Parasha Ekev Devarim (Deut) 7:12-11:25
By Rav Mikhael
“What does YHVH your G-d ask of you? Only to fear YHVH, your G-d, to go in all His ways and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul”
This is really the sum total of our duty to our G-d. If we know nothing else about our duty to G-d, we need to know this. So what does it mean? Let’s take each requirement in turn. We are to “fear” G-d. Yaray means to fear, respect, be in awe of or revere. This is a very important idea because proper relationship with G-d begins with a knowledge of who He is and that knowledge will produce ‘Yaray’. A proper fear of G-d will help us to avoid the pitfalls on either side because it is combined with love. Many Christians emphasize the love without the fear -“G-d is your buddy, He’ll forgive you no matter what, He loves you, don’t worry about what you do..” This is because love without fear makes men remiss, it encourages them to take advantage and they end up like spoiled children. On the other hand, fear without love makes men servile and desperate, legalistic and burdened. So having a proper balance of respect and love will do wonders for our relationship with G-d, our self-perception and the performance of our responsibilities.
The fear of G-d is also something we grow in and come to a better understanding of as our relationship grows. G-d calls us the ‘children’ of Israel for a reason. Most of us are still in a very immature stage and it takes time for us to grow. When a child is small, he does not understand the consequences of his behavior as an adult does. When he repeatedly tries to touch the stove, he doesn’t know he will get burned, but his parent does. So when the parent warns him and threatens to smack his hand, even coupled with a lengthy explanation of heat and burns, the child will stay away from the stove because he is afraid of getting spanked, not because he understands being burned. Some of us still view our relationship with G-d the same way. We serve our G-d because we fear punishment or negative consequences. But G-d is not a dictator, He does not arbitrarily impose the rules on His people. He made a covenant. Covenants are there for the mutual benefit of both parties involved. G-d understands the consequences of our actions far better than we do. When He gives us guidelines (Torah-Teaching), we should perform the commandments because we know they are there for our benefit, and for the mutual accomplishment of our goal with G-d. The covenant is there because we are in a partnership with G-d to accomplish His will here on earth and that covenant outlines both parties responsibilities.
What are our responsibilities? ‘Observe the commandments of YHVH, and His decrees’. We are to perform the commandments as he has given them to us in Torah and as fully explained and revealed to us by Yahushua, the living Torah. We are to ‘go in all His ways’, we are to exemplify His character in this world in all our words and actions. We are to ‘love him’, putting His wishes and desires above our own, even at the expense of our lives, if necessary. And what is G-d’s responsibility? He will provide material and spiritual blessings far and above any other nation of people on the earth. We are partners with G-d in a most glorious endeavor and He has promised the best for his people. We need only love and fear him and we will experience the greatest of rewards, both now and forever.
This week’s parasha begins with an extensive restatement of the blessings associated with adherence to the terms of the covenant. “This shall be the reward if you hearken to these ordinances...” (7:12). It would appear that it is almost a restoration of paradise-no sickness, no barrenness, the land will yield produce, it is watered from heaven, it will be protected by G-d Himself. All the people have to do is obey the terms of the covenant, follow the commandments of Torah.
That seems simple enough. There is however, an apparent contradiction in the parasha. YHVH warns them that when they are blessed and they multiply and they experience all the blessings, they should beware lest they forget the Lord their G-d and think that their righteousness resulted in their blessing. Moshe also describes all their failures up to this point to impress upon them the fact that they have come this far not because they were righteous, actually they were stiff-necked and disobedient at every opportunity, but because of G-d’s mercy and promise to the patriarchs.
So on the one hand we have G-d telling Israel that it will experience wonderful blessings if they do what is right and follow the covenant. On the other hand, He tells them that when the blessings come, they should not think that it was because they were righteous but only because G-d loved the patriarchs. Throw into the mix the fact that in one of or previous parashot was the statement that ‘Torah will be righteousness for you’ and we are left rather confused. Does Israel experience blessing because of who they are or because of what they do?
As you can imagine, it is some of both. “what does YHVH your G-d require of you? Only to fear YHVH, your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve YHVH your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, to observe all the commandments of YHVH and His decrees which I command you today for your benefit.” Israel is chosen because of the patriarchs. The fact that they are even in a position to receive blessing is in reality and ‘accident of their birth’. That is why G-d could tell them that they have no merit, it is only because their ancestors obeyed and loved G-d that G-d promised to bless them. Had they not even been born into the community, they would not be in a position to receive the blessings. We are the same way. Most of us were born into a place where we had the scriptures available, we had the freedom to study. If we didn’t have even these things, would we be where we are?
That blessing comes with a great responsibility however. We may have been put in a position to receive blessing by circumstances beyond our control but what we do with that position is our responsibility. We must then choose to fear our G-d, to love Him and walk in His ways and to follow His commandments, decrees and laws for our benefit. As we begin that we will experience blessing. Not that we are perfect. Israel was never perfect yet it was only when they had so horribly and consistently disobeyed the terms of the covenant that they experienced the curses. We are not going to be perfect either but by taking our responsibility seriously and developing an attitude of love and fear of G-d that sets us on the right path, we will experience the wonderful blessings of the Kingdom.