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Ekev 5774

by Rabbi Yaakov Grunewald

The Sidra Ekev begins in the middle of chapter 7. It is a continuation of Moses epic address which he began in the previous Sidra of Va'etchannan. The basic theme of chapter 7 is about the conquest of the land from the seven nations who occupied it before the Israelites came. The last verses of the previous Sidra speak about the covenant. This continues into the Sidra of Ekev. The reason that the rabbis of the Masorah divided the Sidrot at this point is because of the introductory verb VEHAYA.  The rabbis of the Midrash regarded This Word as signifying a new and happy beginning.

Moses opens this part of the speech with reference to the terms of the covenant. He describes the dangers which the Israelites will encounter during the conquest of the land. He reminds them of the hardships which they had experienced during the wandering in the desert as well as the dangers and he warns them against becoming complacent and arrogant when they prosper. The theme of reward for the obedience to the Commandments is focused on in both the beginning and the conclusion of the Sidra. Some commentators believe that the name of this Sidra Ekev means reward. The theme of reward and punishment is again mentioned at the end of the Sidra, in the paragraph which  became the second paragraph of the Shema.

In the first verse of the Sidra, the central idea in our religion is emphasised, which is that the covenant between God and Israel is reciprocal. This is clearly evident from the fact that the verb Shamar, keep, in used with reference both for Israel and for God. The verse says:  “If you will keep and observe the commandments, then the Almighty will keep His side of the covenant and reward you with kindness as He promised to your forefathers.”

Moses promises that, in return for our observance of the Commandments, the Almighty will maintain for us “the covenant and the kindness which he swore to our forefathers.” The Hebrew words are "ET Ha-berit ve’et Ha-Chesed." The commentators offer various interpretations for the expression “covenant and kindness”.  Some modern commentators translate the phrase: ‘the gracious covenant’. Others understand it as ‘the Covenant of Kindness’. What, then, is included in the term covenant? It encompasses the promise that the Almighty will be kind to us, in all aspects of our lives. We shall have many children and we shall be successful and prosperous in everything we do.

The classic Italian 16th century commentator, Sforno suggests that ‘the covenant and the kindness’ are two separate concepts.  The covenant refers to the promise that the Almighty made to Abraham which was he and his descendants would have a direct relationship with Him for ever without any intermediaries.  Abraham’s faith would be a pure, monotheistic faith.  Moreover, just as the Almighty is eternal, so our people would survive for as long as the world exists. The second concept is Chesed, kindness. This refers to God's oath to give the land to Abraham and to his descendants.

The American orthodox leader, Rabbi Shimon Schwab, who flourished in the second half of the 20th century, suggests another interesting interpretation for the concept of kindness in this context. He believes it means that the Almighty promised our forefathers that he would do preserve for ever their characteristic of the Chesed, which is imbued in their being; that He would help them to train their children to be kind and compassionate for all times.  Rabbi Schwab says that this has been fulfilled, for it is remarkable how the Jewish people have always stood out for their charitable acts. Hospitality has been the hallmark of Jewish life. In our long history, every Jewish community has excelled in its efforts to help the needy.  Even nowadays when many Jewish people don't observe the Torah strictly, they still retain the Middah of Chesed.  The state of Israel is often first in offering help to countries which are struck by a natural disaster.  It has also been claimed that we have the most cautious, considerate and compassionate army in the world. Our Israeli soldiers are very brave but in no way trigger-happy.

In the second verse, Moses begins with the statement that, in accordance with the terms of the covenant, the Almighty will love us. The Hebrew word is ‘Ve’ahevcha’. Nachmanides suggests that this verb may be interpreted in a transitive sense, namely, that the Almighty will cause others to love us. In this verse we find a concealed promise that the day will come when we shall witness the final eradication of anti-Semitism.   Sadly, we are going through very difficult times. We are saying Anti-Semitism on the rise throughout Europe and in other parts of the world.  Israel is suffering from disturbing double standards. In certain circles it is being demonised. In some countries the Jews are in serious danger.  We have reason to pray fervently that this promise, that we shall one day be a favourite among nations, will be fulfilled very soon in our days.

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