obeying one’s parents. As children, we obey our parents first, because they may punish us if we do not obey. But, as we mature, we recognize that what they command us to do is for our own benefit, observance will improve our life. But, with maturity, we should reach a point where we obey our parents because we love them and we understand that they love us. It is this love relationship that provides the authority for their instructions. The Torah makes this love relationship between G-d and Israel the basis for observance of the commandments as is stated in both the first and second paragraphs of the Shema.

Good Shabbos

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