• Jason HRM

Ekev: All For Love


 (Image of the Negev Wilderness,Israel, by HRM)

Torah Portion Ekev

Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25

Halachah

This week, I would like to start our discussion with a comment on halachah.

Halachah is a phrase you may or may not recognize. Typically, halachah is understood as Jewish Law, which is not entirely accurate, though in a literary sense, when someone mentions halachah they may be referring to a large body of Jewish literature pertaining to Jewish Law.

Literally though, halachah means ‘the path that one walks’, and is derived from a root word meaning ‘to walk’. Halachah is specifically how you live your life, and when a Rabbi or someone talks about halachah, they will be referring to things and discussing things more related to the practical application of Torah.

When we get together and study, we ‘midrash’. You may recall that I often draw on a set of books called ‘The Midrash’, which is an ancient Jewish commentary to parts of the Bible. Like halachah, ‘The Midrash’ does refer to a set of books, but when people ‘midrash’, they are studying. Jewish study halls are called the Beit Midrash (House of Study) and the word midrash comes from the Hebrew word to study, to seek or to inquire. One of the differences with midrash to halachah, is that midrash is more homily, it’s like a sermon given for religious edification, it’s no less important but perhaps, it could be said, is less practical.

Midrash, I once read is more poetry, whereas a discussion of halachah seeks to answer questions and provide answers like, that to not leave ‘one’s place’ on the Sabbath means you can’t walk distances greater than a mile for example. Halachah, is then a practically minded response to scripture.

So, to begin, ‘halachically’, let us examine;

Deuteronomy 7:25–26 (The Scriptures)

25 “The carved images of their mighty ones you are to burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it, for it is an abomination to יהוה your Elohim.

26 “And do not bring an abomination into your house, lest you be accursed like it. Utterly loathe it and utterly hate it, for it is accursed.

 I have not done the research, however I’m sure someone, somewhere, has used this verse to justify violent action against those that do not share our belief system. It’s easy to understand why; the verse says after all that we are to burn their mighty ones right?

Despite this rather clear command, understanding the halachah of the Torah is impossible without attempting to understand it in context, which is what people simply do not do. This lack of context has the Bible incredibly misunderstood and misapplied.

Should we believe in this command to destroy the enemy’s mighty ones? Yes. However context tells us that it is a command given to the unified nation of Israel, on the cusp of the greatest military invasion the world has ever seen. To them, these words are true in their most literal way.

Are we today to destroy their mighty ones and burn them? You could easily argue yes, however for those who have misapplied their Bible as justification for violence in our modern geopolitical context, their understanding of the verse is not true.

The command is not for you and me, to go out into the streets of Melbourne right now to start destroying and burning other people’s belongings.

Additionally, we must understand the context of the command not just in relation to where we live, but also in the context of the where this command is in the Bible, to burn and destroy their mighty ones, goes hand in hand with the killing of the inhabitants of the land. So the question is not, do we go out there and destroy their mighty ones? But, do we go out there, kill the inhabitants of the land, and burn their mighty ones?

The answer for you and me today, in a simple and literal sense, is no.

You might take this verse though and quite appropriately apply it to;

Ephesians 6:12 (The Scriptures)

12 Because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against authorities, against the world-rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual matters of wickedness in the heavenlies.

And you would be right in suggesting that we can still tear down and wage war against the enemies mighty ones (which I encourage you to do with Messiah leading you). Arguably it would be no less practical and just as beneficial to do so in the spiritual sense in which Ephesians 6:12 is discussing.

Acknowledging this, the command for us today is to not be completely spiritualized as the practicality of these things is always relevant, for the command never ceases and the Torah is eternal.

In order to make a halachic statement in relation to these verses, I want to draw your attention to verse 26;

Deuteronomy 7:26 (The Scriptures)

26 “And do not bring an abomination into your house, lest you be accursed like it. Utterly loathe it and utterly hate it, for it is accursed.

The halachic ruling I need you to take home is just that, verse 26 which states ‘do not bring an abomination into your house’.

But what is the context? Obviously, it is referring to the pagan mighty ones, the gold etc. the things related to pagan idolatry; these, you do not bring into your home.

However the enemy is crafty these days as you know. You may read these words and think that it applies to overtly pagan things. The verse though is not just referring to your statue of Ba’al that you had to remove from your house, but to everything that is associated with pagan worship, and everything unacceptable to God by the standard of His Torah; these things you remove from your home.

