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Parashat Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

“Love, therefore, the Lord your God, and always keep His charge,
His laws, His rules, and His commandments.” (Deuteronomy 11:1)

Parashat Eikev offers a front-row seat for the unfolding of a Jewish idea. Moses tells the Israelites to, “…love your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave to him.” (Deut. 11:22) This sounds straightforward, but actually is problematic because the Torah says, earlier, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut. 4:24) Cleaving to God constantly would mean disappearing into a fiery ecstasy. That’s not living.

The rabbis interpret this verse to mean cleave to God’s qualities instead: just as God is gracious and compassionate, be gracious and compassionate (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 133b). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) extends this idea and says cleaving to God means attaching yourself to scholars and teachers.

The Or Torah (Menahem ben Judah de Lonzano; 16th Century Italian rabbi and scholar) digs even deeper into this idea. He says cleaving to God means holding onto God’s garments, which are the letters of the Torah. Rachum (R-CH-M), the Hebrew word for compassionate, contains the same letters as chomer (CH-M-R), the Hebrew word for physical matter. When we behave compassionately (rachum), we allow God to enter the physical world (chomer), bringing God’s compassion.

It is striking and instructive the rabbis of the Talmud choose grace and compassion as the primary attributes of God to emulate. The Or Torah crafts from this an elegant statement of theological partnership and reconciles religious mysticism and religious humanism. God depends upon humanity for Divine compassion to enter the world.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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