Parshat Ekev תשפ

Ekev is the third portion in the fifth and last book of the Torah,דברים  Devarim (Deuteronomy), which Moshe related in its entirety to the Jewish people in the last 36 days of his life, the last three portions (וילך, האזינו, וזאת הברכה ) being said on the 7th of Adar, the day Moshe died. 

Our sages tell us that Devarim is different than the other four books of the Torah. Using today’s concepts to explain the difference, as to the first four books Moshe was like a megaphone, broadcasting directly Hashem’s message to the Jewish people, שכינה מדברת מתוך גרונו – Hashem’s voice coming out of Moshe’s mouth.  When giving the book of Devarim, on the other hand, Moshe first absorbed the material and then told it to the Jewish people. Thus, Moshe was like a voice recorder, playing back to the Jewish people what Hashem had told him in prophesy. Once again, although Hashem’s actual words, they had first become part of Moshe and only then were conveyed to the Jewish people. We see this difference in that nowhere in this entire book do we find, “and Hashem told Moshe, tell the Jewish people …” or “And Hashem spoke to Moshe.” Rather, it says, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to the Jewish people…,” as if Moshe was telling his own words to the Jewish people. 

Hence, this book is like Moshe’s last will and testament containing Moshe’s charge to the Jewish people just before his death. They would enter the land of Israel without him, but with the lessons that would guide them and guarantee their future in the Land.

Here is one of the important lessons in this week’s portion (Deuteronomy 8:5):

ספר דברים פרק ח 

וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם לְבָבֶךָ כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת בְּנוֹ יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךָּ:

5) You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your God, chastises you:
This verse dovetails with another verse in Deuteronomy (14:1).

ספר דברים פרק יד 

בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַידֹוָד אֱלֹקיכֶם לֹא תִתְגֹּדֲדוּ וְלֹא תָשִׂימוּ קָרְחָה בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם לָמֵת:

1) You are children to Hashem, your God — you shall not cut yourselves and for a dead person you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes.

When we combine both verses, Hashem is telling us that we are his children (14:1), and, therefore, just as a parent punishes a child, so too Hashem punishes us (8:5). 

Indeed, our sages tell us that Hashem actually loves us more than we love our own children! It is hard to imagine love greater than that of a parent to a child, yet Hashem whose whole essence is love, has infinite love for each of His children, whom He loves unconditionally.  

Let’s take a moment to look more closely at the second verse, which doesn’t seem to make sense. 

You are children to Hashem, your God — you shall not cut yourselves and for a dead person you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes.

What is does the prohibition of cutting yourself or making a bald spot between your eyes over someone who has died, have to do with our status as Hashem’s children?

The answer is, that in some cultures it is customary for one to tear the hair out of his head and cut himself as an expression of the grief and pain he is going through over the loss of his loved one. 

Hashem tells us, “You are my children whom I love so much. Therefore, everything I do is for your best. Accept it as you would a reprimand from your father. Even if you don’t understand why I did it, realize that I have done it out of love for you, and for your benefit. Don’t pull your hair out of your head, and scratch yourselves over someone dying, which is acting like my judgment is too harsh and you aren’t accepting of my decree. Such behavior is inappropriate since this is the very best thing for you.” 

This concept lays the foundation for the Torah perspective on suffering and difficulty in this world. When something seemingly hurtful happens, it is actually a love tap from Hashem, the medicine for what ails us. Sometimes the medicine is bitter; but not everything bitter is bad for you, and not everything sweet is good for you.

Imagine a person who goes to the doctor with a cough. The doctor diagnoses him with pneumonia and prescribes a liquid medicine. He takes the first dose, and it’s foul tasting. He calls the doctor all upset. “Why did you give me such a bitter medicine? Why couldn’t you give me the kind that they give to my kids? They can’t wait to get their next dose!” What do you think the doctor will tell the fellow?

Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud says it unequivocally (Tractate Berachot 60b):

(3) תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ס/ב 

וכן תנא משמיה דרבי עקיבא לעולם יהא אדם רגיל לומר כל דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד

A person should accustom himself to say, “Everything that The Merciful One does is for the best!” 

Notice how Rabbi Akiva refers to Hashem as “The Merciful One” and how it says “for the best” not “for the good.”  The implication is that this is the very best option and that Hashem could find no other way of administering the dose of medicine that we need. Keep in mind that Hashem has all the options available to Him, and yet this is the option that He chose. 

An illustration will clarify things. Let’s say your child is doing something that is really annoying you. For example, he’s constantly banging his foot against the table and it’s driving you nuts. 

You have three options. 

  1. You can ask him very sweetly, “Honey, would you please stop that banging? It’s annoying me.”
  2. You could scream at him, “STOP THAT BANGING THIS INSTANT!!!! IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!!”
  3. You could send him to his room for a two-hour time-out.

If you knew that option #1 is all you need to get him to stop, is there any way in the world that you would resort to options #2 or #3? Of course not!

But, if you had asked him politely four of five times, and he has ignored you and continued banging the table, you might find yourself resorting to option #2 or even #3 if he was insolent enough. Not out of anger or frustration, rather to impress upon him how annoying he is acting so that he stops that behavior. 

Similarly, if Hashem knew that a small hint would suffice to get our attention and stop us from doing our annoying, or possibly even offensive or hurtful behaviors, of course, that is what He would do! But, unfortunately, He has sent us many hints that we have either inadvertently, or purposely, ignored, and, thus, we have left Him no choice but to either yell at us or even give us a slap to wake us up. 

This concept is expressed in the following teaching from the Talmud (Berachot 5a):

אמר רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו יפשפש במעשיו 

Rava, and some say it was Rav Chisda, said; “If a person sees that he is the subject of suffering, he should inspect his deeds.”

When, all of a sudden, things start to happen to a person, there is a reason, a message, and a purpose.  

The Talmud goes on to tell the story of Rav Huna, a Talmudic sage, who had 400 barrels of wine that turned to vinegar. When his colleagues heard about it, a delegation of rabbis paid him a visit and told him, “Inspect your deeds!” If your wine has gone bad, something is not right. This is not supposed to happen. 

Rav Huna responded, “Do you suspect me of doing something wrong?” 

“Should we then suspect Hashem for bringing a loss upon a person who did not deserve it?” was the rabbis’ response.

Rav Huna then said, “Okay, if anyone has heard of something that I am not doing correctly, let him tell me.”

The rabbis responded, “We heard that you are not giving your sharecropper his share of the stems and branches from the vineyard.”

Rav Huna did not deny the accusation but explained that he was just trying to offset some of the losses that he had incurred from the theft by his sharecropper.

The rabbis explained to him that even though he was reclaiming money that was due him, because he had to go about it in a way that violated a law, it was inappropriate. 

Rav Huna accepted their criticism and agreed to stop his custom; in the end, he suffered no loss from the spoiled wine. How so? One version says that the vinegar reverted to wine, and a second version says that vinegar went up in price and his vinegar sold for the price of wine. 

There is another important lesson in the idea that Hashem is like a father who sometimes punishes his child. 

As parents, we know that our sole purpose and reason for punishing our child is out of concern for his welfare. Even though we understand that our child is going to be very upset at us for what we are doing to him, we are prepared to endure yelling, accusations, and upset, because we understand that, as a parent, this is our responsibility. 

King Solomon said it best in Proverbs (13:24):


ספר משלי פרק יג 

חוֹשֵׂךְ שִׁבְטוֹ שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ וְאֹהֲבוֹ שִׁחֲרוֹ מוּסר

24) One who does not hit his child – hates him, and one who loves his child, chastises him when the child is young.

Imagine a child who hates school and cries bitterly every day that he doesn’t want to go to school. The parents give in and let him stay home and watch TV and play video games all day, the result being that he never learned to read, write, do math, or learn any other skill that he will need for life. The kid tells his friends that he has the best parents in the world! They don’t make him do anything that he doesn’t want to do! 

