Taken from Rabbi’s message 23 Av 5778

Let us “Dig in our Heels” (ekev)

In Parashat Ekev, Moshe is reminding the Israelites about the intense training that they had gone through during their 40 years in the desert.  The main desire of our Creator was to teach them and us principles by which to live our lives. Most people believe that the first time His people heard the Ten Commandments was at Mt. Sinai. Please understand this – Man is not an afterthought for the Creator. He didn’t create us simply because He was bored. Bereshit, Genesis clearly states that humans were made in God’s likeness and image which doesn’t refer to man’s physical appearance but goes to the ethereal level. I have repeated to you over and over that God made us independent beings having free will with the capacity to make our own decisions. He implanted “emunah”, His gift of faith within us, through which our actions can progress to bitachon, trust. He then judges us by our intentions. When He breathed His Ruach, His Spirit into us, His principles, His Ten Commandments were engraved upon our hearts, placed in our consciousness giving us an inherent sense of morality. Contrary to most religious beliefs, man is born “morally upright” and with time chooses to move in another direction. No one is born with wrong thinking; children must be trained and disciplined.  At Mount Sinai, the Creator spoke His Commandments to “remind” the people to return to Him.

Our sages agree that one of the major roles of a mashiach (messiah) apart from bringing in Tikkun Olam (the healing of the world), was to bring us back to Torah. Who was truly the face, the picture of this mashiach? It was Moshe Rabenu. At the beginning, Moshe said that he couldn’t speak but now couldn’t stop talking. Now he was letting this second generation know what they had gone through the past 40 years and that he was sorry that he couldn’t be with them. It is typical of grandparents to give advice but there is a time to allow our children to become independent and to grow up. He was letting the people know that their 40 years in the desert were not in vain, that they would have to face many difficult circumstances but it was to prepare them for a better role. He was teaching them that they would need to be obedient.

Let’s go back to the end of the last parashah where in Devarim 7:5, Moshe wanted them to smash down all the altars and standing stones of the nations and reminded them that they were consecrated, bought by Him, that they were chosen however, in verse 7, He said … “you were not chosen because you were the most numerous of all peoples — for indeed you were the smallest of all.”  And in 9:6, He said “Be clear about this: the LORD is not giving you possession of this fine land because of any right conduct on your part, for you are a keshech oref (stiff-necked) people.  It was because of the wickedness of the people who they were to displace, not because of our merit.

However, whether they are a natural-born citizen of the land or a “ger toshav” (a stranger among us), there is one condition to being chosen – they need to keep the Word of God. There are many people who think that they are of Israel, but they are not, while those who do not think that they are part of Israel, are. It is not about our bloodline rather it is a calling.  It is the Creator who puts the desire in our hearts to follow Him.

I, as your rabbi, have been teaching you that we need to free ourselves from the constraints of religion and concentrate on having a relationship with the Creator. Religions have us believe that we are chosen because of who we are.  Some say that they chose God while others believe that He is the product of our imagination, our needs, insecurities or fears. What do you believe?

In this portion, Moshe tells the people not to be afraid because they will conquer the land that the Creator was giving to them. They already understood that when the scouts were sent to check out the land, their negative report caused them to remain 38 more years wandering in the desert. Now Moses is saying to this next generation, “Don’t worry, you will have to fight but it’s in the bag because the Creator is with you.”  Yeshua said, “Don’t fear those who can take your life here; fear the One who can take your life for eternity.” So many people live with fear, but all He wants from us is to do our best and trust in Him. The Creator does the miracles, but we have to do the rest. And when He blesses Israel with wealth, possessions, and power, it is not for us to keep for us, but so that we can help others. That comes from the promise in Genesis that He made to Abraham Avinu.

In Chapter 10:16, Moshe asks us to “circumcise” our hearts, which obviously is not to be taken literally. A modern interpretation of this circumcision might look like this: when a person has their cataracts removed by surgery, the fog that was clouding their sight is removed and they can see clearly again. And the heart has nothing to do with feelings and emotions; in Hebrew, it represents intellect, action, intention, thought, or motivation. When the heart is clouded over, we make poor decisions and need to see clearly to do what is right.

