[Numbers] are mitzvot in Sefer HaChinuch
KOHEN – First Aliya – 25 p’sukim (7:12-8:8)
This is the longest Shabbat Mincha – Monday – Thursday reading. B’reishit and Ki Tisa have longer first-Aliyot, but we don’t read the whole portion on Monday- Thursday or Shabbat Mincha. Mas’ei, according to the custom of no stopping in the middle of the “travels” would be much longer, but most shuls do not follow that minhag.
SDT – In the context of the opening verses of the sedra, the word EKEV means “in the wake of…” (following G-d’s words). The Baal HaTurim presents a mini-mussar lesson based on the choice of the word EKEV, which means “heel”. The heel represents humility, in that it always follows the toes and the rest of the foot (and body). Since it does no initiate action, it does not run the risk of becoming arrogant. We must realize that humility is an important key in our following G-d’s words. Thus, the opening words of the sedra can be saying: “If you are humble and follow G-d’s commands, then…”
Another observation of the Baal HaTurim: EKEV is numerically 172 – the number of words in the Aseret HaDibrot (Yitro version); hence a connection between the name of the sedra and the mitzvot mentioned in the first pasuk.
Moshe Rabeinu reiterates the “simple” deal that HaShem offers us: If we observe the mitzvot then He will keep the promises that He made to our ancestors. (Allusion is made to the “small” mitzvot that one would tend to trample upon with his heel.)
He will love us, bless us, and see to it that we flourish. We will be the most blessed among all the nations.
Following this, Moshe issues another of the many warnings against idolatry. Do not wonder how it will be possible to prevail against the many nations in the Land and do not fear them. The miracles witnessed in Egypt (and in the Midbar) will be repeated with other nations. Conquest of Eretz Yisrael will be slow so that the Land will not be overrun by wild animals.
SDT – Commentators ask, could not G-d Who split the sea and performed countless other miracles, prevent the problem with animals without drawing out the period of conquest. They explain that the period from Yetziat Mitzrayim until entering the Land was supernatural, which was filled with miracles, but it was an unnatural time. Food from heaven, miraculous well water, clothes that we did not outgrow, shoes that did not wear out, and protection from the Clouds of Glory, all demonstrated G-d’s special relationship with the People, helped develop within them a special faith in G-d, but was not to be their way of life. Just as the fetus is protected and provided for during gestation and then emerges into the less perfect but “natural” world, so too Israel is soon to emerge from its womb to face the reality of the natural world. Hence, the warning about the animals.
No one will be able to stand before Israel. The idols of the nation shall be destroyed and we shall not desire their rich trappings. It is forbidden to derive benefit from the adornments of idolatry, even if they have not been worshipped. Nor may we have anything to do with idolatry, directly or peripherally. We may not benefit from that which is consecrated to idolatry [428,429].
All that G-d commands us in the Torah is for the purpose of living… in Eretz Yisrael.
SDT – This is an oft-repeated theme of Moshe’s words to the new generation that is soon to cross the Jordan River. It emphasizes the interdependence and inseparable nature of the three fundamental events that define the Jewish People – the Exodus, Matan Torah, and entry into the Land.
Moshe next asks us to remember the experiences of the years of wandering, the miracles as well as the tribulations. That was a testing period which set the stage for real life in E. Yisrael.
The Land is beautifully described and the Seven Species are enumerated. This gives prominence to grain products (bread, pastry, etc.) in the realm of brachot and gives priority to wine and the five special fruits.
The Torah commands us to “bench” after meals , Chazal augmented this rule with a wide range of brachot to be recited before & after partaking of food by which we express our appreciation and thanks to G-d for the bounty of His world. Similarly, the Sages required us to say brachot before (many) mitzvot, as well as blessings of praise, request, and acknowledgment – all geared to make us and keep us constantly aware of G-d and His role in the Creation and continuing maintenance of the world.
SDT – Based on the words of the command to say Birkat HaMazon, we are not only thanking G-d for the food, as would be expected, but also for the Land. This is reflected in the texts of Birkat HaMazon and “Al HaMichya” (a.k.a “bracha me’ein shalosh”). Since Birkat HaMazon is a mitzva which applies in all places (not just in Israel), commentaries ponder the significance of the reference to the Land.
The Ramban says that when one looks back at the oppression in Egypt and remembers the harshness of the wilderness, and is now enjoying the bounty of the Land of Israel, there is special cause to thank G-d. Even during times of exile, the significance of the Land (and the Torah) to the life of the Jewish People must not be overlooked. To paraphrase a chassidic interpretation of the verse which commands us to “bench”: One can eat anywhere and be satisfied physically, but to be spiritually satisfied as well – that happens only in the natural environment of the Jew and his Torah – in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps this is why the Sefer HaChinuch speaks of the brachot for Torah learning in the same context as Birkat HaMazon. “And you will eat and you will be satisfied…” – this refers to both physical and spiritual food.