For today, allow me to give specific examples; Sci-Fi movies, fantasy movies/books, images of pagan deities, music CDs with pagan imagery, DVD’s etc.

It is a wonder to me, in the worst sense, that there are Torah Teachers who remain, quite publically, fans of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia etc.

I specifically mentioned before that what is unacceptable to God is judged by the standard of His Torah. As Deuteronomy continues, we will see what God thinks, not just of pagan deities and things associated with them (in this case the gold etc.), but of witchcraft, magic and of sorcery (all pagan), and we will see how much God simply loathes these things.

Continuing in Deuteronomy Moses explains;

Deuteronomy 18:9–12 (The Scriptures)

9 “When you come into the land which יהוה your Elohim is giving you, do not learn to do according to the abominations of those gentiles.

10 “Let no one be found among you who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices divination, or a user of magic, or one who interprets omens or a sorcerer,

11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

12 “For whoever does these are an abomination to יהוה, and because of these abominations יהוה your Elohim drives them out from before you.

Akan

There was a man once who tried God in this area, his name was Akan.

Joshua 7:1 (The Scriptures)

But the children of Yisra’ěl committed a trespass regarding that which is under the ban, for Aḵan son of Karmi, son of Zaḇdi, son of Zeraḥ, of the tribe of Yehuḏah, took of that which is under the ban. And the displeasure of יהוה burned against the children of Yisra’ěl.

The story of Akan is introduced in Joshua 7:1, however Joshua continues in his conquest of Canaan and in the following battle three thousand men go to fight at a place called Ai. 36 of these men died and the battle was lost.

Why?

Because Akan transgressed Deuteronomy 7:26 and brought some of the Canaanite things into his home.

Once Akan is found out the story continues;

Joshua 7:24–25 (The Scriptures)

24 Then Yehoshua, and all Yisra’ěl with him, took Aḵan son of Zeraḥ, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his donkeys, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Aḵor.

25 And Yehoshua said, “Why have you troubled us? יהוה does trouble you today!” Then all Yisra’ěl stoned him with stones. And they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

This is a hard word to hear.

However, Akan’s story demonstrates just how YHWH feels of such things and how seriously it can be dealt with.

It may seem irrelevant for us today, but from where do we honestly think that magic, mythical creatures, ‘the force’ comes from? It is not God; it is the enemy, and through various means the enemy has saturated our culture with paganism and secreted these things into our homes and like them, we are accursed because of it.

I often suggest things to people when it comes to my Bible interpretations. I will however say, with as absolute a tone as I can, that these things are unacceptable and abominable to God.

Therefore, the halachic lesson for today is for each person to go, clean your homes and fill them with Godly things so you yourself can be filled with Godly things. Removing the enemy from our lives is not just a spiritual activity, but a physical one. It requires a lot of literal house cleaning, not just of your ‘spiritual house’, but of your actual house.

What if God is saying to us today, as I think He is, the same words that he said to Joshua in the story of Akan;

Joshua 7:13 (The Scriptures)

13  … “That which is under the ban is in your midst, O Yisra’ěl. You are not able to stand before your enemies until you put away that which is under the ban out of your midst.”

If this is true, how then, can we truly live out Ephesians 6:12 where we war ‘not only against flesh and blood’, but the ‘powers of darkness’?

The Challenge of Ekev

We have to pick our battles in life, I understand, and there are perhaps far weightier matters and more important battles in life to fight, rather than launch a Crusade on people’s Harry Potter books/DVDs that they may or may not have in their homes.

 This however, is the challenge of Ekev.

Let me explain.

Our first verse reads;

Deuteronomy 7:12 (The Scriptures)

12 “And it shall be, because you hear these right-rulings, and shall guard and do them, that יהוה your Elohim shall guard with you the covenant and the kindness which He swore to your fathers,

The Hebrew word ekev, as seen above, is the word for ‘because’ or ‘if’. It is the most prominent word in the first verse of today’s reading which is why the Torah Portion is called ekev.

Ekev, meaning ‘because’, also means ‘the footprint’, or ‘the heel’. It’s connected to Ya’akov because he grabbed the ekev, the heel, of his brother Esau when they were born. Further, the name Ya’akov is actually derived from the root word ekev.

There’s much to learn from the ekev but one ‘midrashic’ interpretation of ekev is that it is referring to all of the minor commandments that we are likely to ignore and trample under our heels.

So the challenge of the Torah Portion Ekev, as the sages put it, is that even though there are commandments that seem far less important than others (like me asking you to throw out large portions of your DVD collection), that they are actually, in essence, just as important.

