Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders


Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buff_Bill’s_Circus

Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Arnie Samlan

Ekev, the third reading in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), is a continuation of Moses’ farewell address to the Israelite nation poised to enter the Promised Land. Over the course of this final book of the Torah, Moses recounts the people’s journey from Egypt until now; 40 years later. It’s bittersweet; as he’s looking across the Jordan River at the Land of Israel, Moses is painfully aware that he won’t be allowed to enter. 

As both leader and prophet, Moses projects a time in the future when the people–settled in the land of Israel–will become too self-assured, and will proclaim that:

כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה

Ko-khi va-etzem yadi asah li et ha-chayil hazeh, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

Moses then cautions them…

וְזָֽכַרְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ כִּ֣י ה֗וּא הַנֹּתֵ֥ן לְךָ֛ כֹּ֖חַ לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת חָ֑יִל לְמַ֨עַן הָקִ֧ים אֶת־בְּרִית֛וֹ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥ע לַאֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ כַּיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה

V’zakharta et Ado-nai Elo-hekha, ki hu ha-notayn l’kha koach la-asot Chayil, l’ma-an ha-kim et b’rito asher nishba la-avotekha kayom hazeh, “Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your ancestors, as is still the case.”

Looking at the first selection, the word koach, strength (power, might), is at the center of the verse. We can contrast this with the way that same word is used in the book of Psalms, where we have the author of the Psalm (71:5) imploring God:

אַֽל־תַּ֭שְׁלִיכֵנִי לְעֵ֣ת זִקְנָ֑ה כִּכְל֥וֹת כֹּ֝חִ֗י אַֽל־תַּעַזְבֵֽנִי

Al tashlikhaynu l’ayt ziknah kichlot koach al ta-azvayni, “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me!”

The 17th century commentator, Rabbi David Altschuler of Prague (1687-1769) in his work Metzudat David, teaches that this verse in Psalms “Is meant to teach that: One might presume to say that ‘until now, all the strength I’ve exhibited has been because of my own strength and not due to God’. So, now that a person’s strength wanes, s/he is praying not to be abandoned.”

So what’s the point that these texts are making? It seems to me that the mistake Moses anticipated happening–that we would think we are the masters who have done these great things (as noted in the first verse about inheriting the Land of Israe)l – was and still is a mistake in one’s thinking most typical of youth. We err in thinking that, either as young individuals or as a young nation, we’ve made everything happen by ourselves.

By the time we mature, in both thinking and in self-awareness, we realize that we are masters over surprisingly little. We find ourselves, in the words of the Psalmist, asking that God not cast us off, not reject us, despite the fact our youthful energy might no longer be there.

When we take the two together, there is a lesson of maturity, and of becoming far more realistic about our power and strength. Here’s the cool thing: It was never our strength alone that brought us to our achievements, because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us– on their achievements. It’s also because God and the Godly in the world have been our true partners. As a result, the loss of our own personal strength doesn’t actually diminish our ability to do good, to accomplish great things, and to make a difference in our world!

So, since the power comes from outside ourselves, as we move into the autumn of our lives, we ask that force, which we call God, to not abandon us, but to continue to be that power that will move us forward and enable us to achieve yet more in the days and years ahead.

May we all continue to be strengthened by God, the Godly life force, so that we continue to make great things happen.

Rabbi Arnie Samlan, Chief Jewish Education Officer of the Jewish Federation of Broward County, is, first and foremost, a teacher of Torah and a Jewish educational leader whose work has impacted Jewish learners, community leaders and professionals across North America. He has worked as a congregational educator and rabbi, camp educator, and is a committed leader in the use of social media in Jewish learning. His ideas can be found on his blog, https://arnolddsamlan.wordpress.com/ and his Twitter feed @jewishconnectiv.
A native of Chicago, he holds Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Hebrew
literature, a MSW, semicha from Hebrew Theological College/Skokie Yeshiva, an RJE title from the Reform movement, and has studied education on the doctoral level.


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