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Torah Studies: Ekev

Torah Studies: Ekev


Last week and this, we read the first two Haftorot of “consolation,” two powerful passages from Isaiah which present a vision of hope and solace to Israel in the dark times of the loss of the Temple. A Midrashic source, however, tells us that there is a difference between them. The first is G‑d’s call to the prophets to comfort the people. But Israel seeks more. It seeks comfort from G‑d Himself. And this is what the second Haftorah represents. The Sicha relates this distinction to the difference between the Sidrot of Vaetchanan and Ekev, in particular between the first and second paragraphs of the Shema which they respectively contain. The underlying theme is the difference between two kinds of revelation, that which comes from outside a person, and that which comes from within. The significance for our time is clear: What form must our spiritual life take when visions of G‑d no longer break in on us, when the face of G‑d is hidden, and we must discover Him from within?

1. Consolation: the Prophets and G‑d

This week’s Haftorah, the second of the “Seven Weeks of Consolation,” for the destruction of the Temples, is the passage from Isaiah1 beginning, “But Zion said, the L-rd hath forsaken me, and the L-rd hath forgotten me.” The Midrash2 tells us that this is a continuation of the theme of the previous Haftorah, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.”3 In that first message of comfort, G‑d instructs the prophets to console Israel. To this, Israel’s response is, “The L-rd hath forsaken me.” They seek, in other words, not the voice of the prophets but a consolation that comes directly from G‑d.

Each year these Haftorot are read, respectively, with the Sidrot of Vaetchanan and Ekev. It follows that if the Haftorot are connected by this common theme, so too are the Sidrot. Vaetchanan must contain some reference to the consolation of the prophets, and Ekev, to Israel’s demand for the solace that stems from G‑d Himself.

2. The Shema

The two Sidrot differ considerably in their content, so that this contrast of emphasis is not immediately apparent. But there is one obvious link, namely that the first paragraph of the Shema is to be found in Vaetchanan and the second in Ekev. These two passages are clearly related; they have many ideas in common; but they also diverge at a number of points. And it is here that we will find an echo of the contrast between the two Haftorot and the two kinds of consolation.

3. Contrasts

Amongst the differences between the first and second paragraphs of the Shema are the following:

(i) In the first, we are commanded (individually) to “love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” But in the second, we are addressed (collectively) only with the phrase “with all your heart and with all your soul.” The “might” is missing.

(ii) In the first paragraph, we are told first “And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them…” and then, “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand…” But in the second, the order is reversed. First “You shall bind them” and only then, “You shall teach them to your children.” The commandments follow the study of the Torah in the first paragraph but precede it in the second.

(iii) The first paragraph contains only commandments. But the second also mentions the rewards (“That your days may be multiplied…”) and the punishments (“The anger of the L-rd be kindled against you…”) which attend them.

4. Underlying Differences

An underlying difference between the two passages is, as Rashi4 points out, that the first (written throughout in the singular) is addressed to the individual Jew, while the second (which uses the plural) is directed to Israel as a community.

This applies to the general command of the love of G‑d. In addition, the specific commands of tefillin and mezuzah, which occur in both paragraphs, also convey something new when stated a second time. In Rashi’s words,5 the extra significance is that “Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive by means of My commands: Lay tefillin, attach mezuzot, so that these shall not be new (unfamiliar) to you when you return.”

Lastly, there is a nuance which distinguishes the two commands of spreading the knowledge of Torah. “And you shall teach them diligently”—the version in the first paragraph—refers to the obligation of a teacher to his disciples.6 “And you shall teach them”—the reading in the second paragraph—refers to the relation of a father to his children.7

5. Above and Within

All these distinctions stem from a single point of difference: Vaetchanan concerns the revelation and deliverance that come from Above, from G‑d’s grace. Thus it begins with Moses’ supplication to G‑d for His grace, that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land. For Moses was G‑d’s emissary through whom came the supernatural events of the exodus and those in the wilderness. Had he been permitted to lead the Israelites across the Jordan, the conquest of the land, too, would have been a supernatural event instead of a slow succession of military victories.

But the Sidra of Ekev concerns man’s situation, and the revelation he draws down upon himself by his own acts. So it begins with an account of what he can achieve, and how: “And it shall come to pass, because you hearken to these judgments….” Even its name, Ekev (“because”), also has the connotation in Hebrew of a “heel”—the lowliest and least sensitive of man’s limbs, and an apt symbolism of his physical nature, which by hearkening to G‑d’s word he can transform.

This contrast is also reflected in the choice of verbs in the opening of the two Sidrot. In Vaetchanan, Moses pleads that he might “see the good land.”8 But in Ekev, G‑d says “because you hearken to (literally: ‘hear’) these judgments.” “Seeing” describes the vision of the supernatural that G‑d confers in moments of grace. “Hearing” refers to the more distant, less lucid perception of the spiritual, to which man can aspire by his own efforts.

6. Seeing and Hearing

Seeing something is clearer and more forceful than hearing about it.9 Nonetheless, this force and clarity are due to what is seen rather than to the person who sees it. It is the object which is clearly defined; and the man who sees it may still be unaffected by it. But if he has made the effort to hear about something, he has already aroused his feelings and made himself sensitive to what he is about to hear. It can then enter the inwardness of his soul.

