By Rav Reuven Tradburks
1st aliya (Devarim 7:12-8:10) On the heels of you keeping the mitzvoth, G-d will keep His covenant with you. And love you. You will enjoy success: economic, health, military. Should you fear the nations in the land, wondering how you will prevail over them, remember what G-d did in Egypt. The signs, the wonders, the outstretched arm. He will do it to these nations too. When you enter the land, remember the manna in the desert. G-d relieved your hunger through manna, to teach you that bread comes from Him. Now when you enter the land, it will be different: streams and springs, wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and dates. You will eat and be satisfied and bless G-d for all this bounty.
There is a lot of love in this parsha. His love for us translates into giving us the Land. Later, we will see our love for Him is translated into our loyalty to the mitzvoth.
Besides the love, we are told to remember. Remember the manna. There was no food in the desert. He fed you. Remember that. He provides your food. In the land, it will look to you completely different. The food grows on trees, wild wheat and barley. Who needs Him? Remember the manna and Who provides.
2nd aliya (8:11-9:3) Be mindful amidst all your success that you not forgot its Source. Even after He has led you all these years, you are apt to say “all this success is my doing”. Remember: He is the One Who gives you this success, as an expression of the Brit he made with you. If you forget Him, He will vanquish you. As you vanquish nations in the land, so too will it be with you, on the heels of your ignoring Him. Great nations await you; fortified cities, strong people. Know that He will champion your cause and they will be overcome by you.
The symmetry of the “heels” is pretty. We began the parsha with “ekev”. On the heels of your loyalty to the mitzvoth, G-d will shower you with love. We end this section with the counter; you will be vanquished on the heels of ignoring Him. Beautiful poetic symmetry.
3rd aliya (9:4-29) Do not assume your displacing the nations is due to your righteousness and their folly. It is rather due to their failing and G-d’s covenant to you. Remember: you have a long history of your own folly. At Horeb: I ascended the mountain to get the tablets, Divinely inscribed with all He spoke at Sinai, for 40 days. But He ordered me to descend for you had made an idol. With the tablets in hand, I descended, shattering them upon seeing the golden calf. I ascended again to plead for you. And there were other moments of folly. But I pleaded, appealing to the covenant, that you are His people.
Moshe has employed the word remember 3 times in this parsha. When you are afraid of the strong nations, remember the wonders of Egypt that He wrought and will do again for you. When you have fabulous success in the land and are tempted to push G-d out of your life, remember that He provides as He did with the manna in the desert. And now, when you feel superior to the nations of folly, remember the golden calf, your terrible moment of folly. Moshe is preoccupied with the machinations of the mind, our short memories, our self-delusions. Remember our history, he says. Learn from it. He champions our cause. He is the source of our success. And. Don’t let it go to your head. You suffer foibles like all others. Bad mistakes. But, as we will see in the next aliya, He does not give up on you. And that says more about His greatness than it does about yours.
4th aliya (10:1-11) G-d said to me: chisel 2 stone tablets to replace the first and make an Aron for them. A second set as the first were made and put in the Aron. I descended with the Aron. The Leviim shall be G-d’s servants; they bore this Aron. I implored successfully for you not to be destroyed. G-d said: go up and take the land I promised to your forefathers.
This is the conclusion of the story of the golden calf. Moshe is telling the people to remember this story to temper their feelings of superiority. Don’t feel superior; the golden calf was quite a failure. However, in this conclusion, he emphasizes a different point. Reconciliation. As if to say: you are not a perfect nation. You have failed and you will in the future too. But despair not. G-d’s commitment to you is more powerful than your failures. And that is exactly Moshe’s point. Do not say that your supplanting the nations in the land is due to your piety. For you fail. But rather it is due to G-d’s powerful commitment to you that transcends your failings, as egregious as they may be. After all, He transcended the golden calf.
5th aliya (10:12-11:9) Now, what really does G-d want of you? Only this: fear Him, walk in His ways, love and serve Him and keep all He commands of you. His is the universe, yet he chose to love your forefathers. So circumcise your heart and quit stiffening your neck. Fear, serve, cleave to Him. He is your G-d. As you yourself have seen: you descended to Egypt with 70 souls, all the wonders He wrought, the defeat of Egypt’s might at the sea, the desert, the earth swallowing the rebellious ones in the Korah rebellion. You have seen all this; hence, keep the mitzvoth to prolong your stay on the land.
These 20 verses are very difficult to summarize, as they are so stunningly beautiful. This is Moshe with his hair down. It is like he leans a bit closer, elbows on the table, and confides: listen, really, what does G-d want? Now, one would think maybe a one word, one phrase answer. Like: loyalty. Or walk humbly with Him. Or truth. Moshe’s answer is not what to do but the deepest aspirations. Moshe answers: you know what G-d wants? He wants emotion, aspiration, feelings, sensitivity. He wants your deepest being to want Him, love Him, cleave to Him. Drop the inhibitions, the distractions, the fluff of life and give your deepest self to Him. What a phrase: circumcise your heart, quit stiffening your neck. Meaning, give Me your true heart, don’t be stubborn. This aliya ranks up there with the most powerful of the Torah. For Moshe baits us with a simple question: after all, what does G-d want? And in his answer, shares with us his deepest feelings, a most profound answer: He wants you to want Him, love Him, be preoccupied with Him. Hold nothing back.
6th aliya (11:10-21) The land of Israel is not like Egypt: Egypt is fertile, with an abundance of water. Israel relies on the rain from the heavens; hence G-d gazes upon the land the entire year. (2nd paragraph of Shema) And if you will keep the Mitzvot and love G-d with all your heart, then there will be rain. If you sway from this and serve other gods, then there will be no rain, nor will the crops grow. Be cognizant of this all the time, speaking of it with your children and in all you do. As this love of G-d will prolong your success in the land.
This is a new twist on the theme of loving G-d. Not only will your military success depend on your love of G-d. But the rain too. And you’ll need rain; not like Egypt. It’s almost like G-d is saying: I am bringing you to the promised land because of my love for you. But, it is a land that will require you to defeat nations to occupy it. And a land that requires My showering it with rain. And the success of both of these, the military and the rain, require you to love Me. So, in a nutshell: I love you and I am bringing you to a land where you will need to love Me.
7th aliya (11:22-25) If you do the Mitzvot, love G-d and cleave to him, then you will prevail over the powerful nations of the land. G-d will make them fear you and none will be able to stand up to you.
Moshe turns the tables on the natural feelings of the people. They are fearful in face of the people of the land. Moshe tells them: instead of focusing on fear of them, focus on love of G-d. And the fear? G-d will take your fear of them, and turn the tables: they will fear you.