Torah Commentary by Bettijane Eisenpreis: Parashat Ekev – August 20, 2022

August 20, 2022

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by Bettijane Eisenpreis

You shall faithfully observe all the Instructions that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your fathers.
Deuteronomy 8: 1

If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day you shall certainly perish; like the nations that the Lord will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish – because you did not heed the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 8: 19-20

Parashat Ekev is the second parashah in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ final sermon to the Children of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. But they will enter without Moses. During their wandering through the Wilderness, God instructed Moses to obtain water by speaking to a rock. Instead, Moses struck the rock and, as punishment, God prohibited him from entering the Promised Land.

While Moses is not crossing over, neither are the Israelites whom he led out of Egypt. In Parashat Shelach (Numbers 13-14), we read that, of the twelve spies that Moses sent to scout out the Land of Canaan, ten returned saying that, although it was “a land flowing with milk and honey,” it was inhabited by giants whom they could not conquer, even with God’s help. Only Joshua and Caleb urged the people to go forward and take the Land. God punished the people who believed the spies by condemning them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all the generation that had been slaves in Egypt had died out.

Fast forward to Parashat Ekev. The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for 40 years. Were Moses to enter the Land, he would be the only member of his generation to do it. His siblings, Aaron and Miriam, have already died. The former slaves whom God liberated are all gone. The people Moses is talking to are the children and grandchildren of those who escaped from Egypt. They were born and raised in the wilderness, a hearty lot who never tasted of “the fleshpots of Egypt.” I’m sure they are impressed by Moses’ promise that they will “thrive and increase and be able to possess the land” if they follow God’s commandments, but do they really think they will perish if they don’t obey every rule that Moses recites in excruciating detail?

The carrot or the stick – which is the best approach? Maybe neither! I understand Moses all too well. At 87, I have lived through wars, economic downturns and epidemics. I see the state of the world today and I want to scream to everyone: “Wear your masks!” “Love – or at least tolerate – your neighbor!” “Save your pennies!” But I know it won’t work. Why? Because my parents told me about the Depression, about flu and polio, about World Wars 1 and 2, and my generation and I still had to live through it all over again.

Moses can’t protect the Israelites from all the perils they will face when they cross the Jordan River. Still, he does the best he can. He can be an example of righteous behavior, and, except for a few small slipups he is. And he can leave a record: a detailed description of how to behave in the years to come. The Israelites will probably have to misbehave and be punished before they realize that what Moses said was correct. But it’s all here, in this book. And that is an extraordinary legacy!