Parashas Eikev – Reward and Reward
This week’s sedra begins with Moshe continuing to encourage the nation to stay holy when they enter Eretz Yisrael. Having used previous tactics of reminding the nation of their previous downfalls (mainly in Parashas Devarim) and also by inspiring them with a repetition of the Ten Commandments and The Shema (last week, Parashas Vaeschanan)… Moshe appears to use a new plan of action at the start of this week’s sedra with him spelling out the rewards which Hashem would bestow upon the people if they “hearken to these ordinances… observe and perform them” [7:12]. We therefore find contained within the opening possukim of our sedra, various promises of worldly benefits which Hashem will give to us if we keep his Torah. According to the mefarshim these rewards can be broken up into ten blessings which alludes to observing the Ten Commandments, which form the basis of all mitzvos. These ten blessings are;
1.Hashem will love you
2.Hashem will bless you – with material wealth
3.Hashem will multiply you – in a miraculous manner such as that which was experienced in Egypt where seventy became approximately three million at Mount Sinai
4.Hashem will bless the fruit of your womb – not only will the nations avoid miscarriages but they will also live longer lives
5.Hashem will bless the products of your soil (ie. make it fertile)
6.Hashem will bless your grain – main source of food
7.Hashem will bless your wine – main source of income
8.Hashem will bless your oil – paramount to illumination
9.Hashem will bless your oxen – they will also be guarded from miscarrying
10.Hashem will bless the flocks of your sheep
This opening section also contains promises to us being the “most blessed among all the nations” [7:14] which insinuates a greater ability than other nations which we have certainly seen throughout the course of history. It is no coincidence that the stereotypical view of a Jew is rich, successful and usually quite smart as this was Hashem’s promise to us. Other rewards spelled out here by Moshe include the absence of barren males or females amongst the Jewish people which according to Chazal implies not only that we will be a very fertile nation with regards to procreation but also that our prayers will be accepted and fulfilled (they won’t remain barren) and that our people will never have a lack of Torah students, chas vasholam. Another meaning brought down for this absence of barren males or females is that no Jew will be barren or ignorant of Torah whereby Jews from all walks of life will be so knowledgeable that they will be able to refute the non-believers; something which we obviously don’t see today but will please G-d happen speedily in our days. We are also promised that “Hashem will remove from (us) every illness” [7:15]… according to the Ramban this form of reward is a direct opposite to the curse found in Parashas Bechukosai which threatens us of being struck with painful sickness if we disregard the Mitzvahs of the Torah. The reward here for doing the opposite and guarding the Torah would be that He would bring these illnesses upon our enemies instead, which is spelt out in this week’s Parasha. The final blessing we see in this section is that of Hashem defeating all our enemies for us and ‘delivering’ them to us which would not be through your average means of warfare but according to the Vilna Gaon would be through our enemies fleeing or surrendering… Bnai Yisrael would therefore defeat the nations effortlessly.
Leading on nicely from this final reward of Hashem, Moshe then goes on to assure the Jewish Nation that they will be successful in conquering the Land and that they should not fear being overcome by the Canaanite nations telling them that they “shall remember what Hashem… did to Pharaoh and to all the of Egypt” [7:18]. Any logical person would question how the nation could dare cross into the Land and go into battle against the larger and stronger Canaanite nations, perceiving that they would surely face immediate defeat and death… and in the Torah, Moshe brings down this query stating, “perhaps you will say in your heart, ‘these nations are more numerous than I, how will I be able to drive them out?’”. To this we see that Moshe brings down Israel’s experiences in Egypt as a case precedent for the mighty and miraculous nature of Hashem who used supernatural means to defeat Pharaoh and his large armies. Moshe also emphasizes here that the nation were commanded to destroy any idol worshippers of the seven nations living in the Land and if they failed to do so by showing ‘mercy’ or through allowing them to remain within Eretz Yisrael then this would breed corruption within the Jews who would be lured into practising their ways. From this we learn a key lesson in distancing ourselves mercilessly from the other nations which live immoral lives and in today’s world this message is still as important as ever with basic Jewish values of modesty, honesty, family and kindness etc. clearly disregarded in ‘the developed world’ ;-). Last interesting point on the opening perek that I shall mention is brought down by the Tur who points out that whereas in Egypt we saw Hashem personally destroy all the idols of the land during the final plague of the slaying of the first born (when He caused the iron images to melt and the wooden ones to rot)… here we see Moshe impress upon Israel that it is their job to destroy the idols of the seven nations of Canaan. From this we see that although Hashem would be assisting Israel’s conquering of the Land, there would be less intervention than had been displayed in Egypt… the reason for this is because the nation has experienced tremendous miracles since then and had most importantly received the Torah! By now releasing his beloved nation into a land of idol worshippers and demanding that they destroy them, Hashem was lovingly setting up our first tests whereby we could both prove our holiness and earn our rewards in the new Land.
Having had the first paragraph of the Shema in last week’s parasha, this week we find the second passage near the end of the sedra. The reason this passage is read with the first is because having accepted the oneness of Hashem (as discussed last week), the logical continuation of this is acceptance of G-d’s sovereignty, and this is demonstrated in this second passage because it deals with the requirements to perform the commandments with total dedication. The passage also goes on to say that the performance of the mitzvos is rewarded and their neglect is punished which links nicely back to the beginning of Parashas Eikev whereby Moshe spells out some of these earthly rewards. This concept of reward and punishment is a fundamental concept in Judaism and is brought down by Rambam in his thirteen principles of faith that… “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, rewards with good those who observe His commandments, and punishes those who violate His commandments” . Accordingly we must believe that no act goes unrewarded or unpunished which also includes the concept that one cannot cancel out a bad deed with a good one, each is treated independently by Hashem. The primary significance of this principle of reward and punishment is therefore that G-d is aware of and concerned with all human activity. With the nation soon to enter Eretz Yisrael, where they would not have the daily visible miracles which they experienced in the Midbar, a reminder of this fundamental was certainly necessary. The listing of the rewards for keeping mitzvos in the second passage of the Shema is introduced with the word ‘vehaya/והיה’ which means ‘and it will be’ [11:13], the Ohr Hachaim notes that this word, ‘vehaya/והיה’ denotes simcha/happiness, with the possuk thus referring to the fact that if we keep the mitzvos properly then we will be genuinely happy people. The Messilas Yesharim in his opening few lines also highlights this same point… that there is no simcha like the observance of Hashem’s Will through the practice of his Torah!
May we all serve Hashem with simcha always and be rewarded accordingly.
Shabbat Shalom and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead,
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)