Drash on Parashat Ekev 2019
Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria
In the final months of his life Moshe dictates his ethical will to the people. Reiterating the key events that brought them to the gateway of the Jordan, knowing he will not cross into the Promised Land, in the final portions of Devarim each year we relive Moshe’s encroaching transition.
40 years is a long adolescence. Ekev reminds the nation that God took them via the long route to test their resolve. The slave generation who could not trust Moshe’s absence resorted to idol worship. But then again, God would have known that their slavery had broken their capacity to trust Moshe, or even God, the ultimately trustworthy One. Generation change and military campaigns had tested the people and given them new aspirations and challenged them to be ready.
As parents, we want our children to fly the coop and be capable to navigate safely. Yet Moshe, who has been closely supervising his charges for more than 40 years, appears unconvinced. It seems that regardless of how he has attempted to prepare the people up to now, that they still aren’t ready. Does Moshe understand the intrinsic shortcomings of human beings because he has grappled with his own failings, or is he so aged and set in his attitudes that he cannot relinquish his anxieties and feel optimistic? Is he so sad, even bitter, at being deprived of the experience of Eretz Yisrael, that he underestimates the capabilities of the Sinai generations? Are threats his only ammunition?
The young who witnessed the Exodus and the fates of Datan and Aviram (Devarim 11:2-6) are now seniors in their own right. What has been missing in the preparation of their generation that prevents Moshe having confidence in their capacity to be faithful and thrive without him? After all, it is God who has wrought all the miracles and will long outlast Moshe. Neither the forgiving God, "el chanun v’rachum", nor Moshe, reassures the people that they can be trusted as they move to this next step. Their religious maturity is to be tested and they have the potential to either succeed or try repeatedly to do so.
Inheritance of tribal land was not sufficient to prevent disharmony, greed and ambition. That is the human condition: to try, to aim high and to fall short, to aspire even if we might miss the mark. It is intrinsic to the book of Devarim (and for that matter, at this time of year, even to our approach to the Yamim Nora’im). Still we walk alongside Moshe to the end of his lifetime. As death approaches, we carry the weight of his impassioned pleas that we also merit a good inheritance. It is as if we were there! As the collective parents of the 21st century generations, we encourage our children to embrace and guard their inheritance, knowing that they are just as much at risk as the Sinai generations. But threats and risks are negative reinforcement. The loving and gracious God of forgiveness provides endless encouragement, reassurance and is refuge when needed, just in case we have chosen to depart from that close, motherly love for a time. It is consolation indeed.