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

“You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Adonai, your God, for the good land He has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)

Parashat Eikev is sneaky. On the surface it’s all about reward and punishment. Underneath, though, it’s really about human nature.

Eikev presents the Israelites with a choice: follow the Torah and be rewarded (Deut. 7:12-16) or don’t and be punished (Deut. 8:19-20). If that’s not clear enough, Eikev continues: the reward is material abundance and the punishment is death. The land is the mediator: follow the Torah and the rain will fall and the land will be fertile and grow everything you need to live. Don’t, and the rain will disappear, the land will dry out and you will starve (Deut. 11:13-17). It’s pretty straightforward and the only question is why it’s such a struggle for the Israelites.

But Eikev juxtaposes the promise of abundance with two other food-related images. The first is Moses on top of Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights, not eating or drinking, waiting to receive the Torah (Deut. 9:18). The second is the manna God sends for forty years to sustain the Israelites in the desert (Deut. 8:3). In the first case, Moses becomes like an angel, with no need (or desire) for physical nourishment. In the second case, the Israelites’ bodies are satisfied, but not their psyches. Moses is happy to be chosen but the Israelites chafe at being assigned. This is hinted at obliquely when Eikev commands, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, give thanks to the Lord your God…” (Deut. 8:10) God’s grace keeps the Israelites fed, but their powerlessness leaves them less than satisfied. And as we know from today’s world, that perception is a potent trigger of rebellion.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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