Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ekev
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The main topics that Moshe discusses in Dvarim are reflected in this week’s parsha in detail. These topics are the status of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and the cardinal sin of worshipping strange gods and foreign ideologies. Moshe points out that the stay of the Jewish people in its promised homeland is not at all one of guaranteed permanence. The Land of Israel, so to speak, has itself something to say about who resides within its confines. It is most inhospitable to those who violate God’s basic moral code and the dire consequences that occur when immoral and pagan behavior occurs there are inevitable and unavoidable. Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim assigns most prohibitions listed in the Torah to the general principle of avoiding idolatrous behavior. Idolatry is so attractive to humans that the Torah has to resort to great and repeated lengths to separate the Jew from those beliefs, behaviors and ideas. We are witness to Jewish behavior throughout history that always seems to fall back into idolatrous behavior. Sometimes the idols are made of stone and wood, sometimes they are human beings who advertise themselves as gods or superhuman savants of holiness and sometimes they are ideologies and utopian promises that only lead to tragedy and disillusionment. But they are all paganism and are therefore forbidden by Torah edict and values. The last century brutally illustrated to us the cost of following strange gods and false utopian ideologies. Moshe’s warning to his generation resonates down the millennia to reach our ears as well. Types and forms of idols may come and go in human history but the presence of idolatry and its attendant consequences remain constant in all generations.

Moshe appeals to three factors that can save the Jewish people from losing its presence in the Land of Israel. They are 1) historical experience, 2) common sense, and 3) obedience to God’s commandments. Historical experience abundantly shows the errors of following other value systems than the Torah. Paganism, Hellenism, the Sadducees, Jewish Christianity, Karaism, false messianism, uncontrolled mysticism, secularism, Enlightenment, Marxism, nationalism, assimilation, Reform, humanism, etc. have all had their moment on the Jewish stage and have disappeared or changed. Many Jews are now searching for the new idol that will bring us hope and salvation. They are doomed to disappointment. The brilliant and wise nation of Israel needs to use a little common sense sometimes. Following policies and ideas that have never yet worked for us should no longer be accepted and trumpeted as somehow being valid and useful. Common sense should teach us who are those that are for us and who are those that are against us, no matter their protestations of affection for us may be. Forsaking Jewish tradition, halachic observance and the Torah’s value system only brings us grief and angst. These factors that Moshe outlines for us themselves constitute the blueprint for Jewish survival in the Land of Israel and in the world generally. These are matters that are not to be taken lightly - stepped upon casually by the heel of our foot - but rather they are the key to our future and ultimate success.
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