Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

D’var Torah by: Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Have you ever hummed your way through a Torah portion? At the end (eikev means “heel”) of reading this chapter, strains of liturgy were dancing through my mind. We find here the prayer for rain – one that strikes strong chords in California – that is echoed in every service. The Shield of Abraham prayer is here, part of the Amida, and there is a foretaste of the prayer that gets a concise rerun in Micah 6:8. Here is Eikev’s earlier version: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this; to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your own good” (Deut: 10:12-14). I am still humming.

The commandment that has inspired the wearing of tefillin is here, along with the injunction to teach God’s words to your children: “Therefore impress My words upon your very heart: bind the 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 (Deut. 18–21).

These biblical verses, incorporated into our liturgy through the centuries, are likely to be familiar to you if you attend Jewish prayer services anywhere, or if you kiss the mezuzah on your door when you enter your home. One of my daughters, who lives in Vancouver, resolved this year to read through the Torah, portion by portion, every week, in order to know what it actually says. So each week I have been writing a commentary in Los Angeles, then posting it online. In turn, she reads it, along with some other commentaries. Then we get together, by phone or Skype, and discuss the portion across the miles. One thing to learn is that every time we read a Torah portion, something else jumps out of the text, something we didn’t notice before. My daughter has become my chevruta (my study companion).

In the midst of the cornucopia of memorable verses that Eikev offers, what particularly interested me this week is the fact that Eikev is a “second chance” portion of the Torah. In the Golden Calf episode, the Israelites, impatient for Moses to come down from the mountain, sinned grievously. Idolatry! As the Torah portrays, Moses smashed the original tablets of the Ten Commandments in anger. But here God shows a forgiving side (although plenty of people are punished with destruction, too), and both Moses and the Israelites are given a second chance: they get a new set of tablets (Deut. 10:1-5). Another chance to love God with all your heart and follow the divine commandments.

Historically, giving people a second chance has been an essential component of American society too. Many of the people who migrated to these shores were seeking a second chance. It figures in the way we are supposed to help refugees make a new life, in our justice system – particularly in regard to young offenders – in domestic situations like marriage. In is an element of the second and third career choices that abound today now that science, healthy food, and good living, have increased our life spans. And so on. If God can give second chances, surely we mere mortals can do it too. And, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, we all need another chance to repair our spiritual lives, our inner selves. After all, as one of the important teachings of Eikev advises, we cannot live by bread alone! (Deut. 8:3). Yes, I’m singing, and I’m dancing too.