This teaching goes further because Ekev, as a reference to the lesser commandments, is then connected to the blessings that we are to receive ‘because’, which is also the word ekev, we viewed and obeyed the lesser commandments as equal to the greater.

This thought is completely relevant in the context of Deuteronomy 7:12 which states that, because, you hear the commandments and do them, then (or because), you will receive the blessings and the grace.

As we look into this verse though it becomes problematic, because it appears to suggest that God’s blessings are conditional, whereas the modern view of God, seems to believe that we are blessed despite our actions.

This is not the view Deuteronomy 7:12 is proposing because it states that God guarding the covenant and providing grace (kindness etc.) is a consequence of keeping commandments.

The fact that Deuteronomy 7:12 uses the word chesed, grace, is further problematic because Deuteronomy 7:12 is suggesting that grace requires obedience. For us, this is a contradiction because we understand grace to be defined as the ‘unmerited favor of God’, so therefore, it cannot be dependent on the actions of man.

We have a problem then, and the issues we have, or the apparent contradictions we see teach us many things about God. First, it teaches a simple but harsh truth that the blessings of God are achieved through obedience (physical action). Secondly, that the grace of God does not mean compromise, whereas today we are taught that God is love and that his grace accommodates all things.

From the story of Akan we can understand that God’s grace has boundaries.

Whilst God’s grace can forgive you for anything and everything, it is through repentance that this occurs, and as we now know, repentance, hebraically, is something that specifically refers to someone turning from their sin and sinning no more, i.e., turning to God’s ways, His Torah. Having done so, ekev, you will be blessed and receive grace.

Am I somehow suggesting that God will kill all sinners outside of covenant? Not at all. Whilst we can see that blessings require obedience God makes it abundantly clear that it is not ever for our own righteousness that we receive anything from Him. Even in this week’s portion this is made clear when YHWH says;

Deuteronomy 8:18 (The Scriptures)

18 “But you shall remember יהוה your Elohim, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth (think blessing), in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is today.

And;

Deuteronomy 9:5 (The Scriptures)

5 “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land…

If we can understand that grace does not compromise, that grace requires obedience, then we can truly look at the world and truly appreciate God’s grace. Not as the Church teaches it, but as the Bible teaches it.

That there is still a world left, with so much sin, is not a testament to YHWH’s compromise but a testament to God’s true mercy and grace.

Remember Akan, and the insight that gave us into how harshly our sins can be looked upon.

For all this though;

Titus 2:11

…God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people.

But, to be in the fullness of His blessings, you need to be obedient (which includes repentance), which is defined by Torah; and Israel, the Torah, is for all people, from every corner of the globe.

No Barren One Among You?

Let’s redirect our study somewhat to the following verse;

Deuteronomy 7:14 (The Scriptures)

14 “Blessed are you above all peoples—there is not going to be a barren man or a barren woman among you or among your livestock.

Similar to the concept of grace, Deuteronomy 7:14 is a much twisted and misapplied Bible verse. Teachers have taught there will be no barren man or woman now in the Church, and using other Bible verses with this, that there will be no sick people within their congregations.

Context again is required, because this verse, contextually, is addressing a people, Israel, and telling them what will happen should they follow the Torah. You could even add to that by saying that this will happen when Israel on a national scale is following Torah.

Thankfully, our Bible tells us that will one day happen.

This brings us to another interpretation of the word for ‘ekev’. As mentioned earlier, it means heel, but Judaism has typically understood ekev as referring to the ‘heels of Messiah’ and the generation that is just before, or on the heels of, the Messiah’s coming. This is further taken as an allusion to the fact that just prior to Messiah’s arrival, that there will be a revival of Torah observance within Israel.

Ekev is a concept here that is further deepened as it is closely related to time. Hence, the imagery of the Messiah’s return that goes with the idea of ‘The Ekev’.

This connection to Messiah deepens in this Torah portion and we can derive it in a few ways. For example, it is connected to Jacob, a picture of the Messiah whose name is derived from ekev, and from Genesis 3, which states that the ekev, the heel of the woman’s seed, being Messiah, will crush the serpent’s head. But there are more specific ways in which we can connect Ekev, and the time towards the end of time, with the imminence of Messiah’s return.

For example, one of the blessings of keeping Torah is the blessing of grain, wine, and oil;

Deuteronomy 7:13 (The Scriptures)

13 and shall love you and bless you and increase you, and shall bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.

Grain, wine and oil is a trio that makes frequent appearances in the prophets, further supporting the idea that Israel’s national Torah observance, and therefore the fullness of the blessings, is a future event ‘on the heels of Messiah’.

Jeremiah 31:11–14 (The Scriptures)

11 “For יהוה shall ransom Ya‘aqoḇ, and redeem him from the hand of one stronger than he.

12 “And they shall come in and shall sing on the height of Tsiyon, and stream to the goodness of יהוה, for grain and for new wine and for oil, and for the young of the flock and the herd. And their being shall be like a well-watered garden, and never languish again.

13 “Then shall a maiden rejoice in a dance, and young men and old, together. And I shall turn their mourning to joy, and shall comfort them, and shall make them rejoice from their sorrow,

14 and shall fill the being of the priests with fatness. And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness,” declares יהוה‎.

Hosea 2:20–23 (The Scriptures)

20 “And I shall take you as a bride unto Me in trustworthiness, and you shall know יהוה‎.

21 “And it shall be in that day that I answer,” declares יהוה, “that I answer the heavens, and they answer the earth,

22 and the earth answer the grain and the new wine and the oil, and they answer Yizre‘ěl.

23 “And I shall sow her for Myself in the earth, and I shall have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion. And I shall say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people,’ while they say, ‘My Elohim!’ ”

Joel 2:19 (The Scriptures)

19 And let יהוה answer and say to His people, “See, I am sending you the grain and the new wine and the oil, and you shall be satisfied by them. And no longer do I make you a reproach among the gentiles.

Come speedily and soon Messiah.

In the Wilderness

Currently, we are in the wilderness and as ekev teaches us, YHWH does test us, He does humble us and He does discipline His children. As it says;

Deuteronomy 8:2–5 (The Scriptures)

2 “And you shall remember that יהוה your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, prove you, to know what is in your heart, whether you guard His commands or not.

3 “And He humbled you, and let you suffer hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of יהוה‎.

4 “Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.

5 “Thus you shall know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so יהוה your Elohim disciplines you

Remember the challenge of Ekev, to follow all the commandments we can, because God wants to see if we will be disobedient or obedient.

One thing that is actually quite profound in that idea is that YHWH is doing this whilst Israel is out in the wilderness.

Profound, because so much of the Torah is dependant, literally, on being within the physical land of Israel. You might have noticed in the above prophetic verses that they are all connected to the prophetic regathering of Israel to the actual land of Israel.

But ekev teaches that whilst in the wilderness there is a lot we can still keep and still do to honor God’s Torah. The test of ekev and obedience is found in the wilderness.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks said quite well that;

Israel is a distinctive people defined by collective responsibilities, ‘not reckoned among the nations’ since Israel is capable of surviving even without nationhood , even in exile and dispersion. Israel’s strength lies not in nationalism but in building a society based on justice and human dignity.

Ekev further stresses that it is not without God who is our source of justice and dignity, and ultimately the wilderness, as stressed in this portion, teaches us complete humility and reliance on God. This is why grace, even though it is connected to obedience, is ultimately, as we have defined it, ‘the unmerited favor of God’, because grace ultimately stands on our complete helplessness and reliance on YHWH regardless of what we do.

On our reliance on God the Lubavicher Rebbe goes so far as to say that Israel could not even point to the manna and say, this is mine, nor could they store up manna to in some way allow Israel to claim ownership of the manna which God was providing.

In the wilderness we were completely dependent on YHWH and though He was our source of discipline, we arguably stood on a foundation of grace.

Thinking on this, I believe the point of all this complexity is for God’s children to have a relationship with Him. Why talk to Him, why turn to Him, why cry out to Him, if all is provided, if what we do doesn’t matter, if life is just a paved road anyone could wander down?

If not for the complexity of grace, for it requiring obedience though always being there; if not for this interplay between man and God, discipline and mercy, there would be no relationship, no need to interact with a Creator who ultimately desires His people to turn to Him; and in the turning, keeping his glorious ways and celebrating in the blessings and the union that obedience gives us.

All this then, for love.

Revelation 3:19 (The Scriptures)

19 “As many as I love, I reprove and discipline. So be ardent and repent.

Discipline

Think then, that through our hardest sufferings, not that God has abandoned you, but rather that within Him is the desire for love and true union with Israel. Attempt to see the world through the eyes of the Father, and not the eyes of a child.

Crying out in our discipline, whilst we languish in the wilderness, we, and Israel in the Torah, often blame the Father for our suffering.

