23 Av  5776   פרשת עֵקֶב, כ”ג אב, תשע”ו

Ekev has many meanings in the Hebrew language depending on the context. It could be translated as “because” or “if” connecting two thoughts. It also means “heel” which as our sages say is the lowest part of the body when we are standing, showing us that we need to be humble and not regard ourselves as being superior to anyone else.  I want to bring you a different perspective on this portion.  We are in the second week of the seven weeks of nachamu “comfort” when we are preparing ourselves for the High Holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Sukkoth. During this process there is high tension or anxiety and it is also a time of change for many of us. Summer is drawing to a close; students are beginning a new season of classes; teachers start a new semester. Apprehension usually accompanies something new.  

Moshe began this portion with “remember”. Most of us are more preoccupied with our external look than what is inside. Most don’t notice our internal organs such as heart, liver, and kidney until we have a problem with them. Humanity judges us more by how we look on the outside than who we really are.  We put more emphasis on our outward appearance than on our inside. I have long been teaching you “say no to religion, yes to the Creator” but most prefer religion which enhances the outside…see how good I am, how righteous I am, basically showing off instead of focusing on what is in our hearts and taking care of our morals, values, ethics and principles.   We prefer to follow the crowd and to copy what everyone else does than to think for ourselves. That was the problem with Israel both then and now.

In this portion Moshe was telling us to “circumcise our hearts” (Deut. 10:16).  Other religions have interpreted this to mean that there is no longer the need for brit milah – ברית מילה. This is not the teaching here.  The heart in Hebrew is the center of action, intention, intelligence, the will. The heart has nothing to do with feelings the same as the word “ahava” love which pertains more to loyalty.  Our Creator asks us to be loyal to Him when He asks us to love Him with all our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah told us “who can know the heart of man; it is deceitful. Only the Creator can measure the heart of man.  To circumcise our hearts refers to exposing our hearts, being vulnerable, lowering our guard and our pride as we become open to the changes that God will perform in our lives as we are loyal to Him.

In Deut. 7:6 we read that God chose Israel to be His people, His chosen people, different from the rest, a special treasure above all those in the earth. He didn’t choose us because we were more numerous but instead we were the least. In Chapter 9 He said is was not that we were the more righteous or the best but simply because He wanted to.  We cannot take pride in being chosen. Totally the contrary it is a matter of humility.  Our Creator chooses people from among all the nations and when we have been chosen, we have a responsibility. Even if we try to run away from it He will keep pulling us back. Moshe says: 7:17 If you shall say in your heart, these nations are more than I; how can I dispossess them7:18. You shall not be afraid of them; but shall well remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh, and to all Egypt;”  

How can we have confidence when we are starting a new job or career, a new semester or any new endeavor?  We can look back and remember our past and what we have already accomplished. This is an important principle. Nothing at the beginning is easy but if we want to obtain something we need to work hard. We rarely value what has been given to us for nothing.  I believe in miracles which I define as anything that man is not capable of doing and has the intervention of the Creator. Once this happens the rest is up to us.  He won’t do everything for us. Some religions teach that all you need to do is to pray, cross your arms and wait and He will do the rest.  However the Torah teaches us that we need to trust Him and that He will take care of us but that we need to act, to do, to work. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Paradise, there were curses for men and women. When people say that we are no longer under the “curse” I ask them to show me any woman who gives birth without pain or men who work without sweating.  The idea that we are now under grace not under the “law” is wishful thinking. Our Creator is the same yesterday, today and forever.  That is not being negative it is being real. 7:19 the great trials which your eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, whereby the LORD your God brought you out; so shall the LORD your God do unto all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

 In other words, don’t worry about your enemies, be prepared. You will need to fight but He will be with you. Israel cannot be defeated from outside only from within. It is the same with all of us. We as individuals cannot be destroyed by outside forces but we can destroy ourselves from within. We need to be very careful. This is a very important principle. Charity is a process that begins at home. If you cannot be nice to your own family or to your own community, how can you truly be nice to strangers? Moshe is telling the people not to be afraid; he would fight for them but he never told them not to form an army or have weapons. Until today Israel has to fight hard for that small piece of land. They can boast about all their missiles and strong military but this won’t help them if they destroy themselves from within.  This teaching needs to be emphasised because we can be our own worst enemies.