This is true, too, of the difference between Vaetchanan and Ekev. Although the “vision” which Moses sought from G‑d was a greater revelation than the “hearkening” which the Israelites could achieve by themselves, it was less inward—it would have come to man from outside instead of mounting within him.

The effect on the world would have been different, also. Through G‑d, via Moses, the nations who opposed Israel would have had their hostility utterly removed: “All the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them.”10 But through Israel’s own faithfulness a greater and more inward transformation would take place: “You shall be blessed above all peoples,”11 meaning that even Israel’s adversaries would bless and praise her.

7. The Partial and the Whole

Another difference between the two senses in this: Seeing is only one of man’s faculties. But hearing touches them all—his intellect, in striving to understand G‑d’s command, his will, in choosing to obey, and his practical faculties in translating his intentions into deeds.

Jewish law reflects this. For if someone is guilty of causing a person to become blind, he must compensate him for the loss of his eyes. But if he is responsible for his deafness, he must pay him the whole value of his life, as if he had robbed him of all his faculties.12

8. The Two Revelations and the Shema

Now we can trace all the many differences between the two paragraphs of the Shema to their source.

The first belongs to the Sidra of Vaetchanan, which concerns the revelation from Above, as symbolized by the sense of sight.

The second is from Ekev, which concerns the revelation from within, which is like “hearing.”

Thus the first is addressed to the individual, the “one,” for it speaks of the revelation from G‑d, the “One,” which awakens the oneness of man. This vision of infinity makes man restless to cast off his earthly constraints, and this is why it adds “with all your might.” But the second paragraph, relating as it does to man within his human situation, speaks in the plural, to the community, for it is addressed to man in his diversity and in the plurality of his powers. The love of G‑d which man achieves by himself is settled and serene (“with all your heart and all your soul”). It does not share that violent desire to rise beyond the world which the words “with all your might” signify.

The first paragraph, as a consequence, sets the study of Torah (the word of G‑d) before the command of tefillin and mezuzah (the act of man). But the second, starting from man and working towards G‑d, reverses the order.

The first paragraph also omits any reference to reward and punishment. For in the face of a vision of G‑d, man needs no other inducement to do His will. But when he sets out to work towards G‑d from his own situation, he needs at the outset some motive (reward and punishment) that he can understand in purely human terms.

9. Faith in Exile

Despite this concession to human frailty, it is here, in the second paragraph, that we find a reference to keeping the commandments “even after you have been exiled.” For the first paragraph represents a state of mind where exile might take away the will to obey, might even remove the whole force of the Divine command. If the desire to do G‑d’s will rests on the vision of His presence, then once it is hidden by the dark clouds of exile, the desire too goes into hiding. But when it comes from within man himself, it remains, even in exile, in its strength.

And just as this revelation from within persists whether there is light or darkness in the face that G‑d sets towards the world, so it is to be communicated not only to those who have seen the light, the “disciples,” but to everyone; the “children.”

10. The True Consolation

Lastly, we can see the link between the two kinds of revelation represented by Vaetchanan and Ekev, and the two kinds of consolation embodied in their Haftorot.

The revelation that comes from outside of man lacks the ultimate dimension of inwardness. That is why the Haftorah of Vaetchanan, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,” describes an indirect consolation, one that comes via the prophets.

But the Haftorah of Ekev is set in the human attempt to struggle towards G‑d from within. Its opening words dramatically convey this situation at its darkest: “But Zion said, the L-rd hath forsaken me, and the L-rd hath forgotten me.” And yet this is a measure of its inwardness, that the consolations of a prophet are not enough. And so, the Midrash tells us, G‑d accedes to Israel’s request. He admits, “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, are not comforted.”13 And He proclaims “I, even I, am He that comforts you”—with the true, the final and the imminent consolation, the coming of the Messianic Age.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. IX pp. 79-85)

49:1 ff.
Quoted in Avudraham, Sefer Haparshyot Vehaftorot.
Devarim 11:13 (and Sifri, ad loc.).
Ibid., v. 18.
Rashi, Ibid. 6:7.
Sifri, Rashi. Ibid., v. 19. Cf. Kiddushin, 29b.
Cf. Rosh Hashanah, 26a; supra, p. 106-7.
Baba Kama, 85b. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, ch. 420:17 and 25.
The opening words of the Haftorot of the following two Sidrot: Re’eh and Shoftim. Cf. Avudraham quoted above in note 2.
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Rolando VA August 5, 2015

Thank you for this wonderful lesson illuminating the two revelations Va'etchanan & Ekev, outward and inward, communal and individual, commandments and moments of grace, seeing and hearing. Also, faith as identity especially when in exile or time of darkness as man's necessary response(both an act of will and innate choice being a Jew). Reply

Russell Arkansas City, Kansas July 28, 2010

cool I really got alot out of this and I enjoy these studies. I really want to get in there and study Torah like you don't know :) May G-d bless you. Reply

Menachem Posner for August 26, 2008

To Traci In other words, the first paragraph is written on a level where only G-d and the individual are present. G-d’s revelation is so strong that reward and punishment, friends and even our own actions fade away in the face of G-d, his teaching, and the part of Him which is each one of us. Reply

traci boca raton, usa August 20, 2008

I have read the article, thank you for the inspiring words.
I was a little confused by paragraph 8 it seems that might was explained as being needed in both.
Can you review this and repsond with perhaps a helpful comment that will help me to hopefully understand it better.
Thank you, Reply

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