Notably then the root word of discipline (yud-samekh-resh), is the same root word for suffering in Hebrew. What may appear as our suffering is something different and as ekev and God’s grace makes abundantly clear, is that YHWH is with us all the way, He suffers with us, is in exile with us and He delivers us.

Despite testing us all these years in the wilderness YHWH says;

Deuteronomy 7:21 (The Scriptures)

21 “Do not be afraid of them, for יהוה your Elohim, the great and awesome Ěl, is in your midst.

And further;

Deuteronomy 8:4 (The Scriptures)

4 “Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.

This idea then, of a merciful God suffering with His people and delivering them is no New Testament idea.

As the Psalmist says;

Psalm 34:19–20 (The Scriptures)

19 Many are the evils of the righteous,

But יהוה delivers him out of them all.

20 He is guarding all his bones;

Not one of them is broken.

This idea of God lifting up His people through trials and suffering is the message of ekev.

Further, the idea that we are deeply rewarded because of our suffering is found within the Torah and Israel’s story throughout the exile. Not just rewards like the conquest of Israel, but rewards of the growth it brings to Israel’s character, and of the closeness and relationship we achieve with our Heavenly Father.

It may be difficult to see at the time, but our sufferings can serve a very divine purpose.

Romans 5:3-4

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

In the words of Victor Frakl, a holocaust survivor;

Suffering is intended to guard man from apathy, from psychic rigor mortis…in fact, we mature in suffering, grow because of it – it makes us richer and stronger.

And through all suffering;

Deuteronomy 7:21 (The Scriptures)

21 “… יהוה your Elohim, the great and awesome Ěl, is in your midst.

Suffering With Us

YHWH does not put us through anything, or ask us to do anything that He himself has not done or would not do. Remember, God himself keeps the Torah, the same commandments that require a love so profound that it dies completely to self. Therefore, when it comes to suffering, God himself, like a true leader has gone before us and done so; His having trodden the path before us is the ultimate expression of grace and desire for intimacy.

In the wilderness then, we truly walk in the ekev, in the footprints, or ‘on the heels’, of our Father who has suffered our tribulations before us; and who today suffers with us.

On this thought Scripture says;

Isaiah 53:3-4

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Messiah then, considered punished by God, as Israel is punished, suffers with us.

Bread Alone

Yeshua demonstrated his solidarity and union with Israel in many ways, most notably by his crucifixion. For our Torah Portion ekev, it is most relevant to note his example in Matthew 4. Here, having fasted for 40 days in the wilderness Yeshua is tried, as Israel was tried in the wilderness. The Adversary comes to Him in Matthew 4:3 and says;

Matthew 4:3–4 (The Scriptures)

3 And the trier came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of Elohim, command that these stones become bread.”

4 But He answering, said, “It has been written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of יהוה‎.’ ”

Obviously, Yeshua is quoting ekev;

Deuteronomy 8:3 (The Scriptures)

3 “And He humbled you, and let you suffer hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of יהוה‎.

Our translations though bury a treasure worth finding.

Verse 3 does not say ‘man does not live by bread alone…’ which is taken by us as meaning ‘mankind’. But rather, the word for ‘man’ has a definite article placed in front of it. A definite article is simply the word for ‘the’ and alludes to the fact that what is being said is actually referring to something very specific. Thus, the verse should read ‘the man does not live by bread alone…’, and ‘the man’ in Hebrew, is ‘ha adam’.

‘Ha adam’, referring to one specific man, is clearly a reference to Messiah and the phrase ‘ha adam’ has long been understood as a title for the Messiah.

Therefore, in essence, we may understand Deuteronomy 8:3 as saying, ‘The Messiah does not live by bread alone…’

How much more profound then when Yeshua quotes this to Satan in Matthew 4? It can then be rightly taken as a declaration of his identity as Messiah.

For our verse in Deuteronomy, it takes on a far deeper meaning when we go back and re-read it. More so, when we incorporate the start of the verse which says, ‘He humbled you, let you suffer hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know, to make you know that [The Messiah] does not live by bread alone…’

It is a declaration that Israel’s suffering follows in the example of our Messiah.

Truly then, we walk in the footsteps of a great and humble king. One who sustains us with His grace, who disciplines us, who suffers with us, and who ultimately works all things for good, desiring relationship with an obedient people, glorifying in the intimacy and union that our journeys bring us.

All this then, for love.

Be blessed,

Jason HRM

#Ekev #Heel #Love #Halachah

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