This Torah reading is often read near Av 20, the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, a towering sage and Kabbalist who was also an active communal rabbi in Russia during the darkest years of Stalinist oppression.

Once, as part of the census, the Russian government sent out a questionnaire asking several queries of its citizens. Among the questions was: “Do you believe in G‑d?”

Many Jews were inclined to answer in the negative because they feared arousing government suspicion and/or losing their jobs. When the Rebbe’s father learned of this, he gave an impassioned sermon, explaining that denying belief in G‑d was equivalent to heresy. No matter what the risks, every Jew was obligated to answer affirmatively.

Among his listeners was a government employee whose wife had already filled out the census form for him, stating that he did not believe. The words of the Rebbe’s father motivated him so powerfully that he went to the census office and asked the government to correct the form. He wanted to be listed as a believer.

Later, when the Rebbe’s father was arrested, his interrogators asked him how he had dared to make such statements. He answered that his words were totally in support of the government. “Jews inherently believe in G‑d,” he told his questioners. “I was merely exhorting them to tell the truth and not lie to the government.”

Parshas Eikev

This Torah reading contains the verses: “What does G‑d, your L‑rd, ask of you? Only to fear G‑d . . . to walk in His ways and to love Him.” Our sages interpret the quote non-literally, noting that the Hebrew word מה, translated as “what,” resembles the word מאה, meaning one hundred. In this vein, the verse means that G‑d desires one hundred from the Jewish people. One hundred what? One hundred blessings. This is the source for the injunction for each person to recite one hundred blessings every day.

On the surface, the simple meaning of the verse and our sages’ rendering of it are worlds apart. The verse is telling us to have an active emotional relationship with G‑d—to love Him and fear Him, and seek to emulate His ways—while our sages are speaking of a ritual obligation to recite blessings and to make sure that we recite one hundred of these blessings each day.

When looking deeper, however, we can appreciate that with their interpretation, our sages are not nullifying the verse’s simple meaning. What they are doing is providing a vehicle for us to internalize and apply the charge communicated by the verse in our daily lives.

To fear and love G‑d and follow His paths are noble virtues. How can a person make these virtues actual factors in his life, and not merely ideals to which he is striving? By reciting one hundred blessings a day.

To explain: Our sages state, “It is forbidden to benefit from this world without reciting a blessing.” And Maimonides writes: “Our sages instituted many blessings as expressions of praise and thanks to G‑d, and as a means of petition, so that we will always remember the Creator . . . and fear Him.”

When a person recites a blessing before eating, he makes—or at least has the opportunity to make—a fundamental acknowledgement of G‑d’s presence in his life. Ordinarily, a person eats without thinking of how the food got here or why it got here. It’s a very simple, almost animalistic deed. We eat because we’re hungry, without thinking of anything more.

Our sages tell us to act differently, to take a moment off before eating to think and contemplate the inner spiritual dynamic that takes place when we eat. To quote (also from this week’s Torah reading): “Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that emerges from the mouth of G‑d.” The verse is explaining that the food a person eats exists because G‑d invested His energy in it through the medium of speech. Just as at the beginning of creation G‑d spoke and created the world, so too at every moment He is bringing the world into existence through His speech.

When a person eats, he is deriving his vitality not from the physical matter of the food alone, but from the G‑dly life spark His speech invested in the food. By reciting a blessing over his food, praising G‑d shehakol nihyah bidvaro, “that everything was created with His speech,” he is taking note of that process.

Similarly, when a person relieves himself, he recites a blessing, acknowledging the infinite wisdom that went into the creation of the human body. When he sees a lightning bolt or hears thunder, he recites a blessing, clarifying that what appears part of the natural order is really an expression of G‑dliness. And in his prayers, when he petitions G‑d for his livelihood, he is acknowledging that his success is not a result on his own endeavors alone, but depends on G‑d’s blessings.

In a similar way, all the blessings we recite are intended to make the awareness of G‑d part of our operative consciousness, and in this way spur our love and fear of Him.

Looking to the Horizon

The ultimate concept of living in consciousness of G‑d will be in the era of Moshiach, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” Although our material environment will continue to exist, it will be suffused with the knowledge of G‑d. Every place we go, whatever we do, we will be aware of His presence.

The catalyst to hasten the coming of this era is to conduct ourselves in the same manner today. Although we cannot actually see or feel the revelation of G‑d in all things, we can appreciate His presence intellectually. And we do not mean only abstract knowledge, but rather the kind of knowing that affects one’s heart as well as one’s mind. This is achieved through the recitation of blessings in all our different activities.

When we conduct ourselves in this manner, we will make an impression on others. For among the rarest things today, and therefore most attractive, are people who have sincere and internalized spiritual feelings. This process will thus naturally continue to ripple outward, helping create a setting for G‑d’s presence to be overtly revealed.