The implication of the Ramban’s words is that only in Eretz Yisrael can one be genuinely fulfilled in the performance of mitzvot. One can keep (many) mitzvot outside of Israel, but there is something vital lacking under those circumstances. This message is often repeated by Moshe Rabeinu during these final weeks of his life.
When the Jewish People were in the wilderness, Moshe Rabeinu taught them to thank G-d for their sustenance – the Manna. This is represented by the first bracha of Birkat HaMazon. When Yehoshua brought the People into Eretz Yisrael, he inspired the second bracha which acknowledges that there is much more to thank G-d for – the Land, the Torah, the Covenant with HaShem. These add the spiritual dimension to the otherwise physical act of eating.
LEVI – Second Aliya – 13 p’sukim (8:11-9:3)
Until now, the People have periodically displayed lack of faith in G-d in troubled times (hunger, thirst, fear). At this point, Moshe issues a very different kind of warning. When the People will enter the Land, success fully defeat the nations therein, and begin to benefit from the spoils of war and the bounty of the Land, the potential exists to discount G-d’s role in their good fortune. Moshe warns: be careful to remember He Who took us out of Egypt and fed us in the wilderness. Do not say: look what I accomplished with my own powers. Always remember that it is G-d who continuously keeps his promises to our ancestors. Know that turning from G-d towards idolatry will result in annihilation, as with the other nations. Notwithstanding the might of the nations we are about to face, have confidence that G-d will lead us to victory.
Note that the words that Moshe uses to describe the nations that we will face in Eretz Yisrael are very similar to the words used by the Meraglim when the panicked the People with their evil report on the Land. Moshe is not glossing over the difficulties that lie ahead. He is rather instilling confidence in the People that will come from faith in G-d and His promise to fight on our behalf.
The Perfect 10
The pasuk that describes the Land of Israel as a land of the 7 species contains 10 words. The bracha for BREAD, the premier item in the verse, has 10 words. When one makes HaMotzi, his 10 fingers should be on the bread. Bread comes to the table through the observance of 10 mitzvot – Do not plow with an ox and donkey together; do not plant mixed seeds, leave the gleanings for the poor, so too the forgotten bundle of wheat, and the corner of the field; do not muzzle an animal on the threshing floor; give the Kohen his T’ruma; Maaser to the Levi, take the second tithe, and give Challa to the Kohen.
SHLISHI – 3rd Aliya – 26 p’sukim (9:4-29)
Moshe next “put things in perspective”. We must not think that we deserve all that G-d is giving us, but rather we must remember the many times we angered G-d in the wilderness AND even at Sinai! [Some mitzva-counters consider this Zachor to be among the Torah’s 613; Rambam and the Chinuch do not. Some people have the custom of reciting the 6 or 10 Remembrances daily after Shacharit.]
Moshe now recounts for the People the devastating event of the Golden Calf. How glorious the events should have been when Moshe descended the Mount with the first Luchot. Moshe tells how G-d wanted to destroy the People and how he (Moshe) inter ceded on behalf of the People and returned to the mountain for an additional 40 days and 40 nights. Even Aharon was a subject of G-d’s anger. Rashi explains that G-d was angry at Aharon for “going along” with the People as far as he did. The implication, is that Aharon lost his sons as a result of G-d’s anger with him. Moshe’s prayers on behalf of his brother were partially successful – Aharon’s other two sons lived. Inter alia, Moshe mentions other places where the People angered G-d.
Moshe tells the People that he smashed the Luchot when he saw the Golden Calf.
SDT – The Midrash says that when Moshe broke the Luchot, its letters flew back to Heaven and all that remained were the broken pieces of the Tablets. The Midrash adds that the command to “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” remained intact. This is alluded to in the Shabbat morning Amida where we say: “And two tablets of stone, he brought down in his hand, and on them was written SH’MIRAT SHABBAT”. That’s all that was still written on the first set of Luchot.
Until schools are back in session, we can use some extra help distributing TT. Thursday is prime day for helping. Please call us.
R’VI’I – Fourth Aliya – 11 p’sukim (10:1-11)
Moshe continues the account by telling about the second set of Luchot and the Ark constructed to contain them. He then tells of the travels of the People, the death of Aharon, and the succession of his son, Elazar. Moshe also tells of the special role given to the tribe of Levi as a result of the (improper) behavior of the People.
The juxtaposition of the breaking of the Luchot and the death of Aharon teaches us several things: The death of a Talmid Chacham is as hard on us as the smashing of the Luchot. When a Talmid Chacham dies, we all become like mourning relatives – just like the national mourning for the Luchot. An irreparable, invalid Sefer Torah is to be buried next to a Talmid Chacham. (Baal HaTurim)
CHAMISHI – Fifth Aliya – 20 p’sukim (10:12-11:9)
“And now, People of Israel, what does G-d want from you? ONLY to revere Him, follow His ways, love Him, and serve Him with all your heart and soul. To fulfill all that he commands – for our own good.” Moshe tells the People that even though G-d is the Master of all, He has a special relationship with our ancestors and their descendants (us). We must not be stubborn; we must be good, for G-d is truly great and not subject to bribery. We are required to especially love the convert  – we know how it is to be a stranger among others. Revere G-d , serve Him , cling to Him (by adhering to Torah scholars ), and swear in His Name  when necessary to swear.
