Rabbi Yair D. Robinson
Congregation Beth Emeth
Parashat Eikev: Deeds from Creeds
Deut. 8: 7-11
Plaut p. 1230
We have all heard the expression that in Judaism, we care more about deed than creed. In fact, you may have used such an expression with your non-Jewish friends to help explain who we are and what we’re about. The pithy quote is meant to explain that Judaism isn’t as focused on faith or belief, but more on one’s actions, especially acts of service, which we call Mitzvot. It has often been a helpful way of differentiating Judaism from Christianity, with its focus on the faith of the individual, and helps explain why Jews—even observant ones—don’t always sound exactly pious. Whatever we believe, we might tell our non-Jewish friends, what’s important is what we do.
But as R’ Shai Held points out in his commentary, the book of Deuteronomy as a text complicates matters, including in our portion, Eikev, which begins on page, as we look in Chapter Eight, starting with verse 7, on page 1230 in our Plaut Commentaries. At first, it appears that our chapter affirms our idea about Judaism—it is focused on action. God (through Moses) instructs Israel: “You shall faithfully observe all the Instruction (Hebrew—Mitzvah), that I enjoin upon you today”, and later, in verse six continues the idea: “Therefore keep the commandments of the Eternal your God: walk in God’s ways and revere God.” But at other points Deuteronomy seems to buck that trend. Over and again, it is focused on the heart of the Israelite; not just the actions but the thoughts and feelings that lead to the actions as well. At various points in our chapter the text seems very concerned that Israel will forget God and all that God has done for them, that they will ‘grow haughty in their heart’ and forget God and God’s salvation. So, we read in verse 10:
וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ
When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless Adonai your God
Of course, blessing is an action, a deed, but it’s not the kind of action we usually talk about, especially in Reform Judaism. It’s not feeding the hungry, not solving an issue of injustice, not protecting the stranger. It’s just words. And to complicate things even more, this is an action that HAS TO emerge from a feeling, a thought, from one’s sense of Emunah, which is usually translated as ‘faith’ but really means ‘trust’. Being satisfied is emotional, intellectual, something that happens on the inside. That satisfaction leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to blessing. It can’t be empty ritual, or words recited by rote. The act of blessing must be an extension of one’s feeling, because, the text tells us, otherwise, we will forget God. Because it is remembering God that will remind us to fulfill all those other acts, those other mitzvot, that we as Jews take such pride in. As it turns out, Deuteronomy understands that words have power, the power to transform the individual and, by extension, the world around them. As Salman Rushdie expressed a month ago before being attacked this week: “A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” And as our prayerbook reminds us: “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, mend a broken bridge or rebuild a ruined city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.” It is the act of blessing, itself an expression of gratitude, that leads us to remember that our actions matter, our acts of service make a difference and help us remember our sacred task in the world. Our blessing matters because it leads to action. May it be so, amen.
Eikev for Chanting Deut. 8:7-11 Plaut p. 1230
Source Sheet by Yair Robinson
(7) For your God יהוה is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; (8) a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; (9) a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. (10) When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to your God יהוה for the good land given to you. (11) Take care lest you forget your God יהוה and fail to keep the divine commandments, rules, and laws which I enjoin upon you today.
(ז) כִּ֚י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מְבִֽיאֲךָ֖ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ טוֹבָ֑ה אֶ֚רֶץ נַ֣חֲלֵי מָ֔יִם עֲיָנֹת֙ וּתְהֹמֹ֔ת יֹצְאִ֥ים בַּבִּקְעָ֖ה וּבָהָֽר׃ (ח) אֶ֤רֶץ חִטָּה֙ וּשְׂעֹרָ֔ה וְגֶ֥פֶן וּתְאֵנָ֖ה וְרִמּ֑וֹן אֶֽרֶץ־זֵ֥ית שֶׁ֖מֶן וּדְבָֽשׁ׃ (ט) אֶ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹ֤א בְמִסְכֵּנֻת֙ תֹּֽאכַל־בָּ֣הּ לֶ֔חֶם לֹֽא־תֶחְסַ֥ר כֹּ֖ל בָּ֑הּ אֶ֚רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲבָנֶ֣יהָ בַרְזֶ֔ל וּמֵהֲרָרֶ֖יהָ תַּחְצֹ֥ב נְחֹֽשֶׁת׃ (י) וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃ (יא) הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֔ פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֖ח אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ לְבִלְתִּ֨י שְׁמֹ֤ר מִצְוֺתָיו֙ וּמִשְׁפָּטָ֣יו וְחֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם׃
Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Yair Robinson