Friday, August 19, 2011

Parshat Ekev - פרשת עקב

" הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. - Beware lest you forget Hashem your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, that I command you this day."

(דברים ח:יא)

Parshat Ekev is a parsha that is full of mitzvot. One particular one interests us in this Dvar Torah. The verses preceding the quote above detail the commandment to remember the 40 years the Jews sent wandering in the desert. In that time, we were sent the Mon (Manna when rendered in English for some odd reason) - a heaven sent food substitute that was pure spiritual nourishment. The verses there explain that it was food " אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ, וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ - that you did not know, and your forefathers did not know" (i.e. it was totally foreign and bizarre to us) so that we would learn to rely on Hashem and so that we would appreciate our place and role in this world better. Indeed, the narrative goes on to explain "לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ, כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם, כִּי עַל כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי יְהוָה, יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם - In order to let you know; that man does not live by bread alone, but by every thing that issues from Hashem's mouth man lives."

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch writes in his commentary here that there was a reason why bread specifically is mentioned. At first, we might find it odd that that bread is mentioned - bread is a kind of food that requires man's input for it to be completed. One doesn't eat wheat by itself, as it is found in nature. For bread to be eaten, man must work on the wheat. With this in mind, we may understand the reason that bread is mentioned. Almost all people appreciate the wonders of the natural world. Anyone who picks an apple from a tree and eats it will agree with you that it is amazing that something so tasty can be found growing naturally. But a person who works hard on bread might be forgiven for thinking that he is at least an equal partner in the process of creating the food.

For this reason, close to this passage we find the verse quoted above - warning us not to forget Hashem and our responsibilities. There are plenty of commandments in this week's Parsha, but this specific passage merits the warning above. Why is that? Well, Rav Hirsch explains that if we look at the verse closely, we can see three categories מצוות (commandments), משפטים (laws) and חוקים (statutes). Now, traditionally we regard the latter two as more severe categories of obligations toward Hashem. That being the case, there must be a good reason as to why מצותיו (His commandments) is listed first. Rav Hirsch posits the explanation that this category deals with the things that we derive enjoyment from in this world. Bread, and food as a general, is something that Hashem gave us to enjoy. It is a strong Jewish belief that everything in this world is created for man to make use of or benefit from.

The problem is, we are only human and susceptible to momentary lapses of appreciation of this fine gift. As such, Hashem makes a point of stressing that while we are to derive benefit from all "that issues from Hashem's mouth", we must be careful to never become lax and take for granted what we have in this world.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom :)

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