Torah for the Times    

Friday - Shabbat, August 19 - 20 Parshat Eikev 

Torah Reading:  Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)
Candle Lighting  7:30 PM
Shabbat ends 8:31 PM 

Pass or Fail?

The Rewards

In this week’s parsha of Eikev, the Torah speaks of the blessings that follow from proper observance of the Torah and its commandments. The parsha commences with the words: “And it will come to pass that as a result of your listening to these laws, and your care in their observance, G‑d will keep His promise to you…”

A few verses later the Torah continues with further promise of reward: “There will be no sterile… among you or among your animals… G‑d will keep every sickness away from you. He will not give you any of the bad diseases of Egypt which you knew.

The question is asked: Why did Moses add the words “which you knew” when referring to the afflictions of the Egyptians. If Moses was addressing the people who still remembered the Ten Plagues and the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea they did not have to be told “which you knew.” And if they were too young to have a vivid recollection of the afflictions visited upon the Egyptians how could Moses add the words “which you knew.” The term “knew” does not simply mean having some cursory knowledge of the experience. Rather it suggests an intimate knowledge of the event, as in the Biblical phrase “Adam knew Eve.

A second question can be raised: why does the Torah adds the word “bad” to the word “diseases? Which disease is not bad?

Thirdly, one can ask why the suffering of the Egyptians during the Ten Plagues characterized as a disease? A disease usually implies an illness that is brought on by some natural cause. The suffering of the Egyptians would be better described as “plagues” not diseases. 
A Crash Course

To answer these questions we must reflect on the purpose of the Ten Plagues and how they represent a watershed moment in the development of the world.

The plagues in Egypt were not just intended to punish the Egyptians for their evil behavior of enslaving and oppressing the Jews. If the goal was merely punishment, G‑d could have punished them instantaneously. The Torah states that the purpose of the incremental nature of the plagues was to instill within the Egyptians the knowledge of G‑d’s existence.

In addition to affecting the Egyptians, the plagues were also intended to make the Jewish nation aware of the existence of G‑d, His ability to control nature and His unique relationship with them. If they were to become the “Chosen People,” to receive the Torah from G‑d and implement its dictates into their daily lives, it was imperative that they receive an introduction to G‑d and His unity.

The entire process of the Exodus was, as the Torah itself states, a preparation for history’s most momentous event, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. That revelation at Mount Sinai, in turn, was a prelude to the Jewish people conquering the Promised Land and transforming it into the model G‑d had in mind for the whole world—a world that is permeated with an acute awareness of the unity of G‑d. Furthermore, our existence in the Land of Israel—with its Holy Temple in Jerusalem—was a prelude to the ultimate Redemption, when the entire world will recognize the unity of G‑d.

This process began in earnest with the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Red Sea with all of its attendant miracles. These events were intended to expose the world to the reality of the one G‑d.

In effect, one way of viewing the entire Ten Plague ordeal was to view it as an educational process. The Egyptians and the Israelites were both enrolled in a crash course in and through which they were to experience G‑d in their lives.

This premise that the Ten Plagues were an educational program is hinted in the promise that we will not be sterile or barren. The Talmud (Bechoros 44b) applies that blessing to a teacher who does not have students. It can also be extended to a teacher whose students do not internalize the lessons taught by the teacher.

The question we could ask now is how did all of the “graduates” of this unique program score? Did they pass or fail? If they passed did they make the dean’s list?
Mixed Results

In truth, the results were mixed.

This student may have been given the best education from the perspective of the “Teacher,” but from the vantage point of many of the students—the course was a failure.
The Egyptians clearly failed the course. While they temporarily pushed for the liberation of their slaves, they quickly reneged and pursued the Jews into the sea—the sea that brought about their own ultimate demise.

There were even a significant number of Jews, who our Sages stated, died in the ninth plague of darkness because they refused to be part of the Chosen People who would leave Egypt and embrace this revolutionarily new way of life. They too failed the course.

Many others who did pass barely made it. In fact their poor grades were reflected in the multiple rebellions such as the golden calf and the spies, Korach and the ones who complained about the lack of meat and water. And, of course, there were those—such as the Levites and the women—who graduated with honors.
Live Animals

This then is what Moses was saying to the generation that was about to enter the Promised Land. If you will follow in G‑d’s commandments—particularly, as Rashi states, those seemingly trivial ones—then you will not be barren. Your Torah lifestyle will successfully pass on from one generation to the next.