The Creator does not give handouts nor make our decisions for us rather He wants us to partner with Him in a relationship. He gave us free will with which we can even deny His very existence. He doesn’t force us to believe in Him and He is always there giving us the opportunity to return to Him when we fail. In contrast, religions give us formulas to cover every situation. These mean nothing to the Creator He knows our hearts and measures our intentions. We may be able to deceive others, even ourselves but we cannot deceive Him. I have met many con artists who speak words of honey to your face but then stab you in the back.  No one can lie to the Creator; He knows us better than we know ourselves.

The Creator teaches us in this portion to treat the foreigner well since we were once slaves, persecuted and mistreated. There has been division in modern Israel about how to treat foreigners, but have we so quickly forgotten the Holocaust?

Moshe reminded us that how God trained the Israelites who had been totally dependent upon Him, like a baby in its mother’s womb but during their 38-year journey the Creator would help them to become strong and independent.  Moshe told them that they would have a good life if they obeyed His commandments but if they deviated, they would suffer the consequences. Moshe was showing them God doesn’t punish us but allows us to reap what we sow.

Ekev means Heel from which Yaakov’s name was derived. The principal message of this parashah is that we need to “dig in our heels” i.e., to hold onto the principles taught in the Ten Commandments given to us by our Creator who said if we follow, we will have a good life but if we deviate, we will suffer the consequences. People may think that those who are wealthy and powerful are blessed, but you might be surprised at how miserable most of them are while others who live a very modest life, are the happiest people in the world. Wealth does not necessarily bring us blessings or happiness; what brings deep inner contentment is our relationship with God. The more we distance ourselves from Him, the more confusion grows about what is right and what is wrong.

This parashah mentions Pharaoh who began by listening to Moshe when he first sent his own magicians to compete, but as time went on he grew colder until the Bore Olam allowed his heart to become hardened. He went from morality to immorality and finally to amorality where he could no longer differentiate right from wrong. Our society is heading in this direction. Israel is still an example of good to the world in spite of falling short of many moral values. They treat their enemies with benevolence, but the media reports only the opposite. They allow their enemies into their hospitals and give them free surgery. Israel has become a breadbasket for the world and has given the world more inventions and medical advances than any other country. Cell phones, cybernetics developments, new discoveries in all areas come from Israel to share with the world.

The Creator is blessing Israel but is Israel blessing the Creator? Right now, the tide is turning because Israel is trying to be like the world, contrary to the warnings of Moshe Rabenu. How many of us are more interested in what is the latest mode instead of how we should live? New trends pull us instead of us being ourselves. New is not necessarily better.

Moshe warned the Israelites to clear out the land they were about to enter; not to follow what they do. Rather than realizing how special Israel is, the people prefer to identify with the other nations. Several have told me “I don’t want to be chosen or special.”  When we are chosen, we may be reluctant and don’t want the role because it is not easy, but we are called to a higher standard and need to be different even if we don’t want to.

Take heed! If we obey the Creator,  things will go well with us but if we disobey, we will suffer the consequences as we will see in the next parashah Re’eh. We are passing from the Mitzvot to the Chukkim and then the Mishpatim. The Ten Commandments are divided into these three parts. The first three, the mitzvot are about our relationship with the Creator. The Chukkim is about our relationship with ourselves and the Mishpatim, with the rest of society. If we fail in the Mitzvot, we will fail in the Chukkim followed by the Mishpatim. If we fail in our relationship with the Creator, we won’t treat ourselves well and others even worse.  It is my desire that through this process of applying the principles of the Torah, we will see the protection of the Creator in our lives. We may see the people of Israel as being invincible but let’s remember the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks and Romans, the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D, the Inquisition, the pogroms, and only 75 years ago, the Holocaust, to name a few. Let us not forget that we fell into these situations because we were disobedient to our Creator, but He will never allow us to disappear because of His promises to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

That doesn’t mean that it will always go well with us. Many of us go through hard times but before you complain to the Creator, “Why me?” check your heart. Perhaps He is putting you on notice that you may have to change certain attitudes before you will be blessed by him. It is so wonderful to have the opportunity to return to the Creator.  I’ll end with a paraphrase of Psalm 139: 23-24,  Search me O God and know my heart; look within me and see if there is anything that is stopping me from having a relationship with you. Show me so that I can choose to change directions and return to You. May the LORD bless you and keep you.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan (Ranebi)