August 22, 2019 – The Shmah: The art of hearing.
This week we study the parashah called Ekev. You will find it in the Book of Deuteronomy, 7:12-11:25. Ekev deals with one of the Bible’s most difficult theological problems: “G-d of History Hypothesis”. Reading the parashah carefully we are forced to ask the question: do we have free will or are we “captives” of our historical circumstances? Taken a step further: does the Bible accept the notion of collateral societal damage?
In this week’s parashah we find one of the paragraphs (11:13-22) that forms a part of Judaism’s central statement: the Shma. The paragraph states that if we obey G-d’s laws then prosperity will come, but if we choose to ignore G-d’s laws then a litany of sufferings from draught to famine are sure to follow. The assumptions made here are numerous: (1) G-d rewards or punishes us for our collective decisions, (2) when evil occurs it is our fault, and (3) the way we use (or misuse) our lives impacts the lives of future generations.
These are no easy concepts with which to wrestle. In a world of weapons of mass destruction we have to struggle with the idea that there are consequences to our actions. Is free will then a result of the collective or the province of the individual? Do both society and individuals have the freedom to choose? Do these choices determine the outcomes of our lives and our society? It is this central question that begins with the murder of Abel by Cain, through the Noah story and the Exodus and touches us even today. Is our modern society blessed or cursed by the collective choices that we make?
In our modern world the lure of egocentricity, raised to the level of idolatry, is ever present. Have too many of us have come to believe that we are the final arbiters of our fate; that if it feels right, do it? Are the consequences of such a position the potential for mass murder?
Ekev argues that we are not always correct; that there are times when we fail both ourselves and others. During these times, teshuvah (repentance) is necessary. Ekev argues that an apology is often not enough, instead a society must fix the hurts and repair the damages.
Perhaps this is why this paragraph is connected with the Shma. The Shma teaches us that the underlying principle of creation is the unity of G-d, and therefore the unity of humanity. In the eyes of G-d it does not matter how rich or poor we are, or to which nation or race we belong, we are all human. Ekev reminds us the unity of humanity cannot exist without the unity of G-d.
The parashah also teaches us that the ideals of Torah are not just for one day a week or for one place, but rather for wherever we may be, with whomever we may interact and whatever we choose to do. it is necessary for us also to think of the other. What is your opinion?
Youtubes for the week
Glances at Portuguese Jewish life
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