Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eikev: On the Heels of a Really Big Word

I don't always spend an entire blog post on a single word. Or, for that matter, on THE central word that gives a particular Torah portion its name. But this week, let's do just that. Our Torah portion is called "Eikev."
It's sort of a funny word, and is used in several different contexts. For example, in Genesis we are told that it's the root of Jacob's name, "Ya'akov." Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, are born in Chapter 25, where the text tells us that Jacob came out holding on to Esau's heel, his "Eikev." However, two chapters later, Esau offers a different interpretation of his brother's name, right after Jacob steals Esau's blessing from their father. "Va-ya-k'veini zeh fa'amayim," "he [Jacob] has supplanted me these two times" (27:36) - Esau spins a pun with the root "a-k-v" to link Jacob's name to the word for "usurp" or even "deceive." Interestingly, our Torah portion employs Eikev with NEITHER of those sentiments in mind. Instead, you might say that in our parashah, it is the biggest word in the Hebrew dictionary.

Ok, there is a slight linguistic connection to the word "heel," I'll give you that. "Eikev" is used in our reading like the English expression, "on the heels of," but it doesn't really have anything to do with that body part. In our Chumash, the word
is translated as "if." And I say it's the biggest word in Hebrew, because people sometimes quip that "if" is the biggest word in English. As in, "If I only had a million dollars..." or "If I could be president for a day..." It's such a big, pivotal, transformative word, because the entire world would look different IF... In Parashat Eikev, Moses begins by stating: "And IF you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, Adonai your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that God made on oath with your ancestors" (Deut. 7:12). And nearly the entire rest of this chapter rattles off a list of rewards and assurances that Israel will receive from God. God will favor us, bless us, multiply us, and give us grain, wine, oil, and plentiful herds. God will ward off sickness, send plagues against our enemies, dislodge them from before us, and deliver their kings into our hands. And guess what? All of this is true IF, IF, IF, IF, IF we hold up our end of the deal!!

Now listen, I'm not going to suggest that God's got a fabulous track record here. Sure, we humans need to take responsibility for a lot of the bad things that have happened in the world, but at least a few earthquakes, tsunamis, children's diseases, accidents, and other tragic and terrifying calamities cannot be blamed on
human flaws or sins. Some things can ONLY be prevented or averted by God. Even if God didn't directly cause them, it is still hard for us to understand why and how God could decide not to intervene. And yet, despite that, we are also to blame. All of the anger and frustration and fury that we direct at God cannot remove the word "Eikev" from this text. IF we don't live up to our end of the deal, and IF we don't try to be the best people we can be, and IF we don't do our darndest to make the world a better place; we don't really get to demand that God give us our rewards. We just don't.

"Eikev" is a challenge, a promise, and a warning. IF we don't take care of our planet, our nation, (our nuclear responsibility...), our communities, and the less-fortunate in society, we may some day be supplanted from our place as the primary
stewards of this earth. That sounds terrifying and ominous. But let us also not forget that there are SO MANY rewards out there waiting for us, IF we take our role and our charge seriously and work EVEN harder to be more compassionate, loving, inclusive, and committed. "If" is indeed an enormous word. It is the fulcrum upon which so much hinges, and in truth I think we all spend much of our lives pivoting to one side or the other. Sometimes we are scared, judgmental, suspicious, and possessive. Other times we feel charitable, understanding, hopeful, and generous. It is important to remember how much power we really DO have, and how much impact we can have on the world around us. But only IF we choose to care and choose to act. And when we do, our actions will bless our future and reward us (all) bountifully.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Vveia784 oWikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Daniel Case on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, courtesy of Apollomesos~commonswiki on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Wyatt915 on Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. My Facebook page yesterday reminded me that 5 years ago I had posted a quote something to the effect that we either act too quickly without thinking or we think too long and don't act quickly enough. There must be an IF in there somewhere:) Blessings on your day.