Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Walk Article-Eikev

WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM ME?

Eikev-5776

Rabbi David Walk


Have you ever found yourself muttering: What do they want from me? Really, you haven't? I've spent most of my life mumbling that phrase. When I was a kid and my parents asked me to take out the garbage, I'd think. 'What do they want from me, isn't it enough to be cute and cuddly?' When my coach would yell to give him more, I'd think to myself, 'What do they want from me, how does he know I've got anything left in the tank?' When my teachers would tell me that my work wasn't good enough, I'd think to myself, "What do they want from me, I bet he/she couldn't do any better.' I could go on like this for a while, maybe filling both pages, but I assume you've got the idea. Well, this week, God turns to the Jewish people and tells them exactly what is being asked of them, and I'd like to share some ideas with you on that exchange.

Here is the quote: And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you? Only to revere the Lord, your God (Deuteronomy 10:12). This immediately brings many commentaries to ask why reverence (or awe, or fear) is considered so little that the verse says 'only'. So, some respond that this quote really comes to us through Moshe, and for him, who spoke to God face to face, reverence wasn't such a big deal. However, for the rest of us, it's not so easy. Rashi quotes the Talmud and tells us that it might be a lot, but 'Our Rabbis derived from this verse that everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven (Berachot 33b).' In other words it's not talking about degree of difficulty, the verse is informing us that reverence is our only responsibility. God carries the rest of the load. Still other suggest that the key is in the introduction, when it says 'and now.' They explain that after everything that has happened in Egypt and the desert (and, indeed, in all of Jewish history), any clear eyed observer must conclude that being in awe of God should be easy.

There is another, popular approach which would demand that we not stop the quote where we did (I did stop in the middle of a verse), but continue for the next verse and a half. This gives us the following citation: Only to revere the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good (12-13). Holy mackerel, that only makes things worse, because we not only have to revere God, but also we must follow all the Torah's instructions, plus love God and worship, too. That last one, which includes praying might be

the hardest of all. But those commentaries point out that God isn't really asking a lot because at the end of the list we're informed that it's all for our own good. The reasoning is that if we are the beneficiaries of all this activity, then it's not really asking very much of us. I'm not so sure about that. I'd like to inspect the salary and benefits package more closely.

But I'd like to suggest an idea which I haven't encountered elsewhere. I think that this request is described as 'only', because this verse is only presenting half the picture. Moshe knew that someday another prophet would come along and fill in the missing details. That prophet was Micha, and he said what is probably my favorite quote from the entire Bible. This is it: He has told you, O human, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk discreetly with your God (Micha 6:8). The full impact of Misha's declaration is enhanced when that last phrase is further explained. The term translated as 'discreetly' is hatznei'a in Hebrew. This can be rendered as modestly or humbly go with God. In other words the highest spiritual attainment described here is to perform mitzvot without any expectation of recognition. We go with God quietly or even secretly. This is, of course, the opposite of George Costanza (you know from Seinfeld) who famously stole back a gratuity from a tip cup because the waiter wasn't looking when he dropped it in. We actually want anonymity in our benevolence and spirituality. Donating or praying? Do it undercover.

When we compare Micha's list with Moshe's, we notice the differing verbs. Moshe asks what does God sho'el from us; Micha's question is what does God doresh. What's the difference? Sho'el means ask (ignore those translations which say 'demand'), and doresh means seek (although the most popular translation is 'require'). That last verb gives us words like midrash or derasha, which mean to delve or investigate more deeply into a subject. So, Moshe's more superficial question is about God's basic request of us; Micha's more probing inquiry is about what God ultimate desires to discover in us. Moshe can use the word 'only' in his statement, because he understood that a more demanding level would later be revealed. As Moshe begins his review of many mitzvot, which will be the bulk of material in the next three parshiyot (Re'eh, Shoftim and Kit Tetze), he explains that God is asking us to revere Divinity to the extent that we will perform these commands. That is wonderful and great, but ultimately insufficient. God's goal for our goodness is to, yes, act justly, but more than that, to love goodness, because it is good, and to do it all without attention or fanfare. God informs us, through Moshe, that initially we need encouragement to be good, but, later through Micha, we find out that goodness is its own reward. Or, as later Rabbis would tell us, Schar mitzva mitzva, the true reward for a mitzva is the mitzva.


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