“And now, Israel, what is it that God requests of you, but to fear God?” (Deut. 10:12)
Parashat Eikev includes a set of verses that present the classic reward and punishment view of Jewish life: follow the Torah and the rain will fall and the land will support you. Abandon the Torah and the rain won’t fall and the crops will wither and you will starve (Deut. 11:13-21). The concept is so important the verses comprise one of the three paragraphs of the Sh’ma prayer.
It’s easy to overlook the opening words of the passage, which often are glossed and not translated: “V’haya im shamoa tishm’u…” (Deut. 11:13; “It shall be if hearken you will hearken…). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator), asks why shamoa appears twice and concludes, “If you hearken to the old, you will hearken to the new.” That is, each shamoa represents our engagement with either the past or the present. The question of the relationship between the old and the new, and how to relate to each, remains relevant to this day. In fact, it is possible to view Jewish life as an ongoing negotiation between the old and the new.
Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; a Latvian Talmud prodigy who became the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) sees a dynamic relationship between the two. This is best expressed in his famous statement, “Hayashan yitchadesh, v’hachadash yitkadesh,“ (The old will be renewed and the new will be sanctified.). Kook believes new ideas help us reinterpret the old, and old ideas provide meaningful contexts for the new. The tension between tradition and change is as true and as necessary for him as for Rashi. And as it is for each of us.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom