Thankfully, congregants ask me questions. Frequently, they are derived from things in the Torah that are not logical or are just hard to comprehend.A big one is why it is that we are always responsible for what previous generations have done for us, whether positive or negative? Our Torah portion, Parashat Ekev, focuses on just that. Moses admonishes the new generation of Israelites for the sin of the golden calf, consistently telling them what "they" had done, when in fact it was their parents who had panicked and built the idol.
The other pronominal play in this passage regards the word "Amkha." God tells Moses that "your people" (Amkha) has sinned by building the calf. Moses concedes the point but then works up the rhetorical energy to conclude his reply to God with (9:29): "But they are Your people (Amkha) and Your inheritance whom you liberated with Your great power and Your outstretched arm."
It is almost ludicrous to watch Moses and God tossing ownership and responsibility for the people of Israel back and forth like a hot potato. God seeks to sever the bonds that link God to this obstinate people, and Moses consistently reinforces them, almost like a spider adding a few more tangles to keep the fly from escaping its web. As the Sages like to say, "If it had not been written this way it would be impossible to say!" Our liturgy picks up this "thread," especially with the High Holiday prayer, "Ki anu Amekha,For we (Israel) are Your people, and You are our King."
At the very beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah, we are told "These are the words that Moses addressed to all of Israel." Apparently, this is simply Moses "summing up" the four previous books. How is it that some of the mitzvot are set out for the very first time in Deuteronomy, superficially Birkat Hamazon, our Grace After Meals? Is it Moses' thought, or did he receive it from God?
It is far above my ken to respond, much less answer, that query. My left-leaning colleagues will certainly answer it one way, and I am sure the right-leaning ones will take another tack. Whatever your posture, this is what makes our Torah a joy to delve into time and time again-with different revelations each time.
Parashat Ekev repeatedly warns the people not to think that it is their own righteousness that entitles them to the Land. The reality is that not one of us is so brazen to claim the gifts as a matter of right. Each day through our study of Torah, our acts of compassion, and our performance of mitzvot it is our task to earn a role in God's redemptive plan for the world. As Isaiah proclaims in this week'sHaftarah, God provides a "learned tongue" and the motivation to arise morning after morning, to listen and to learn. As we prepare for a new year of learning together, may we approach it with humility, curiosity and with joy.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham