Eikev is a challenging portion. There are moral issues here (7:16ff,). Also the challenges described by God between the blessings of following the commandments and the promised punishments if we fail. There is even the proof text for the blessing after meals (8:10). But there is a famous passage that also speaks to what many of us have lived through these past years.
In 8:2 we are reminded that we have been tested. The symbolism is, of course, the wandering in the Wilderness, purposly done by God to “test” the Israelites. This made me think of us as we get a little older and at times look back on the journey of our own life and the tests that we had to overcome. Each of us have been tested. Notice how we may have responded to these life tests as we have gotten older. Did we respond at 50 or 60 , or 70 or more the same way we did when challenges confronted us in our youth? Why the change? To paraphrase our portion, what we hungered for in youth may not by what we hunger for now.
The text speaks to this in 8:3 when it states that these tests in life were given to us so that we come to understand that “man does not love by bread alone”. The “B” part of the verse reminds us that we live “by anything that God decrees”. Now there is a theological challenge. Have these tests in life been controlled, caused, brough about by a Supreme Being? Ahh, the book of Job comes up again!
Or, as I believe, this verse speaks to the subtle changes that take place within each of our souls as we get older. At some time each of us comes to realize that we have enough material things. Some people realize this but repress it. Some, say the more spiritual people, come to realize that what is needed at this stage of life is not the material but the spiritual. The pandemic has aided this as so many people have been forced to confront their own mortality and re-prioritize things. Friendships, relationships and time have become so much more valuable, prized and treasured.
We shall continue to be tested. In our responses, look at how much more present the spiritual aspects of our lives will be. We seek meaning, as Heschel wrote. Meaning is encountered in our choices, not in more “stuff” but in more relationships. Time is precious now and so this portion reminds us that what and how we choose to respond to the tests of time can help bring meaning to the time we have left.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.