“Further, the Lord spoke to me, saying, I have seen this people
and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:13)
August 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the slave trade in the US, the 100th anniversary of the US Congress’ failed debate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles (and the League of Nations), and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. There is a significant connection between these anniversaries and Parashat Eikev.
Each of these historical events is testimony to the pernicious belief in human exceptionalism, the idea one group of people is inherently superior to any other. Exceptionalism explains the enslavement of blacks for profit, the division of the post-WW I world to maintain the economic prerogatives of colonial empires, and the death and destruction brought upon the Jews (and the world) by Hitler. Still, what does this have to do with Eikev?
Eikev describes Canaan’s bounty: “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.” (Deut. 8: 7). But Moses reminds the Israelites immediately not to be impressed with themselves when they harvest their crops, expand their herds, build their houses, and acquire material wealth (Deut. 8:12-14). Those achievements are due to God’s blessing, not to anything exceptional they’ve done (Deut. 8: 17-18). Moses is brutally clear: God did not choose the Israelites because they are exceptional (Deut. 7: 7) and if they believe that, they will be destroyed (Deut. 8: 19).
Eikev is sneaky; it presents itself as a reward-and-punishment parable of morality but it’s really a polemic about human nature. As the August anniversaries testify, Eikev’s warning against hubris and greed has yet to be heeded.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom