It may appear flip to say Moses is reviewing the whole Torah in Deuteronomy, its final book. Some of what he tells us is even new. For certain, he is telling the people (and us) to remain diligent and faithful to God's laws and teachings. However, in our Torah portion this week, Parashat Ekev, it seems that Moses is speaking to the people's stomachs as opposed to their minds and hearts. He reminds them of the manna God continued to send and then promises them much more. Just wait till you see the "land of milk and honey!" There will be wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, and olives and dates! Your stomachs will always be full!
Forgive me, but this list does not seem to be the most elevated posture for Moses to take. It sounds like he is stoking their appetites and stomachs rather than diverting them to spiritual concerns.
In order to understand this we need to step out of the mindset of our well-fed society. For us, the endless obsession with food seems unbecoming of a spiritual community. However, for subsistence farmers in an ancient agrarian society, for whom anxiety about drought and blight was a constant companion, the visions of Moses must have been very compelling. "Stick with God," and you will prosper and feed your family.
But Moses is offering more depth to the Torah. As we read further, we realize that he is addressing not only the poor farmer constantly on the brink of ruin but also the wealthy farmer who has "conquered" the land. In 8:12-14 he speaks to the corrosive effects of affluence-how it breeds arrogance and disbelief. In essence, remember from where your wealth comes.
The book of Deuteronomy focuses on the land of Israel, but it metaphorically addresses compellingly the affluence of Western democracies. Moses is speaking simultaneously to the people's legitimate needs for sustenance and to their spiritual needs to remain faithful even when distracted by the abundance.
We need to be cognizant of the relationship between material and spiritual aspects of life. The great Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev taught that our neighbor's physical needs become our spiritual obligations. As you hopefully received in your e-mail last Friday, beginning this Shabbat untilKol Nidre, our entire congregation is participating in a canned food drive for the San Antonio Food Bank. I hope you will join me in bringing in canned food for those in need in our community. In the New Year I hope that we will all make efforts to provide actual relief for people in physical need and spiritual relief for people afflicted by the corrosive effects of abundance.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham