Monday, August 25, 2008

Parashat Ekev

Parashat Ekev begins with a reminder that if we follow the commandments God will reward us with blessing. Standing at the Jordan, the Israelites could see before them the greatest of the blessings God offers: the Holy Land. In Deuteronomy 8:7-9, we read that the land is
“a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; 9 a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing…”

This land that the spies found to be flowing with milk and honey also will provide seven species of valuable produce for consumption and trade. Next we are told that the stones of the land will yield iron, and that copper can be mined from the hills. It is a sharp contrast to desert life, where the land provided nothing but scorpions and snakes, and where the hills gave us sand and more sand. It is hard to imagine a better reward to a generation of people who have never known anything but desert life.

The next section, immediately following the description of this amazing land, reminds us of desert life again. Beginning with verse 12 we hear an admonition to not forget the travels in the desert. It would be easy after living in this prosperous land to not remind the future generations about the trials of the forty year journey through the desert. Why bother them with the difficulties of the past when we can enjoy what we have today? The Torah answers this very question.

We are commanded not to forget that God brought us out of Egypt. God led us through the wilderness, gave us water and food where there is none to be found. God would not let our clothes wear down or our feet swell. We did not have to worry about the day to day. We had food, water, and clothing provided for us by God. It was a miraculous time.

In the Promised Land there will still be food and water, but humans will grow and harvest the food. Humans will draw water from the wells. After a little while in the Promised Land it would be easy to believe that the crops that we grow and the water we draw are from our efforts alone. We might forget that the figs, pomegranates, wheat, barley, olives, and honey are gifts from God.

So we are commanded to never forget the wandering in the desert. A reminder not that we have had it so rough, not a chest beating for all we have endured. This is a reminder that everything we have is a miracle from God. Remember the miracles in the desert? Remember the water flowing from a rock and the manna falling with the dew? We still live with miracles! They just are not as blatant as they used to be, so we are commanded to remember the miracles of the past in order to acknowledge the miracles of today.

During prayer services we remind ourselves of this in the Modim section of the Amidah. We thank God “for your wondrous gifts at all times, morning, noon, and night.” We also remind ourselves of this when we pray nissim b’chol yom, the blessing section for our daily miracles. Reminders in our liturgy and our Torah are there to keep us from thinking that everything we do comes from our power. The gifts of having food and water, sharing time with our loved ones, and providing the basic necessities for them are miracles.

May we all be able to realize the miracles of every day, big and small. May we find that as we work towards perfecting the world, we acknowledge God’s work with our hands. May it be God’s will that we continue to be instruments of making miracles.

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