Commentary for Eikev

15 Aug

This week’s parshah, like many in the book of Deuteronomy, is a long speech by Moses to the Israelites. Chapters seven, eight, and the beginning of chapter nine talk about all of the great things God has done for the Israelites and all of the great things God will continue to do for them. Chapter nine then transitions into a warning to not let success go to their heads, telling them to always remember that God is the one behind their success, and that they should not turn away from God. In the final two thirds of chapter nine Moses reminds them of all of the times they angered God in the desert, and of how often God was tempted to destroy them. Chapter ten then discusses the ways the Israelites have served God in the desert, and the ways they should continue to do so in the Promised Land. Chapter eleven then combines all of these ideas, with Moses making it clear to the Israelites that all of their success, be they military, agricultural, or financial, will be dependent on their faithfulness to God. In essence, the Israelites are being asked to choose what they want their relationship with God to be like. Will they love God and embrace God’s ways, or will they be ungrateful and disobedient, and thus bring the wrath of the Lord down upon themselves? Will they make God an adversary or a friend?

Moses’ reproach of the people in the second part of chapter nine begins with recounting the events at Mt. Sinai. He sets the stage by describing his own activities while on Mt. Sinai: “ I had ascended the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the Tablets of the Covenant that the Lord had made with you, and I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, eating no bread and drinking no water. And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God, with the exact words that the Lord had addressed to you on the mountain of out of the fire on the day of the Assembly (Deut 9:9-10).” The phrase “the finger of God,” used here to describe the carving of the Tablets of the Covenant, is used in only one other place in the entire Torah. Upon beholding the power of the third plague, which their tricks could not replicate, Pharaoh’s magicians describe the plague as “the finger of God (Ex. 8:15).”

It is interesting that this phrase, used only twice in the Torah is once used to describe the creation of a physical symbol of the Covenant between God and the Jewish People, and once used to describe God’s persecution of a sinful people. One time it is describing a positive aspect of the relationship between man and God, and the other time it is used to describe a negative aspect of that relationship.

Just like the Israelites in this week’s parshah, we have a choice of how we want our relationship with God to be. We can look at it as a positive, as Moses does, and embrace the partnership symbolized by the Tablets of the Covenant that were inscribed by the finger of God at Mt. Sinai, or we can view it negatively, as just a set a of restrictions on our time and activities, to the point where it feels like punishment the Egyptians experienced from the finger of God in Egypt. If we choose the former, we are not just embracing a partnership with God, but also with the community of our fellow Jews. If we choose the latter, we are cutting ourselves off from our community, and the wonderful relationships and opportunities a community creates.

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