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[Dvar Torah] Eikev

Hello everybody and welcome back to school! This week's parasha is Eikev, which translates to ‘reward’ or ‘as a result of’. In fact, the first pasuk of the parasha explains that “This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances,” and then proceeds to list the rewards that can be gained.

The most obvious example of this is found in the second paragraph of the Shema, which appears in this week’s parasha. It lists all the rewards that Hashem will give if you follow his commandments and the punishments that will fall upon your head if you do not. From this, you would think that it’s pretty straightforward: follow Hashem’s commandments and your land will have rain, your cattle will feast on grass and you will have food to eat. Don’t follow the commandments and live a life of dry land, hungry cattle and starvation. 

This very parasha includes an example of one such commandment: the commandment to bless Hashem after a meal, which is derived from the words “You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem”. These words are said in the second paragraph of the Shema as well as in Birkat Hamazon–the blessing you say after a meal. Or, to be more specific, the blessing you say after eating one of the 5 species of grain. It is also the only blessing (according to Rambam) that is learned directly from the Torah, as opposed to all other blessings like ones you say before eating which are learned by the Rabbis in the Talmud. 

So with all these conditions it seems quite simple: follow the commandments and all will be well, don’t follow them and suffer the painful consequences. But in the real world we often observe that this is not the case. A person who does everything and follows all the commandments, could lead a life of misery and tragedy with apparently nothing to show for his efforts. This poses a question. A question which has been asked in the Torah many times, from many different figures in many different ways: Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? 

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks OBM answers this question in an interesting way. He tells the story of Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, a Holocaust survivor who, after losing his wife and children is asked, after everything he’s been through whether he has any questions for God. He answers: “Yes. I have questions. There are such deep questions that I know for sure that were I ever to ask them, God would invite me up to heaven to give me the answers Himself. And I prefer to be down here with the questions than up there with the answers.”. 

Rabbi Sacks uses this to give us a partial answer to the question posed before. If we had an answer for why bad things happen to good people, we would come to accept bad things happening to good people. But we don’t have the answer, we just have the question and instead of accepting suffering, to quote Rabbi Sacks “we fight so that bad things do not continue to happen to good people”.

The message I want to leave with at the start of the new academic year is as follows: at School, reward and ‘punishment’ is clear, you work hard, meet deadlines and dedicate yourself to your work and you can reap the benefits of that hard work. However, in other facets of life, the connection between reward and punishment is not so obvious. Sometimes, in the spirit of Rabbi Sacks’ words, we need to make a leap of faith and fight so that bad things do not continue to happen. 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!

Hannah, Grade 12