Parshat Eikev: The Reward for the Observance of Mitzvot

“And Hashem will remove from you all sickness. And all the terrible afflictions experienced by the Egyptians – that you knew – He will not place upon you. And He will direct them against your enemies.” (Devarim 7:15)

Moshe continues to speak to Bnai Yisrael. In the beginning of our parasha, he addresses the people on behalf of Hashem. Moshe describes the rewards the people will experience if they are scrupulous in their observance of the mitzvot. Bnai Yisrael will be blessed among the nations. The nation will grow – its people will become numerous. The land of Israel will be fertile and blessed with abundance. Moshe even assures the people that their animals will not be barren or sterile.

Moshe then adds our pasuk. Hashem will remove all sicknesses. Bnai Yisrael will not experience any of the afflictions visited upon the Egyptians. Instead, Bnai Yisrael’s enemies will suffer these afflictions.

Our passage is difficult to understand. Apparently, Moshe is alluding to the plagues that Hashem brought upon the Egyptians. He is telling Bnai Yisrael that Hashem will not punish them with these plagues. Instead, He will bring these plagues upon their enemies.

There are two problems with this statement. First, Moshe is outlining the reward for observing the commandments. He is saying that one of the rewards is that Bnai Yisrael will not be punished with the terrible plagues brought upon the Egyptians. It is difficult to regard such an assurance as a reward. A righteous nation should expect to be exempt from terrible punishment!

Second, Moshe has already told the nation that their adherence to the Torah will be rewarded with abundance and wealth. It seems obvious that if Hashem will reward the nation, He will not allow terrible afflictions to strike the nation!

The commentaries offer a number of answers to these questions. Sforno suggests that the problem is partially based upon a misunderstanding of the pasuk. The passage refers to the afflictions experienced by the Egyptians. We have assumed that these afflictions are the ten plagues. Sforno suggests that this is a misinterpretation. He explains that these afflictions are epidemic diseases that struck the Egyptians. When did the Egyptians experience these diseases? Sforno explains that this occurred at the Reed Sea. Many Egyptians pursued Bnai Yisrael into the sea and drowned as the waters collapsed upon them. Others died from terrible diseases with which Hashem afflicted them.

Based on this reinterpretation of our pasuk, Sforno answers our questions. Sforno continues to explain that the assurance that Bnai Yisrael will not experience these diseases can only be understood in the context of the entire pasuk – especially the end of the passage. The last element of the pasuk is the assurance that these diseases will be visited upon Bnai Yisrael’s enemies. Moshe is saying that, although your enemies will be struck with these diseases, you will not be affected. In other words, terrible, highly contagious diseases will be brought upon Bnai Yisrael’s enemies. Bnai Yisrael will be close by. But the epidemic will not affect Bnai Yisrael. Only the enemy will be destroyed. Bnai Yisrael will be miraculously protected.[1]

Geshonides offers a completely different explanation of our pasuk. He contends that the passage can only be understood in the context of the religious beliefs of the time. The idolatrous cultures of that time had many beliefs that now seem strange to us. We dismiss their ideas as primitive and childish. However, Moshe addressed Bnai Yisrael at a time in which the world was dominated by these ideas. He attempted to introduce a new perspective. He demanded that Bnai Yisrael abandon familiar, prevalent religious doctrines. We must understand his statements in this context.

Geshonides explains that the idolaters struggled with the existence of good and evil. How can a single deity preside over these two opposite forces – good and evil? Some idolaters responded that, in fact, there is no conflict because there are two deities. One deity rules over good, and the other has power over evil. The Torah rejected this response. The Torah introduced the concept of a single omnipotent deity with power and dominion over every element of the universe. This deity only does good. However, we may not always appreciate the goodness of His acts.

What is the connection between this theological debate and Moshe’s address? Gershonides explains that these blessings are more than a reward for observance of the Torah. These blessings are also evidence of the Almighty’s omnipotence. Through these blessing, the Almighty would demonstrate His dominion over ever aspect of the universe.

We can now understand Gershonides’ answer to our questions. Moshe could not merely assure Bnai Yisrael that their obedience to the Torah would be rewarded with blessings of abundance. This might imply that the idolaters were correct – Hashem has the power to bestow good, but He does not have control over evil. Moshe added that Hashem will protect you from all evil. Not only does He control the good; He also has complete control over evil. Moshe further emphasized this point by reminding Bnai Yisrael of the evidence they observed at the time of redemption. Hashem struck the Egyptians with terrible plagues. This demonstrates his dominion over evil.[2]

Gershonides’ approach also provides an explanation for another difficulty. Moshe tells Bnai Yisrael that if they observe the commandments, the land will be fertile and its produce abundant. He then adds that none of their animals will be barren or sterile. This last assurance is difficult to understand. This seems to be superfluous and irrelevant. Once the people have wealth and material abundance, their needs are addressed. Why is it important that none of their animals are sterile or barren?

