What does the Kadosh Baruch Hu (the Lord) ask from us?
It seems that He asks us everything. It seems that He demands a total dedication of us with terrible renunciations.
According to the prophet Michah, He only asks us to practice justice, love and benevolence and walk humbly in the ways of God. It sounds simple.
But it really is more complicated: we want to interpret and state what the Creator is asking of us. However, we should only do what we understand He asks of us without big statements or proclamations, just DO IT.
Our parasha begins with the well-known account of how good it will be for us if we keep mitzvot and, on the other hand, how bad if we don't keep them, so why don't people keep them? If that is exactly what The Lord asks of us! And we understand that it is not just about believing in Him. If He is our God, we should at least do His will, obey Him. So, once again the question arises: why do people not feel that they must comply with His commandments?
On the one hand, we already know that things do not NECESSARILY work with reward-punishment. We live it. We feel and suffer that statement. Honest and upright people suffer while others undeservedly live a good life and oppress or mistreat those around them in attitudes that are not very merciful of the ones who surround them.
No. Of course the system of rewards and punishments does not work.
And we can't talk about the award ceremony at the Olam haBa (the world to come). There are those who, even within Judaism, understand that everything is about betting that there, in another life, the award will come. This is not how our Conservative Movement sees it. Or at least it does not leave everything destined for that moment. We have a lot to do in this life before that.
The mitzvot, and good deeds, and practicing justice and benevolence or mercy and knowing how to be humble, recognizing that we are not super powerful and that we can make mistakes, has to do with THIS world. By improving it, improving ourselves every day. Inch by inch.
Parashat Ekev is less concise in its response to the question of what the Creator asks of us: “And now, Israel, what is it that Adonai, your God, demands of you, if not to respect (fear) Adonai, your God, to walk in all His paths, to love and serve Adonai, your God, with all your heart and with all your being, to observe the commandments of Adonai and His laws that I prescribe for your good today.” (Devarim 10:12-13)
It is from this pasuk (verse) that our tradition tells that King David established the custom of pronouncing 100 brachot a day for any Jew. The Talmud, in masechet Menachot, explains that this pasuk has 99 letters; adding the letter Alef to the third word (the word MAH), it becomes MEAH (one hundred); it concludes that for this reason we have the obligation to revere the Kadosh Baruch Hu 100 times a day. This is achieved by adding the brachot that we mentioned from the time we open our eyes until we close them at night, including tefilot, meals and daily activities.
Among all those that we mentioned every day, it is precisely in Ekev where we find the paragraph that would later be taken as the basis of the Birkat haMazon, (the Blessings after our meals) which differentiates us as a people in the fact that we are grateful for what we had on our table (and that went through to our stomach) once we are full: “Veachalta vesavaata uverachta et Adonai Elohecha al haaretz hatovah asher natan lach”—“And you will eat and be satisfied and bless Adonai, your God for the good land that He gave you” (Devarim 8: 10)
In the same chapter Moshe warns about how we are prone to getting proud on our achievements and wealth, forgetting who we really are. At times we believe that it is only us, by our own means and without any help, who succeed on the accomplishments in our lives.
The modern maelstrom invites us more and more to that.
In the year 1832 Samuel Morse invented the telegraph and transmitted the first words by a cable “This is God's work”; “What hath God wrought?”. Yet Neil Armstrong's words as he set foot on the lunar surface in July 1969: “This is one small step for man, but one gigantic step for humanity.”
Total absence of the Creator in less than 140 years.
What would be the phrase today in front of some achievement or discovery of the humanity?
Would we include God as almost a helper, in our search or discovery? Or would we continue to ignore His daily presence in our lives?
Let us at least change our attitude. Let us face the day to day with humility and gratitude for what we have and was given to us and we have earned. Let's be supportive and sensitive to our fellow man. And let's get a little closer to Torah and mitzvot.
It may not be EXACTLY what the Creator requires of us, but it surely comes close.