Parasha Ekev

It may seem 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 stomach 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 hunger 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. But for subsistence farmers in an ancient agrarian society, for whom anxiety about drought and blight was a constant companion, the vision of Moses must have been very compelling. Stick with God, and you will prosper and feed your family.

But there is more depth to the Torah Moses is offering here. 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.  Remember from where your wealth comes.

The book of Deuteronomy focuses on thelandofIsrael, but it metaphorically addresses compellingly the affluence of Western democracies. Moses speaks simultaneously to the people’s legitimate needs for sustenance and to their spiritual need to remain faithful even when distracted by the abundance.

As the recession continues to sap much of the vitality from our economy and that of the world, 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. 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.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham