Eikev is a fascinating portion. It conveys a variety of instructions, all embraced by the Deuteronomic style of “If…Then”; If you follow God’s commands then good things will happen and if you stray, then there will be punishment. Moses continues his farewell sermons, and he even reminds us of the events that surrounded the giving of the Ten Commandments and the sin of the Golden Calf. There is a challenging moral issue raised at the very beginning of the portion when in chapter 7:16 and following, the Israelites are commanded, as they enter the promised land, to “destroy all the people’s that God delivers to you, showing them no pity”. This will, according to God’s plan, help ensure that the Israelites will not be tempted to worship their gods as “that would be a snare to you”. I have no doubt that those of you who attend Torah study the Shabbat will spend some time on these verses as they raise some powerful and disturbing feelings.
The desire to purge any worship of foreign gods must be read in the historical context of Deuteronomy. The book seems, according to classic Biblical analyses, to have been written during the attempted reformation of King Josiah (late 7th century BCE) who attempted to rid the cult of the influence of foreign gods and practices. We can read many of the writings of the classic Biblical Prophets also against this desire to purify the worship at the temple. Again, it is important to try and look at the historical foundation of our texts. History, as we know, runs through the veins of Judaism. Our experiences have shaped our beliefs.
That brings me to a question that also emerges from this week’s portion. In Moses’s summary in chapter 8, we read that the Israelites were “tested” through hardships encountered in the Wilderness, in order that God would know what was in their hearts. (8:2). That raises, of course, the question of our free vs. a god that controls history and events. But also, we can look at this and ask how to relate this text to our lives, what value or lessons have we learned in our life from the “tests” that we have had to endure. Indeed, no doubt some of you who may be reading this now are undergoing such “tests”, tests that challenge your faith and soul. So, this Shabbat, we are invited to look back on our own life journey and ask how have we changed, what have we learned as a result of these life tests? How have these tests shaped who we are now? What choices that we make now have been influenced by what we have learned from our past? As we prepare to welcome a new year, what lessons can we learn? How have you been tested?
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.