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Jewish Life

Published on August 1st, 2018 | by LedgerOnline


Torah Portion – Ekev

By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

“And now Israel what does the Lord Your God ask of you, only to revere the Lord your God and to walk in all of His ways, and to love Him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. To observe the commandments of the Lord and His statutes for your good…” (Deuteronomy 10:11-13)

Is that all? In the words of the Sages of the Talmud, “And is that such a small matter to accomplish?” (B.T. Berakhot 33b) How can the Torah express such a difficult request in such an offhand manner?

This question may be linked to a curious comparison made by the text of our Torah reading between the land of Egypt and the land of Israel – within the context of a lyrical exposition of the grandeur of the Holy Land and the luscious quality of its fruit: “For the land which you are coming to inherit is not like the land of Egypt which you left, where you (merely) seeded your seed and watered with your feet a garden of vegetation (the water came naturally from the overflow of the Nile River); the land which you are crossing there to inherit is a land of mountains and valleys, (making you dependent upon) heavenly rains to drink water; it is a land which the Lord your G-d constantly investigates, the eyes of the Lord your G-d being upon it from the beginning of the year until end-year” (Deuteronomy 11:10,11).

Is then the fact that Israel does not have a ready and plentiful source of water as has Egypt, that the land of Israel is dependent upon the rains of Divine grace which come as a result of the Jewish people’s moral and ethical standing, that agricultural activity is a much more arduous and precarious a task than it is in Egypt, a reason for praising Israel? It seems to me that Egypt is a far better option if we were to be given the choice!

Both of the issues we have raised thus far: the Torah, which is the source of our responsibilities towards God, and the land of Israel, which is the medium through which our nation will flourish and impart the message of ethical monotheism to the world, are both uniquely called morasha or heritage, by the Bible (Exodus 6:8, Deuteronomy 33:4). Yerusha is the usual term for inheritance; morasha is translated as heritage. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that an inheritance is often received through no expenditure of effort on the part of the recipient; a morasha, on the other hand, implies intense exertion, physical and/or emotional input, commitment and even sacrifice on the part of the recipient.

The verb form of morasha, l’horish, also means to conquer, and conquest implies struggle and even sacrifice. At the same time, the basic verb form around which  morasha is built is vavresh shin, almost the very same letters as shin, yud, resh (yud and vav are virtually interchangeable in Hebrew) which spells shir or song. And the Midrashic Sages already noted the linguistic comparison between  morasha  and m’orasa, fiancee or beloved.

All of this leads us to one inescapable conclusion: those objects, ideals and people for which we have labored intensively and sacrificed unsparingly are the very ones we love the most and value above all others. The Mishnah in Avot teaches, “In accordance with the pain is the reward;” my teacher and mentor Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik teaches, “In accordance with the pain is the sanctity;” we learn from the word morasha that “in accordance with the pain is the love.”

Note the experiences which in retrospect give the most satisfaction and which everyone loves to recount are rarely the days of lazy relaxation we spend on vacation, but more usually the sacrifices during periods of poverty or the battles in time of war. There is an inextricable connection between conquest and song, commitment and love, intensive effort and emotional gratification. A life without ideals or people for whom one would gladly sacrifice is a life not worth living; a life devoid of emotional commitments is a life which has merely passed one by but which has never been truly lived.

Erich Siegel was wrong when he said that “to love means never to have to say I’m sorry”; but it is correct to say that one who is loved need not say “thank you” to the one who has sacrificed, expended effort, on his/her behalf. Jacob’s 14 years of hard work for Rachel were “as only a few days” because of his great love for her, attests the Bible. A husband who has the privilege of easing the pain of his beloved wife, if but for a few moments, is grateful for the privilege. And our commitment to God – with all our heart, soul and might- is a small thing to ask as long as it is an expression of our mutual love. In the final analysis, it is certainly for our good, because it gives ultimate meaning, purpose and eternity to our finite lives.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.

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