Ekev: Looking Backward…Who Do We See?

This week’s portion, “Ekev” continues the lengthy summary by Moses of the Israelites Wilderness experience. Beginning in Deuteronomy 7:12 with a powerful reminder of how to engage the people of the new land, the portion constantly echoes a literary motif common to the book that notes that “if” they keep the Commandments, “then” good things will happen and “if” they deviate and follow other gods, “then” punishments will follow.

Many commentators see in Deuteronomy a reflection of 7th century BCE Judea and the attempt to rid the monarchy and the Temple of the influence of foreign Gods. Indeed, the Prophets who active at this time, made this a central message. Moses continues his summary and the portion contains some well known  texts, such as 8:3 and the reminder that we “do not live by bread alone” and a re statement of the “v’ahavta” in 11. We are reminded again in chapter 10 that we were strangers in Egypt and thus the call to befriend and love those “gerim” (strangers) in our midst.

Moses, as he does many times, reminds the people of their failings and the many times that they strayed from God, loosing  faith and seeming to abandon him, and God. This aspect of Moses triggered some interesting discussion in a recent Torah class. As one student mentioned, Moses constantly calls out the Israelites as he looks back on their journey. What may have been going through his mind?

Many of us are at a stage in our life when, as we look forward, we take time to look at where we have been and try to examine why we acted in certain ways as we matured. Was Moses’s reminders of past trials more about his needs? Was a question really from Moses to the people “why did you leave me so many times?” A possible answer, in a very different interpretation, may be found by going back to the beginning of Moses, where he was abandoned by his parents. Could his reluctant leadership have been influenced by his childhood? Did he see in the Israelites a fear of being abandoned again and again?

Dr Vivian Skolnick in her book “The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity” seems to say yes. She sees in Moses the issue of transference, a state where “the person unconsciously experiences anther person as an earlier, usually unresolved parental figure”. She writes that “Moses, in addressing the people, is experiencing his own transference reaction. He sees them as abandoning him in difficult times in much the way he felt abandoned by his parents as an infant.” (p.220) Now this may not be the  lesson we teach in Religious School or from the pulpit, but it does have context for many of us as we look back and try to understand the motivations of why we did the things we have done. We never know who is speaking to us from the quiet recesses of our own mind and soul.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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