Eikev, which begins in Deuteronomy 7, begins the second discourse (sermon) of Moses. It is rich in many areas. The portion’s major theme seems to be a reminder that it has been God that has really protected the people and, as the text states in chapter 9, do not forget that without God’s protective hand, destruction would have ensued. A not so subtle reminder of collective, and personal humility. Likewise, the portion contains the famous line in 8:3 that we “do not live by bread alone”, but we survive on anything “that the Eternal decrees.”
In chapter 10, however, we meet another re-telling by Moses of his Sinai experience which sees this text as a reminder/warning/caution by Moses to the Israelites: “And now, O Israel, what does the Eternal your God demand of you? Only this, to revere the Eternal your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and serve the eternal your God with all of your heart and soul” ([10:12]). The Hebrew word “yirah” is a key here. In the newer Reform and Conservative translations of this verse, the word is rendered “revere”. In more traditional translations, the word is “fear”. A traditional commentary asks how one begins to “fear” and is confronted by a text which states that “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God” (verses in Psalms, Proverbs and Job).
How can this begin to relate to us? Many of us have achieved a level of life experience which has allowed us to acquire life experience based wisdom. This is not book knowledge, but, in many ways, real knowledge of the ways of life and the world, relationships and such. Part of that wisdom is the understanding, alluded to in the verses of chapter 9, that we are not isolated souls, but rather part of something larger than our own singular self. That realization is met, as we age, with the reality of our own mortality. This linkage of seeing our self as part of a larger “whole” and that we are mortal, is the real beginning of wisdom. That reality is often met with genuine fear (fear of the unknown, of oblivion) which can, if we understand it, lead to a sense of awe and reverence for life itself. Once we come to understand that life is temporal and subject to so much that we cannot control we can, if we “choose”, stand in awe and reverence of life and in doing so, we grow spiritually and achieve a true sense of reverence and wisdom. This choosing to revere life’s fragility is a true act of faith, I feel, and not everyone chooses to do this. Once again, this “leap” of faith is up to us.
Rabbi Richard F Address