Gershonides’ basic point is that these blessings are not merely a reward for observance of the commandments. Instead, the blessings are a lesson regarding Hashem’s omnipotence. They demonstrate His dominion over every aspect of the universe. In the context of this lesson, Moshe is making an important point. Hashem’s dominion is not limited to general control over the laws of nature. He does not merely manipulate these laws to produce general effects. His providence extends to every detail of the universe. The Almighty controls even the fertility of a specific beast. He can make a barren animal fertile.


“There idolatrous statues you should burn in fire. Do not desire the silver and the gold that is upon them and take them for yourself. This will be a deadly trap for you. For this is an abomination to Hashem your G-d.”
(Devarim 7:25)

Moshe tells Bnai Yisrael that they will conquer the land of Israel. He admonishes the people to destroy and uproot all forms of idolatry from the land. Moshe then cautions the people. He tells them that they will capture gold and silver idols. These are items of value and beauty. They are required to destroy these idols. However, they will be tempted to preserve them. Moshe forewarns the people that preserving these idols is a terrible error. It will lead to their downfall.

Why will preserving these items of value and beauty ensnare Bnai Yisrael? It seems that Moshe fears that preserving these idols will lead to their worship. However, it is not clear how this will occur.

Sforno offers an explanation. Bnai Yisrael was not immune from primitive notions and superstitions. Members of the nation could easily revert to superstitious and primitive practices. Because of this disposition, these members of the nation could be entrapped by idols they would preserve.

How would this entrapment take place? A person preserves one of these idols. Subsequently, this person enjoys unusual success or good fortune in some endeavor. This person wishes to assure the continuation of this good fortune and success. It is natural to seek security and protection against the verities of fate. In response to this need for security, this person decides that the idol has provided the good fortune and success. Next, the person enters into an idolatrous relationship with the stature in order to preserve this good fortune.[3]

“At that time Hashem said to me, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets like the first. And ascend the mountain, to Me. And make for yourself a wooden Ark.” (Devarim 10:1)

Moshe retells the incident of the Egel HaZahav – the golden calf. He explains that he broke the first Luchot – Tablets. Moshe prayed for Bnai Yisrael and they were forgiven. Hashem tells Moshe to carve a new set of Tablets and construct an Aron – an Ark – for their storage.

Rashi explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to first carve the Luchot. Afterwards, he was to construct the Aron. Moshe reversed this order. He reasoned that the Ark must be ready to receive the Tablets upon their completion. It would be inappropriate to create the Luchot prior to assembling a suitable instrument for their storage. Rashi implies that the Almighty acquiesced to Moshe’s decision.[4]

Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik Ztl asks an obvious question. Rashi indicates that Moshe had reasoned properly. It was appropriate to construct the Aron first. However, it cannot be denied that Hashem first commanded Moshe in to carve the Luchot! Why did Hashem not follow the logical order suggested by Moshe?

Rav Soloveitchik offers a simple explanation. An example will help introduce his reasoning. Assume we decide to design and manufacture a product. First, we must decide on the product. Once we have determined our product, we can decide on the best packaging. Logically, the concept of the product precedes the packaging. This does not dictate the order of manufacture. Once we have completed the design of the product and the packaging, we must begin manufacture. We may decide to manufacture the product and it’s packaging simultaneously. We might even decide to manufacture the packaging prior to the product. This will provide available packaging for the product.

Now let us apply this reasoning to our problem. The Aron was designed solely for the containment of the Luchot. The commandment to create an Ark is only meaningful after the concept of the Luchot has emerged. Therefore, Hashem first instructed Moshe in the creation of the Tablets. Afterwards, He instructed Moshe to assemble the Ark.

Moshe correctly understood that the logical relationship between the Luchot and the Aron demanded this order in the commandments. He also concluded that this order did not apply to the actual creation of the objects. In fact, it would be appropriate to construct the Aron prior to the carving of the Luchot.[5]

[1] Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, Commentary on Sefer Devarim 7:15.

[2] Rabbaynu Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag / Gershonides), Commentary on the Torah, p 414.

[3] Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, Commentary on Sefer Devarim 7:25.

[4] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 10:1.

[5] Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, Chidushai HaGRIZ on T’NaCH and Aggadah, Parshat Ekev.