Someone asked me recently if Yeshua fulfilled his role as the messiah.  If you examine it from the perspectives of Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism, he didn’t but if you examine it from the revelation of the Torah, he did.  Both religions have made up attributions for messiah that were not his role. His role is exactly what Moshe Rabeinu was doing at this point. He was reminding the people and bringing them back to the Torah, telling them that if they went away from Torah they would be totally destroyed. When religious people ask if I am a Shomer Torah I need to examine how I answer them.  According to them I am not Shomer enough since I do not follow the so called 613 rules and regulations. Most of these are no longer valid today because there is no Temple. It is more important to be Shomer Torah because we live the principles of Torah instead of being a fanatic follower of rules.

Both Moshe and Yeshua were guiding us toward this understanding.  When Yeshua gave his Sermon on the Mount beginning with what is known as the beatitudes, we can see that they all follow the principles of the Torah. They are based upon the Ten Commandments — a relationship with the Creator, with ourselves and with our neighbor. He said that he did not come to destroy the torah but to fulfill it, to make it a reality in all our lives. He was speaking to the people of Israel. What was going on in Israel when he was speaking to them? Historically Israel was occupied by a foreign empire, Rome. The people had no rights except to manage their own religion. The institutionalised religion was very strong and informed the government about what was acceptable for the people. The same thing is happening today. If we do not belong to any faction of religion that has been accepted by both the religious leaders and government, we lose our rights.  This is the collusion between religion and politics.  Yeshua entered the picture at that time. There were many groups but the two major powers were the Pharisees, the supposed representatives of God who were keep the people in check and the Sadducees who were in charge of the Temple worship.  Each closely guarded their own terrain.  The religions today are the same — I don’t touch your people, you don’t touch mine.   

Yeshua went directly against the religious establishment. He called the people to return to Torah, telling them not to follow the traditions of the elders when it went against the Torah. He challenged the establishment. The religious faction was in cahoots with the government.  Yeshua called them hypocrites, vipers, double tongued. They agreed to keep the people quiet as long as they were left to their own devices.  This has not changed in the past two thousand years. They were the holier than thou religious people while the regular unsophisticated people followed Yeshua around. They were the ones whose eyes were opened. Today we are still in the time of Yeshua. Most of us are involved in institutionalized religion and don’t want to rock the boat. I have suffered the consequences of these religious people.  Each religion fights for its own turf but how many gods are there? Moshe warned the people not to get involved with the people in the land who would try to lead them on the wrong path. They would be seduced into going astray. Deut. 7: 20 – 26… 20 Moreover the Lord your God will send the hornet among them, until those who are left, and hide themselves from you, are destroyed. You shall not be frightened by them; for the Lord your God is among you, a mighty God and awesome. -: 22  And the Lord your God will clear away those nations before you, little by little; you may not destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field grow numerous upon you. 23  But the Lord your God shall deliver them to you, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they are destroyed : 24 And he shall deliver their kings into your hand, and you shall destroy their name from under heaven; there shall no man be able to stand before you, until you have destroyed them. 25  The engraved images of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it to you, lest you be snared there; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. 26  Neither shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you become accursed like it; but you shall utterly detest it, and loathe it; for it is a cursed thing.

What is happening today in Israel? They have succumbed to the aberrations of humanity. They have proudly accepted lifestyles that God abhors; so proud that they are like the other nations. Anyone who says that the Creator will rebuild the third Temple forgets why the last Temple was destroyed; 40 years after Yeshua was killed it fell in ruins. All that remains today is the kotel and the other nations tell us that even that doesn’t belong to us. The United Nations agrees. Why are we in this situation? If God is with us, who can be against us as Rav Shaul spoke?  In the portion Ekev “if” is repeated over and over denoting that Israel’s success was and is conditional upon our obedience to His commandments.  Our Creator made a promise to our forefathers and He will keep it but we the people will suffer the consequences for our disobedience. It has taken 2000 years for the reinstatement of the state of Israel and this has certainly not been due to our good behavior but because of His promise. 

We are more worried about externals than what is inside. Righteousness begins within. Our values need to be above all other nations. If Israel cannot be distinguished by its values above the other nations, what is the reason for its existence?  We as God’s people do not have the right to call ourselves part of Him if our values are not better than the values of those around us. Let us not worry about how we look but rather about who we are.  Our Creator is asking us for a personal revolution. Stop trying to look good to others but instead be a person of value where your actions influence others; your life will be an example to others. Live it; don’t talk about it. Don’t be a politician, be a doer. This is how we can say that Yeshua fulfilled his role of messiah.  He brought Torah to all humanity even though Christianity and Orthodox Judaism disagree that it is for everyone. Both are wrong. There is only one God and He gave us His Torah so that we can be in a true relationship with Him. In it He gives us the opportunity to do teshuva; to make things right when we have done wrong; to start again. Our God is the God of beginning again!.