This week’s Torah reading contains the passage Vihayah Im Shamoa, a passage so fundamental to our Torah heritage that it was chosen to be included in the daily recitations of the Shema and to be written in tefillin and mezuzos.

Why is Vihayah Im Shamoa so important? Firstly, it mentions the observance of three critically important mitzvos: wearing tefillin, studying Torah, and affixing mezuzos. These mitzvos serve as continuous reminders of G‑d’s presence. Through their observance, we are able to maintain awareness of G‑d, not only on occasion, but continually, keeping His existence as an ongoing factor in our lives.

These mitzvos are, however, also stated in the first paragraph of the Shema. What makes Vihayah Im Shamoa particularly significant is its promise of reward and punishment. As the passage states, when we observe G‑d’s will, we will be granted bountiful prosperity and if we fail to do so, we will be punished by hardship, difficulty, and exile. The intent is clear. Our deeds determine our future.

Many will object, protesting that they finished Sunday School years ago and that this is an underdeveloped approach to spirituality. Checks and Xes may be necessary to train children, but as we grow older, we feel that approach is too simplistic. G‑d is something much more than an adding machine. He is transcendent and unbounded and His wisdom and providence have no limits or structured patterns. As such, He is above handing out prizes for good conduct and punishment for disobedience.

How far from the truth! Man’s accountability is one of the fundamental principles of our faith. Simply put, if our actions would have no connection to our fate, we would be living in a world of utter randomness that would have no order or design. Alternatively, G‑d would be controlling everything by absolute decree and then it would make no difference how we conduct ourselves.

Instead, man determines his fate through his own behavior. Just as cause and effect are cardinal principles in natural law, so too, they are fundamental principles of spiritual law.

Precisely for that reason, people have difficulty accepting this concept. We have trouble shouldering responsibility. It’s much easier to say that there is no Judge or judgment then to acknowledge that everything we do has a consequence.

This said, it must also be emphasized that G‑d’s scales of justice are determined by His own unfathomable judgment. Often, we see righteous men suffer and the wicked prosper, for His scales are not ours. He is truly infinite and controls the world as He sees fit, not as we would like. As R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would say: “When I was a young man, I thought I could give G‑d a lot of advice about how to run the universe. As I grew older, I realized that He was doing just fine.” Our personal challenge is to attune ourselves to His will and live in consonance with His standards.

Looking to the Horizon

One of the interpretations given to the name Ekev is that it refers to the Ultimate Future, the era of Mashiach. We are assured that in that era, we will receive the true reward for our Torah observance. At the present time, we receive only “the fruits,” but the principle will be granted in that future time period.

In its present state, the world is not capable of bearing the full measure of G‑d’s power, for there are pockets of evil in many different places in the world. Were G‑d to radiate goodness immeasurably in the present era, the forces of evil would also derive nurture. In the Ultimate Future, by contrast, evil will be banished from the earth and there will be no reason to withhold goodness from the righteous. Moreover, the righteous themselves will have expanded their capacity and made themselves a more fitting medium for the revelation of G‑dliness.