Is This Another Akeidah?
Is This Another Akeidah?
Parshat Eikev opens with Moses telling the Israelites some conditions for when they enter the land of Israel. He says: “Eikev tishme'un, because you listen to God’s laws..." God will bless you, He will make you fruitful, He will make your crops grow, He will protect you against enemies, and more. When we listen closely to these words, they may start to sound familiar. They actually remind us of another time that God promised to dole out blessings – a promise that is also introduced with this unusual word eikev. It's the promise that God made to Abraham at the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac: Eikev asher shamata b'koli, "because you listened to My voice."
And that raises a couple of questions. First, is Moses somehow trying to evoke the Akeidah? And if so, why? And second, why is Moses saying that these blessings are conditional on the actions of the Israelites? That God is only going to bless them if they fulfill certain conditions? The Akeidah was a one-time, extreme act of devotion by their ancestor, and in response God promised Abraham that He would bless his descendants. But now it seems like the Israelites need to earn these blessings all over again! What happened? Isn’t a promise a promise? If God made a promise to Abraham, why isn't He keeping His word? How are we supposed to understand this?
In this Parsha Lab episode, Ami Silver and Daniel Loewenstein explore these questions and more, in search of a new picture of what the legacy of the Akeidah really means for Abraham's descendants.
Ami: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Parsha Lab. This is Ami Silver, writer at Aleph Beta.
Daniel: And this is Daniel Loewenstein, a fellow writer at Aleph Beta.
Okay. So, Daniel, we're going to be looking at Parshat Eikev together.
Daniel: Sounds good.
Ami: I just wanted you to know some of the themes I've been paying attention to and noticed here. It's a bit of a tiyul (tour), a bit of a "saunter" through the entire Parshah. It seems to me that there are some themes that spread themselves out over different sections of this Parshah. So that's...
Daniel: Okay. I'll make sure to get my hiking boots on.
Ami: Okay. (Laughing.) So, Eikev, right, means "heel" and I want us to stretch our heels as we're about to dive into this material.
If you can, just open up to the very beginning of Parshat Eikev. We're in Devarim, Deuteronomy; Chapter 7. Verse 12 there is where the Parshah opens. Daniel, I want you to read the first couple of verses there and give us a bit of a summary translation as you go.
The Meaning of EikevDaniel: Okay, Ami. Sounds good.
The Parshah starts, "V'hayah eikev tishma'un eit hammishpatim ha'eilleh ushmartem va'asitem otam," and it will be if you will listen to these commandments – and, when I say "if you listen" that's translating "eikev" as "if", or "because of", or "on the heels of" – Ami mentioned before "eikev" means "heel". I'm not sure if you have any other way you want to translate that word or if we'll come back to it.
Ami: Yeah. I think, simply stated, "V'hayah eikev tishma'un," as a consequence of you listening – to these laws.
Daniel: Okay. So great. So, as a consequence of listening to these 'mishpatim', these laws, "ushmartem va'asitem otam", and you guard and do them, "v'shamar Hashem Elokecha lecha et habris v'et hachessed asher nishba' la'avotecha," and Hashem will in turn guard for you the covenant and the "chessed", the graciousness that He swore to your fathers.
"Va'aheiv'cha uveirach'cha v'hirbecha," He will love you and bless you and multiply you. "Uveirach p'ri-vitn'cha uf'ri-admatecha," and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land; "d'gan'cha v'tiroshcha v'yitzharecha," your grains and our wine and your oil; "sh'gar alafecha v'asht'rot tzonecha," the children of your various kinds of cattle; "al ha'adamah asher nishba' la'avotecha lateit lecha," on the land that was sworn to your fathers to be given to you.
Ami: Okay. Great. On the surface of it, Daniel, it seems like Moshe, Moses is setting out a pretty simple condition here. Children of Israel, if you listen to God's laws, God will bless you in turn. And give you all these good things in the land that you're going to enter.