Moreover, even your animals will not be barren. This may be a reference to the animal soul within each one of us. Even our animal drives and interests will be so inspired by G‑d’s presence that they will be channeled into positive territory. The animal within us will acquire the ability to reproduce because it will be truly alive and it will peacefully coexist with our G‑dly souls. A materialistic lifestyle is not truly worthy of the title life because like everything physical it is subject to the law of nature that everything comes to an end. When the animal within is elevated to the level of the G‑dly soul, it assumes the status of a truly living organism that can perpetuate itself. It never dies.
The Forty-Niners

The Torah continues that with the proper observance of the commandments, G‑d will keep every sickness from us. The Hebrew word for illness, choleh, has the numerical value of 49. This relates to the person who is exposed to forty-nine out of the fifty gates of spiritual levels that exist, but cannot reach the elusive fiftieth level; that is illness in the spiritual sense of the word.

This state of illness is identified as galut, the exile that we’ve been through for close to 2,000 years. No matter how close we get to the ultimate in our understanding of G‑d—the fiftieth level—that goal proves to be elusive. Exile is where we may get close to realizing our objectives, but we can never reach the goal. Exile to the enlightened Jew is the ultimate experience in frustration.

The Torah thus promises us that ultimately, in the “end of days”— which is one of the translations of the opening word of the parsha and its very name, “Ekev”—the cumulative efforts of all the generations of Jewish dedication to the ideals of the Torah augmented with our own efforts, will ultimately bring the cure of the illness called exile.

The Torah then continues: “He will not give you any of the bad diseases of Egypt which you knew.” The “diseases,” one may suggest, refer not to the plagues themselves but to the Egyptian failure to extract the proper lessons from them. They were afflicted with the disease called exile. In their case, however, it was not simply a “bad disease” - it was a terminal form of the disease. There was no remedy for the Egyptian formof the illness. All of the miraculous plagues did not succeed to change the mindsets of the Egyptians or the Jews who chose to remain—and did remain in Egypt. These educational devices were rendered not only ineffective but they reverted to being no more than bad diseases. We can attach the word “good” to a disease if there is some silver lining to it. A disease can be “good”, relatively speaking, if it is curable; even more so if it prevents an even worse malady, or if it will teach the person how to lead a more healthful lifestyle. But the Egyptians received only the diseased part of the plague and none of its good.  
We are Not Barren

If we avoid the threat of sterility or barrenness by perpetuating our values and learning the proper lessons from history—particularly recent events—we will also have the power to cut short the negative parts of the disease associated with exile and be cured from its debilitating effects.

Thus Moses tells the generation that is poised to enter into the Promised Land—the generation whose actions portend our generation, the last of exile, which eagerly anticipates the imminent arrival of Moshiach—that they/we should not suffer from the bad diseases of Egypt.

Moses also adds the words “which you knew.” Moses was alluding to the fact that this new generation did have the intimate knowledge and appreciation for the educational message of the Ten Plagues. They were unlike the Egyptians and the Jews who perished in Egypt who did not know—i.e., experience and internalize—the educational lessons of the miracles of the Ten Plagues.

As we stand on the threshold of the Promised Land, on the cusp of the final Redemption, we have to “open our eyes” and see that all that has happened in the past—the good things as well as the negative experiences—must serve to instill within us the need to get out of our own modern day version of Egyptian Bondage. There is no suggestion that we understand or justify the suffering in any way—that goes contrary to the Torah that tells us to “demand” of G‑d to bring an end to all suffering, its “silver linings” notwithstanding. Rather, it means to look at the unusual events of the past—especially of the ones that occurred in the most recent past—and let them inspire us to demand the revelation of Moshiach and the ushering in of the Age of Redemption!   

Moshiach Matters 

“The blind are called ‘Sagi Nahor,’ literally: those with much light, so called because they sadly have no -light. When Moshiach comes, G‑d will heal them, and they will become Sagi Nahor in the positive and literal meaning of the words. This is similar to the medieval sage Rabbi Yitzchak Ben HaRa’avad who was called Sagi Nahor because Elijah the prophet revealed himself to him and he had many other spiritual powers.”
(The Rebbe, Parshat Eikev, 1991) 

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