In reality, they have done their child an extreme disservice. Is this good for his future? What will he think of his parents when he is 35 years old and homeless because he has no skills and can’t get a job? Did he have the best parents after all?  

The prophet Isaiah tells us (55:9):

(ט) כִּי גָבְהוּ שָׁמַיִם מֵאָרֶץ כֵּן גָּבְהוּ דְרָכַי מִדַּרְכֵיכֶם וּמַחְשְׁבֹתַי מִמַּחְשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם:

  As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, my thoughts than your thoughts.

Hashem tells us, through the prophet, that we are as far away from understanding His ways as the heavens are from earth. The thought of the distance between heaven and earth gives us a hint into why it is impossible to even contemplate fathoming the reasons behind why Hashem does what He does. 

When you have a bird’s eye view of matters, allowing you to see at once all the different components and how things fit together and how they influence each other, you are in a position to make an informed decision. When you are on the ground and all you can see is the area right in front of you, you lack the information necessary to decide what is best for all parties involved. Let’s add one more dimension. Hashem is basing His calculations on events beginning with Adam and reaching until Mashiach, a period, so far, of 5780 years, and He does everything for the best. 

There is yet another important lesson based on this concept that we are Hashem’s children and that He loves us more than we love our own children. 

When we punished our children, for example, by grounding them, and didn’t let them go out with their friends, they were miserable. Sometimes they were crying in their rooms, cursing us, and telling us how mean and un-understanding we were. When they did that, how did we feel? Were we gloating and feeling good about our power and the control we have over our children? We felt just as bad as they did, because we could not let them have their way! We wished we could give in! But we nevertheless held the line, doing what we felt was necessary to help our children learn the lesson they needed to learn.

The very same is true of Hashem. He is experiencing our pain just as we are. The Tanach expresses this.

Isaiah (63:9) says, 

בְּכָל צָרָתָם לֹא {לוֹ} צָר 

In all of their pain, He also has pain

King David says in Psalms (91,15):

עִמּוֹ אָנֹכִי בְצָרָה 

Hashem says, “I am with him in his pain.”

We should never think that Hashem doesn’t know or care about what we are going through.  On the contrary, Hashem feels our pain and goes through the ordeal with us. It pains Him greatly to have to put us through it, just as it pained us to put our children through the punishments that we did.

Our Sages tell us a remarkable thing: When we leave this world and enter the world to come, we will see the complete picture from Hashem’s perspective. We will then understand why Hashem what He did and how it was truly the very best thing for us. We will also see how, every time, He had chosen the very best course of action, and we will thank Him for it. 

There is second side to this coin. If we are Hashem’s children, then He is our father and we can act towards Him the same way that a son acts towards his father. Just as a son feels comfortable asking his father for anything, we should feel the same way about Hashem. Not only that, if our son went to someone else before asking us for what we really want to give him, we would feel insulted. “Why did you go to a stranger, when I, your father, want to give you whatever you need!” Similarly, Hashem wants to be our “go-to” address, and we can ask Him for anything. Nothing is too small or too big. 

Additionally, children do not hesitate to ask, pester, or even verbally batter their parents for what they feel they need right this minute! Whatever it takes to get the parent to acquiesce to the request, the child will employ. Has your infant ever said, “Oh, it’s 3:00 a.m., I won’t bother my mother for my bottle tonight”? Or has your child ever said, “I have bothered my father so much about this, I am not going to ask him again?”

We can do the same with Hashem. Indeed, He wants us to come to Him with all our needs. And, yes, even pester Him. But Hashem will never get annoyed at us, as we sometimes do with our children. 

As you can well imagine, this concept has many more applications, these are just a few to consider.  

If we would only appreciate how much Hashem loves us, it would surely change our entire relationship with Him. We would be grateful for every interaction with Him and feel comfortable approaching Him for all of our needs. 


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