Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them, G-d your L-rd will keep His covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers. –Deuteronomy 7:12
The Hebrew word eikev not only means “because,” but also “heel.” Thus Midrash Tanchuma explains that “these laws” refers to mitzvos that seemingly lack significance, so that people tend to “ignore them and cast them under their heels.”
This play on words would completely bypass anyone who doesn’t understand Biblical Hebrew or anyone who doesn’t read traditional or Chassidic Torah commentaries. But now that you know about it, what does it matter?
As it turns out, it matters a lot. Here’s more from the “Chassidic Dimension”:
Eikev alludes to the time just before the coming of Moshiach — “On the heels of Moshiach.” The verse is thus telling us that close to Mashiach’s coming Jews will surely obey G-d’s commands. This is in keeping with the Torah’s assurance that prior to Mashiach’s coming the Jews will return to G-d. (Or HaTorah beginning of Eikev ; ibid. p. 491; ibid. p. 504.)
Recall the quote from Genesis that starts this blog post. This is the first Messianic prophesy in the Bible, and here we see a clear association with the enmity between man and God that only the Messiah can heal, and the words of Moses as he is about to send the Children of Israel on their ordained mission to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and take possession of the Land.
Somehow, Christianity imagines that Jesus will return and then everyone will repent and turn their hearts, minds, and hands back to God, but this is exactly the opposite of what Judaism expects. In the last days, we will all turn to God and obey His commands and His desires and only then the Messiah will come.
This rather flies in the face of traditional Christian doctrine that says we are saved by grace and not by works, as if God’s grace and our behavior were mutually exclusive concepts. While it is true that we can’t work or buy our way into heaven, it is also true that once saved, we aren’t to sit idly by, read a magazine and wait for the bus to the clouds of glory.
We were given life for a reason. We’re supposed to be doing something with it and what we do or fail to do, will make a difference in the eyes of God.
I know I’ve talked about all this before, but since Moses brought it up, I felt I should go follow his lead, so to speak.
In Deuteronomy 10:20, Moses says, “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him…” Here, according to the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentary for this Torah Portion. “to cling to”:
is actually the same Hebrew word which is used of Adam in the garden when it says, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
But how can we cling to God in the sense that one person can cling to another person with whom they have an intimate bond? In Judaism, the traditional way of interpreting the fulfillment of this command is for a person to cling to a tzadik (Holy person) or Torah teacher. It’s the act of a disciple learning from and following in the footsteps of their Master or Rebbe. The FFOZ commentary continues:
Chasidic Judaism believes that through clinging to one’s rebbe (spiritual leader), one is brought into union with his rebbe. Because the rebbe is in union with God, the disciple is also elevated into union with God by virtue of that connection. In the same way, our Rebbe, Yeshua, taught us that in order to cling to God we must cling to him (John 15:1-7) and by clinging to him, we cling to God. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)
Cleaving to a Rebbe, honoring him, and learning from him, and then passing what you’ve learned to others and particularly down to the next generation in response to the desire to cling to God. When we cling to our “Rebbe”, to Jesus, we are fulfilling God’s desire.
One of the most important parts of the Shema appears in this Torah Portion (Deut. 11:1): “Love, therefore, the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His laws, His rules, and His commandments. Moses continues to comment on this theme thus:
Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children — reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates — to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth. –Deuteronomy 11:18-21
For the Children of Israel, the concepts of God’s favor and the obedience of the nation are inexorably intertwined along with clinging to God and the promise of the Messiah’s coming. The fulfilling of the promise to give the Holy Land to the Children of Israel and the promise of the coming of the Messiah to bring universal peace to the world go hand-in-hand for the Jewish people, and obedience and living in Israel is a form of joining with the Creator for the Jewish people.
It’s as if we’ve been told that it doesn’t matter what we do. We’re covered by the grace of Jesus Christ. We’re already saved; we’re already “clinging” to Jesus, so now all we have to do is sit on our thumbs and wait for him to come back and everything will be hunky dory.
Where did we get such a disconnect between the Torah and the Gospels? Who says we just get to sit around? Who says that the minute we were saved that our obligations to God were completed? Certainly not James, the brother of the Master:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. –James 2:14-24
I know I quote a lot from this passage too, but it says something that we aren’t told very often. It says that Jesus agreed with Moses (and you don’t hear that said in church very much) that a passive faith means nothing. The Children of Israel would draw closer to God and cling to God and they would succeed on their mission to take the Holy Land as long as they obeyed God and taught their children to do the same. We Christians, you and I, have a mission, too. Not just to spread the good news of Jesus and to live lives conformed to our Master, but we have individual missions based on who we are, where we live, and the opportunities God provides for us.
We have a road to walk. God set us upon a path. He has provided us with a light (Psalm 119:105) so we can see the path. Many times He has admonished us to turn neither left nor right, but to keep our eyes on the goal, not only the ultimate goal of existence as believers, but the immediate goals of helping others, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and performing whatever special mission and purpose God assigned to us from before the Creation of the world.
We can choose to stand still. We can choose to take God’s words and His purpose for us, throw them under our heels and walk all over them. Or we can choose to start walking and then see where the path leads. Along the way, we’ll meet people and encounter circumstances. How we manage them matters to God and to the people we interact with.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is trying to prepare the Israelites for a journey of fresh challenges full of promise and perils. God is doing that with us every day starting when we wake up each morning. Because somewhere out there in what we do today, tomorrow, next week, and into the future, not only affects our lives and the lives of who knows how many others, but each step we take along the path brings the footsteps of the Messiah one step closer to us. To bring the Moshiach, we must cling to our Rebbe who is close to God.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. –John 14:15
“A Jew never gives up. We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less.” -Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Later this afternoon, I’ll be posting another commentary on this week’s Torah Portion called “Eikev: Blessing God”, probably a few hours before Shabbat begins.