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Eikev 5777-2017

“Stages of Religious Growth”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Eikev, Moses continues his exhortation of the People of Israel, in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.

Moses speaks of them as a stiff-necked people, reminding the people of their frequent trespasses. He recalls in particular, the sin of the Golden Calf, which he describes in a very personal and emotional tone, in contrast to the Torah’s original telling of the story in Exodus 32, which is more detached and dispassionate. He reminds the people (Deuteronomy 9:5-6), that they were sinful, wicked and defiant and that “G-d’s favor has been bestowed upon them not because of their merits, but rather despite their moral failures.”

Moses recalls (Deuteronomy 9:25-29, 10:10), that had it not been for him, there would have been no way to stop G-d’s anger and vengeance. It was Moses who served as the intermediary between G-d and the people, and who, time and again, rescued them from certain destruction.

It is in this context of exhortation and appeal that Moses teaches the people how to grow close to G-d.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that three times in parashat Eikev, we encounter the expression of לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו , to go in His [G-d’s] ways.

In Deuteronomy 8:6, Moses tells the people, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת מִצְוֹת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ, לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו וּלְיִרְאָה אֹתוֹ , You shall observe the commandments of the L-rd your G-d to go in His ways and to fear Him. Once again, in Deuteronomy 10:12, Moses says, וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ, כִּי אִם לְיִרְאָה אֶת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ , Now, O’ Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you? Only to fear the L-rd your G-d to go in all His ways and to love Him.

The Chofetz Chaim points to a third verse in which G-d promises to reward the people for their loyalty, Deuteronomy 11:22, כִּי אִם שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן אֶת כָּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשֹׂתָהּ, לְאַהֲבָה אֶת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֵיכֶם, לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו וּלְדָבְקָה בו , For if you will observe this entire commandment that I command you, to perform it, to love the L-rd your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him, then G-d will drive out all your enemies.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that while the phrase לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו , to walk in G-d’s ways, is repeated three times, in each instance it is intended to serve a different purpose.

The Chofetz Chaim maintains that there are three stations or degrees of serving G-d. In the first instance it says, לְיִרְאָה אֶת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ , to revere the L-rd your G-d. The second level, which is higher than the first, it states, וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ , to love the L-rd your G-d. The third and final level, which is higher than all, is וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ , to cling to G-d.

The Chofetz Chaim maintains that every Jew must strive to rise higher and higher, from one level to the next, from one degree to the next. One must first strive to reach the level of יִרְאָה reverence. When the level of reverence is reached, one must continue climbing to the level of אַהֲבָה – of loving the L-rd. And finally, when reaching the level of loving the L-rd, one must not stand stationary, but must continue to climb, to reach the exalted level of וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ , to cling to G-d.

The root of the Hebrew word דְּבֵקוּת, (d’vekut) is דֶבֶק , glue, meaning to cling or unite. D’vekut represents a spiritual union between the human being and the Al-mighty G-d. It is attainable, by not only following G-d’s dictates due to reverence, and imitating G-d’s ways out of love, but actually attempting to meld with the Al-mighty, to become spiritually united with G-d through acts of goodness, mercy and compassion.

Moses is aware that the People of Israel have a long journey ahead of them, not only to the Promised Land, but a journey that will lead the people through millennia of Jewish history. It is this educational and spiritual “journey” that Moses presents to the people. It is a journey of spiritual growth, from reverence, to loving and, ultimately, to uniting one’s soul with the sanctity of the Divine Presence.

May you be blessed.

This year, the joyous festival of Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Sunday night and Monday, August 6th and 7th, 2017. Happy Tu B’Av.