Rambam counts the commandment to pray daily as Biblical, based on “and Him you shall serve” and “and to serve Him with all your heart”, defining service of the heart as prayer. It seems that the Rambam splits the Biblical and Rabbinic aspects of prayer – Almost any words to G-d in the course of one’s day would constitute a fulfillment of the Torah Law, whereas specific texts, frequency, and timing would be required by the Sages.
Ramban holds that prayer is a rabbinic mitzva and that “Serve Him” is a general, all-encompassing “do mitzvot well” reminder. The Ramban accepts the idea that the p’sukim from the Torah inspired the Sages to require prayer.
At first look, it seems problematic that there is no specific command in the Torah “Thou shalt daven” (or words to that affect). The use of the indirect form – serve Him, serve Him with all your heart, what is service of the heart, prayer – leads to different views on exactly what is commanded here. If you think about it, SERVE HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART is the best way to command us to daven, because it tells us clearly the high premium placed on KAVANA in the case of davening. Of course, all mitzvot should be performed with proper intention, thought, and feeling. But if one falls short in the Kavana Department, most mitzvot are still acceptable that way. With davening, kavana is the whole story, not just a component of the mitzva. This is so specifically because the Torah did NOT command us to pray, but rather to serve G-d with all our hearts.
He is our G-d and He formed a mighty nation from a family of 70 souls. Love Him and do His mitzvot (do his mitzvot out of love for Him). Learn the lessons of Jewish history – the miracles and wonders of the Exodus, the crossing of the sea, and the punishment of Datan and Aviram (here singled out for their arrogant, unforgivable insult to Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to Korach whom Moshe was able to forgive [SG]). Once again, Moshe emphasizes that the purpose of mitzvot and the proper environment for Torah is Eretz Yisrael.
SHISHI – Sixth Aliya 12 p’sukim (11:10-21)
The Land that the People are about to enter is a land that is “accountable to G-d” in obvious (and less obvious) ways. G-d is demanding of it and of its soon-to-be inhabitants (us). The sedra concludes with a restating of the “deal” that opened the sedra. (This passage is the second part of Shma.) If we keep the mitzvot then we will have bountiful rain and abundant yields; if not, then…
“And you shall serve him with all your heart” (meaning to pray) is followed by G-d’s promise of bountiful rain – from here we learn to include the mention of G-d as rainmaker and the request for rain (in its proper season) in the Amida.
The promise of “grasses in your fields for your animals and you shall eat and be satisfied” is the source of the rule that one feeds his animals BEFORE he feeds himself. This primarily applies to one’s farm animals, but even feeding fish in an aquarium or providing for the cat who visits your doorstep before you sit down to breakfast, is a fulfillment of this concept (and a lesson for others).
T’filin, Torah learning, and Mezuza are restated as is the correlation between mitzvot and long life in the Land. This second portion of the Shma is one of the two passages in a Mezuza and one of the four portions in T’filin.
SH’VI’I (and Maftir) – 7th Aliya 4 p’sukim (11:22-25)
Once again, the “deal” that the sedra began with is repeated at its conclusion – If we will keep all the mitzvot, motivated by a love of G-d; if we follow in his footsteps (by performing acts of kindness) and cling to Him… then we will prevail against mightier nations than ourselves. The sedra concludes with promises of successful conquest of the Land – if we keep our side of the deal.
Haftara – 27 p’sukim Yeshayahu 49:14-51:3
2nd of the 7 Haftaras of Consolation read between Tish’a b’Av and Rosh HaShana. G-d’s message through the prophet, is that He has not forgotten Zion nor forsaken His People. It might seem that He has abandoned His People and His Land, but there will come a time when the People will return to their roots and be restored to their Land. The exile is not permanent; there was never a “divorce” between G-d and the People of Israel. G-d will help in the battles against the mighty nations that oppress His People. G-d has (will) comforted Zion; the desolated areas will flourish; joy and gladness, thanks and song will be found in Zion.
In Parshat Eikev alone, G-d has told us several times that we exist in order to keep the Torah, and if we do keep the Torah, then we will keep Eretz Yisrael as well. That The People of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel are (supposed to be) inseparable. Jewish History has shown us that we don’t stay faithful to that deal. With all the times that the Torah repeats this message, and all the times we renege on our commitment, we could become quite depressed as to the hopelessness of our exile. Comes the prophet and gives us the hopeful message of the Redemption. This is our consolation following the repeated destructions we have suffered.