Remember HaShem and Receive His Blessings: A Sermon on Parashat Eikev
Parashah Eikev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Haftorah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Besorah: Luke 24:13-24:32
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of today’s fast paced world. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed and anxious by everything that is going on around us globally and within our own communities, our jobs, and our families.
Let me tell you, I have been completely overwhelmed and seriously anxious this past week and it only got worse as the week progressed. Between important things at work requiring my complete attention and focus throughout the day, projects around the house, Talmud study on Monday, Hebrew class on Wednesday, my birthday party on Wednesday, an emergency room visit overnight Wednesday into Thursday, my younger son’s sleepover birthday party Thursday night, my daughter’s sweet 16 on Sunday and worrying about the health and safety of the 18 year old car that’s been passed down to her, getting my older son ready to leave for a wilderness camping trip and for his first year at college for which he leaves three days after his return from camping, freaking out about college loans, trying to sell my truck, and all this while trying to write this D’var Torah in my spare time. Meanwhile, I’ve read Parashah Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) and the Haftorah and the Besorah and various commentaries on them all probably 20 times in the hope of picking something to speak about. As I read, I was overwhelmed by the fact that there were so many important things here. This is a rich parashah. I couldn’t pick just one topic. In order to make the most of my time I needed to pick one topic and focus on it but no matter what I did, I couldn’t pick just one. Shoot, I couldn’t narrow to just 5. As the week progressed my panic simply increased. I was overwhelmed.
Can you sympathize with me? Have you been there? Your To Do list growing instead of shrinking? With deadlines looming? And it seems the whole world is conspiring against you?
To add to my anxiety, because I’m apparently a glutton, I’ve been trying to keep up with global events. I’ve especially been following the news about Israel but also about Iraq with the Islamist fundamentalists killing Christians and anyone else in their way, the ebola virus in Africa and the protests in Missouri. I think following is probably too light of a word. I mean obsessed.
So where has this all left me? Well in a few words, depressed, anxious, inadequate and perhaps a bit forgotten and abandoned by G-d. And that’s when it hit me. Return to the Lord. Remember the Lord your G-d. HaShem has always been there for us. He loves us and wants us in relationship with Him. He wants good things for us. Remember HaShem and you will always feel his blessing. You see? I had made it about me: What I had to do, how I was effected. It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about Him. We need Him and we have to remember that. And thankfully, Parashah Eikev is full of reminders. Eikev reminds us repeatedly to remember what the Lord has done for you. Interestingly, Moshe uses this personal “you” over and over again throughout the parashah both in reminding us of the sins of our ancestors and in describing what HaShem has done for them. For example, in chapter 7 of Dvarim (Deuteronomy), Moshe says, “Will you say to yourself, "These nations are more numerous than I; how will I be able to drive them out"? You shall not fear them. You shall surely remember what the Lord, your God, did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt: The great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm with which the Lord, your God, brought you out. So will the Lord, Your God, do to all the peoples you fear.” (Deut. 7:17-19)
Did you hear all the “you’s and yours?”
But wait a minute, the generation that saw the Exodus from Egypt was purged as punishment for the Golden Calf. These Israelites standing on the banks of the Jordan didn’t see those signs and portents and we readers didn’t see His mighty hand. And yet we did. By saying “you” Moshe is cleverly reminding us that HaShem’s blessings have continued even unto today. Those were our people and that history has passed down to us. Furthermore, we are reminded daily and weekly in our prayers and seasonally in our holidays and feasts. And finally we are reminded in our lives as we see His good blessings on us.
HaShem also reminds us of our failings, our sins. He recalls for us the failure of the spies, the golden calf, Korach’s rebellion, the idolatry of Baal Peor and so on. “At Horeb (Mt. Sinai) you so provoked the Lord that the Lord was angry enough with you to have destroyed you.” (Deut. 9:8) Here He also uses the word “you” for the same reason as before, to remind us that we all sin.
Moshe is reminding us throughout Dvarim/Deuteronomy about where we’ve come from and how HaShem has helped us along the way despite our failings. If we remember HaShem and keep his commandments, then he blesses us. When our commitment wanes, when we forget Him and fail to keep our half of the covenant then punishment follows. The lesson here though is that punishment is never the end of the story. It’s never the end of the story. HaShem’s love remains true. He doesn’t forget us and when we repent, He is there to bless us once again. When we remember the Lord we can see and receive His helping hand and the forgiveness and promise of Mashiach.
Knowing we’re stiff-necked, obstinate and forgetful, in other words human, HaShem gives us tools with which to remember Him and His blessings. In chapter 8 of today’s parashah it says
And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.
וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ:
In other words, after you’ve eaten remember who you got it from and be thankful. This expression of gratitude after we eat has become our Birkat HaMazon and reminds us that everything comes from HaShem. We are to remember that our well-being and prosperity, in fact all our achievements are results of G-d’s beneficence. But forgetting G-d leads to punishment and destruction and can lead eventually to feelings of abandonment.
This is what was happening in Babylonia. The Haftorah accompanying Eikev is from Yeshaya (Isaiah) chapter 49 through the beginning of chapter 51. It’s actually the second Haftorah of Consolation, on this comforting, consoling, reassuring haftorot march from the destruction, punishment and feelings of abandonment of Tisha b’Av until we get to Rosh Hashanna. And this is what Yeshaya is addressing in this passage. Exiled Zion feels abandoned and forgotten, left in Babylonia. She cries, “The Lord has forsaken, My Lord has forgotten me.” (Isaiah 49:14) But she is wrong. Yeshaya relays HaShem’s longing for us. “Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child of her own womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Yeshaya goes on to paint this beautiful image of the walls of Jerusalem engraved on the palms of HaShem just as you or I would tie a string around our finger or put a note in our smartphone as a memory aide. Similarly, HaShem gives us a memory aides to help us always remember Him. I’ve already mentioned the Birkat Hamazon. Tefillan are a sign on our hand and emblem between our eyes. Tzitzit aren’t just a fashion trend and Mezzuzahs aren’t just for decoration. They are there to remind us of HaShem, of what He’s done for us, of His love for us and our obligations to Him.
Throughout our siddur there are reminders built into our liturgy. Throughout our calendar, there are reminders built into the year. Why do we celebrate the holidays? Because they remind us of HaShem, of what he has done and continues to do for us when we remember Him. Why are we reminded in Torah so often of the golden calf and other sins of the past, so we might learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. Why must we love the stranger among us and care for the orphan and widow? It’s not just because G-d commanded. They are reminders to us. We were once strangers in Egypt. We may become strangers again. We were at some point helpless and needy, even if it was just as infants, and we may at some point need help again. Remember the Lord.
In our Besorah, we read in Luke chapter 24 verses 13 through 32 about how the risen Yeshua reminded two travelers on the road to Emmaus about Himself, the prophecies throughout Tanach and all the miracles He had performed. Their eyes were finally opened with another memory aide, the breaking and eating of the matzah, HaZicharon HaMashiach, the Remembrance Meal (Communion).
So I cannot tell you how much better I felt when HaShem tapped me on the shoulder and this realization dawned on me. When times are tough, remember HaShem. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember HaShem. When it feels like the world is falling apart around you, remember HaShem. This week, remember to lay Tefillin. Remember to Daven. Do something for a stranger. Visit the sick. Donate to a worthy cause not just with money but with your heart and your hands. Remember the Lord, keep His commandments in faith and love, and receive His bountiful blessings.
B’Shem Yeshua HaMashiach.