by Rabbi Iris Richman, for more information Like Jewish Voices Together on Facebook
Ekev – “because” – the name of this week’s Torah reading is an exhortation to our people at the end of 40 years of wandering in the desert, poised to enter Israel, the Promised Land. Moses reminds our people why they should follow God’s commandments and be ready to enter Israel. It could have been that Moses would say: “God says – do it because I said so.”
This might have been the shortest Torah portion ever.
Instead, the entire text of Ekev, which also means “as a consequence of”, recounts the lengthy and compelling promises that God has made for the future, the wondrous actions of the past and, over and over again, the need for the people to remember that like any important relationship, the covenant is a two-way street. We are warned both in the Torah reading and in the Haftarah never to be so full of ourselves that we come to think that we can make transformational change and become a people in the Land of Israel – all on our own.
Indeed, the main theme of these texts is consequences. If you expect to do nothing and yet have things go your way – you will surely be disappointed; it will not happen. Rather, it is in our hands to together make ourselves what we want to become. If we see ourselves as:
following in the ways of God’s laws, choosing the path of righteousness and
acting for justice, remembering the most vulnerable and
responding in love, remembering our commitments and oaths,
we will endure “as long as there is a heaven over the earth”.
As we look forward to coming together to celebrate the new month of Elul in two weeks time, culminating on August 7 and beginning our annual process of reflection, repentance and repair, leading into Rosh Hashanah, this week’s reading gives us an opportunity to reflect on that very process of reflection. How shall I begin? Is this purely an internal process – if I promise myself never to act on those same nagging character traits – have I done all that I need to do?
This week’s Torah portion – “As a Consequence Of” is an eloquent reminder that individual action is a necessary – but not sufficient part of the work that is needed for full tikkun/repair. It reminds us again that our God is a God of justice for the most vulnerable in our midst, yet again enumerated here as the orphan, the widow and the stranger, reminding us yet again, as we were once strangers, we must love the stranger, not just in our hearts, but in also in our actions.
Here in New York, or indeed anywhere outside of Israel, as we think ahead to acting in solidarity on Rosh Hodesh with Women of the Wall/WOW, we consider Rosh Hodesh Av two weeks ago and the fullness of the experience of those who want to daven/pray pluralistically at the Kotel. In April, WOW won an appellate court decision granting the right to daven in accordance with their customs at the Kotel, but in most of the months since then, the Haredi rabbinate has interfered with this legal right and symbol of justice. As of two weeks ago, the Haredi rabbinate, in cooperation with Jerusalem officials and the police, segregated and shunted WOW aside so that they were not allowed even to enter the Kotel area and were relegated to an area in the parking lot, next to the public bathrooms, surrounded by shouting, cursing, whistling, spitting, object throwing Haredim. Where is the justice? Where is the love for one another?
Let us resolve to take our tradition seriously when it tells us that the repair is in our hands. Let us join together on Rosh Hodesh Elul – in NY, in DC, in San Francisco and in all of the places where Jewish communities will speak up for justice. Let us begin Elul and the process of repair by choosing righteousness and justice. As this week’s Haftarah reminds us – as rod’fei tzedek/pursuers of justice, united in this cause, we will turn the midbar/the desert wilderness of our wanderings into Eden, thankfulness accompanied by the sound of music – perhaps, the Hallel of a Rosh Hodesh of religious tolerance for all.