Parashat Ekev – Gifts of the Fathers, Responsibility of the Sons

כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל


Parashat Ekev includes Moshe’s retelling of the Sin of the Golden Calf from Shemot 32 (Devarim 9:6-29), with slight differences[1]. One significant difference is that in Devarim 9 the story ends with Moshe’s pleading with ‘א to spare the people as opposed to it appearing in the middle. More significantly, however, is the new theme of the story, repeated at the beginning and the end. The story opens in verse 6, “Know therefore that it is not for your righteousness that the Lord your God gives you this good land to possess it; for you are a stiff-necked people.” Then in verse 24 this is stated even more intensely. “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” Despite the hyperbole involved here, there’s a very clear statement being made about just how terrible Bnei Yisrael have been. Starting just after they leave Egypt (Shemot 16), continuing all the way through Sefer Bamidbar, the narratives of Bnei Yisrael’s time in the desert read largely like a record of rebellions. It is a theme throughout Sefer Devarim (8:18, for example) that Bnei Yisrael are not worthy to inherit the land of their own right and instead are saved by god’s promise to their fathers. That the people receive the land on the merit of their fathers, not only not earning it but being distinctly undeserving of it, would seem at first to represent a jarring imbalance. However, it is this imbalance that creates the onus of many of the laws of Sefer Devarim.

The laws of Sefer Devarim are all intended quite specifically for the people in the land, and as part of that the Torah goes out of its way to describe the land, as in Devarim 8:7-10.

(1) For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land,

(2) a land of rivers, of pools and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills;

(3) a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates;

(4) a land of olive oil and honey;

(5) a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarcity, you shalt not lack any thing in it;

(6) a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.

(7) And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.

These verses break up quite clearly into 7 statement forming a chiastic structure, meaning that 1&7 are parallel, 2&6 are parallel, etc. However, the second of each pair of parallel lines also builds on the first in some way. 1&7 are both talking about the good land that ‘א is giving the people, but in 1, before the land is praised, it is called “A good land,” as opposed to “THE good land.” 2&6 both talk about the physical land, and mention the hills specifically, but where 2 simply mentions the water-filled nature of the land, setting up the agricultural verses to follow, 6 mentions the iron and brass that the people will use to build, develop, and defend the land. 3&5 both discuss the various food items that will be grown in the land, but 5 talks about bread that will be made form the wheat and barley of 3. 4 stands out as not having a pair. However, upon closer examination, it is its own pair. The olives and dates mentioned in 4 are part of the list of the seven types of produce of the Land of Israel that began in 3, and so they are part of the first half of the unit. But they also are listed not as the fruits themselves but as the products the people will make from them, and thus they are part of the second half. This structure emphasizes that what makes the Land of Israel truly THE good land is not just the richness of its resources, but that which the people can do with them.

However, the potential for good that exists in the land is accompanied by a potential for bad, as depicted in 8:11-14.

(1) Guard yourself lest you forget the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day;

(2) lest when you have eaten and are satisfied

(3) and have built good houses, and dwelt in them;

(4) and when your herds and your flocks multiply,

(5) and your silver and your gold is multiplied,

(6) and all that you have is multiplied;

(7) then your heart will be haughty, and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

While sharing a similar structure to the above unit, the great importance of this unit is in the slow progression from 2-7. 2 speaks of the consumption of the produce of the land mentioned in the first unit, then 3 speaks of houses anchored on the land, and 4 of the livestock that roam across it, until the wealth of 6 and 7 is totally disconnected from the good land that ‘א has given them. This is predicted by the way this second unit uses the phrase “eaten and are satisfied” that is found at the end of the first unit, but without the crucial continuation, “and bless the Lord your God.” Instead of realizing the responsibility inherent in the land

Undeserving of the Land, the people receive it as a gift from ‘א. They can do great good with the land, but only if they are conscious of the fact that it comes with a responsibility. To that end they are charged to ensure that they do not forget that the land is a gift from ‘א, and that all the wealth they derive from it, the civilization they develop across it, are all built upon a gift from ‘א.

And you will say in your heart: ‘My power and the might of my hand has made for me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for He is the one that gives you the power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. (Devarim 8:17-18)

The danger of  forgetting that you have built your wealth upon a gift from a ‘א lies in assuming that you are the one responsible, and that you are responsible to no one.

Things occur to us everyday for which we can claim no responsibility. We stumble into fortune and we chance upon bad luck, and we build our lives on these. Moreover, we do not choose the circumstances of our birth. Instead we are handed our lot simply by virtue of the parents to whom we are born. And it is upon this lot that we are responsible for building our lives. It is important for us to remember that the fact of our receiving is not an invitation to do whatever we desire, but a challenge to stand up and take responsibility. We are to remember in our daily lives that what we achieve is only accomplished through the tools that ‘א provides us with. He has given us greatness, but it is upon us to remember that it is his greatness that we are working with. We can perform great acts, but it is ‘א that enables us to do so.

[1] I am indebted for many of the ideas in this composition to In Praise of the Land, by Rav Elchanan Samet.