Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, shortly before he died, was asked “what were the greatest challenges you faced? His answer was the wry comment:
Events my boy, and they all have consequences
In the Parasha this week, Eikev, Moses continues to remind us not just of our history and past mistakes but to point out a way forward.
וְהָיָ֣ה | עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙
And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances
The word “Eikev” can also be translated as “heel”. (as in the story of Jacob who grasped the heel of Esau). This gave rise to a Midrash that even if a commandment seems insignificant and can be trodden on it should be kept. Onkelos, (a 1st century Tanna, nephew of Hadrian who had converted to Judaism) in his translation of the Torah into Aramaic translated Eikev as meaning “in exchange for” It suggests that past choices can be reassessed and outcomes changed.
It is in this Sedra that we find the second paragraph of the “Shema”. The Shema is not a prayer but an instruction to respond, to listen, to pay attention and to follow.
Three times in the Sedra we are asked to “walk in God’s ways.” The word ’walk’ has the same Hebrew root used in the word ‘halachah’. We had walked in the wilderness for 40 years with God watching over us. Now we must apply what we brought with us to become the structure of our society. It was not going to be an easy task.
We were not to rely on miracles. Instead of manna from heaven and water from a rock, we would have to work the land and pray for rain. Our clothes would wear out and we would need to wear shoes.
Most societies grow, decline and then fall. For us, a small people, living amongst larger societies, it would be a disaster. We would need to remember where we came from, what were our fundamental beliefs and ideals and to held strong to our faith.
There is a story that Onkelos was asked by Hadrian why he had joined a small and persecuted nation. He reminded Hadrian that he, Hadrian, had advised him to look for something that is cheap because people do not understand its worth. What he found was a people with few customers but one which had been given the promise of becoming a nation of princes.
The Roman Empire declined and fell but we are still here. By remembering, by heeding God’s ordinances and trying to “walk in God’s way” we may not yet be a kingdom of princes but that is still our challenge.