Drash on Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Don Levy
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
“Every Action has its Reaction”
Many of us studied Newtonian physics during our student years and can quote, from the dark recesses of our memories, Newton’s Third Law: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the ensuing years we have learned to apply this lesson from physics to other areas in life. The lesson, in the broadest sense, is: Every act has consequences; internalising this principle, and applying it to everyday life, is one of the important chores associated with becoming an adult: we understand the stories of our lives to be a series of “if – then” statements. We understand non-acceptance of this principle to be a mark of childhood. If we’re honest, we admit that this was not the easiest of life’s lessons to learn.
This week’s Torah portion presents a big “if – then” statement, found in chapter 11 of Deuteronomy:
“If you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, then I will grant the rain for your land in its season, the early late and the late. You shall gather in your grain and wine and oil. I will also provide grain in the field for your cattle, and thus you shall eat your fill. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and to bow to them. For then the Lord’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce and you will soon perish from the good land that the Lord is assigning to you.”
Those of us who were raised in the more traditional sectors of Judaism, or who visit more traditional shuls on occasion, recognise the passage; it is the second of the three paragraphs of the traditional Shema, excised in early Reform prayer books, but included in the latest iteration, Mishkan T’filah-World Union Edition. When I asked one of my teachers why it had been cut out from Reform liturgy, he minced no words: It presents a worldview that is unacceptable to modern Jews. The idea that agricultural abundance is a sign that a nation is obeying God, and that drought is a sign of disobedience, is anathema. It opens the door for looking upon any and every people suffering the misfortunes of drought, and thinking: they brought it on themselves by disobeying God. This is not, the teacher asserted, a healthy view to reinforce.
Perhaps not, but the meta-message – that our actions bring consequences – is an important life lesson, something we must master if we’re ever going to “grow up.” And stating the lesson in terms of the land’s health provides an important lesson in the physical realities of life on our fragile planet. The things we do today, the lifestyle decisions we make, can and will impact on the earth tomorrow. Droughts don’t just “happen”; they and other climactic irregularities are the result of a nexus of influences, including the way we live, the way we waste or husband our natural resources. One need not be a “tree hugger” to recognise this!
And guess what? The law of preserving the earth is considered to be one of the 613 commandments in the Torah. Bal tashchit (do not destroy), found in Deuteronomy 20, is broadly understood in rabbinic law to be a general prohibition on senseless damage and waste.
If we indeed do recognise Bal tashchit as not only a good principle but a Divine imperative to conserve and preserve, then Deuteronomy 11 becomes an important passage to remember and consider. Disobedience of God’s law concerning the preservation of the earth does bring consequences. If we wish to live and flourish and prosper, we and all peoples would be well-advised to take care of our environment. If we do not, if we serve and bow down to the god of unbridled consumption, then the consequence may very well be as predicted in this week’s parashah.