I want, however, to ask you something. Because we already pointed out this word "eikev". It's a little unusual. And, not only does "eikev" appear only a couple of different times in the Chumash, but I'm wondering, can you think of any other text where we have "eikev tishma'un", or something similar to "eikev", listening to God? And similar kinds of promises of brachah, of blessing; or ribu'i, of increase; of children. Does any of this ring a bell for you, Daniel?
Daniel: It definitely rings a bell. I even vaguely have this verse in my head of "eikev asher shamata b'koli".
Ami: Okay. Yeah.
Daniel: Which I think means "by virtue of the fact that you listened to My voice". I could not tell you where it is.
Ami: Okay. Daniel, I think you probably have a trace of those words ringing in your head because you actually say those verses pretty regularly. There's a portion of the Biblical text that's part of the daily, morning prayers. At the very beginning of the morning prayers. Are any of these hints coming together for you, Daniel?
Connecting God's Tests in the BibleAmi: It is in the Akeidah. Those words are actually towards the very end of the "Binding of Isaac".
Daniel: Right. When the angel, as a representative of God, promises Avraham, Abraham lots of blessings and children; in response, or "eikev", what he did by offering Isaac.
Ami: "Eikev asher shamata b'koli." So I want to glance with you at those verses. They're is Bereishit, Genesis, Chapter 22. That's where the story of the "Binding of Isaac" takes place. Let's just jump right towards the end there to Verse 18. "V'hisbarachu v'zara'cha kol goyei ha'aretz," all the nations of the land will be blessed through your offspring; "eikev asher shamata b'koli," as a consequence of, on the heels of the fact that you listened to my voice.
Now, that's kind of cute. "Eikev" and listening to God. But, let's go up one more verse there; or, rather, back one more verse, to Verse 17. What else did God's angel promise Abraham?
"Ki vareich avarech'cha," I will surely bless you; "v'harbah arbeh et zaracha k'koch'vei hashamayim," and I will doubly increase, or "surely increase" your offspring like the stars of the heavens. Here, too, these words of brachah, blessing and ribu'i, of increase.
Let's go back to the beginning of Parshat Eikev. "Uveirach'cha v'hirbecha". Right? It's in the opposite order but, at the very beginning of Parshat Eikev we have "eikev", listening to God. We have 'beirach'cha'. We have 'hirbecha'. And, specifically this language of 'hirbecha', which means "I will increase you". And in the very next line is about children. "Uveirach p'ri-vitn'cha," I'm going to give you a blessing in the fruit of your womb. I'm going to give you many children.
Daniel: It's almost as though the verses in Deuteronomy are referring to this promise that God made to Abraham. They're saying that God will bless you and multiply you just like the covenant I made with your forefathers. Maybe this is what he is referring to.
Ami: Exactly! Because there seems to be even a more explicit hint there. Where Moses is saying, God is going to guard for you the covenant. And the kindness that He promised. That He swore "la'avotecha", to your ancestors.
Maybe this is one of the places where God, basically, made that promise. He made that promise to Abraham after the "Binding of Isaac". But, the thing is, it doesn't end there. Because, if you go back to the "Binding of Isaac", back to that blessing, the promise of children; there's another thing that God promises Abraham: "V'yirash zaracha et sha'ar oivav." Daniel, can you translate that for me? "V'yirash zaracha et sha'ar oivav."?
Daniel: Sure. "And your children will inherit the gates of their enemies.
Ami: So actually, Daniel, this thing of "inheriting the gates of their enemies". Maybe it sounds a little cryptic over there, with Abraham? The thing is though, we see traces of that same language as we continue reading on in Deuteronomy, Chapter 7.
I'm going to skip ahead a couple verses to Verse 17. Where Moses just left off with telling the people that all these blessings are going to happen to you upon the land that God promised to your forefathers.
A few verses later, Moses says, "Ki Tomar bilvav'cha rabim haggoyim ha'eilleh mimmenni, " you might say, in your heart, 'Oh, these nations on the land, they're so much greater than me. There are so many more of them. "Eichah uchal l'horisham." How could I possibly be able to inherit them?
We have here again, this language of "vayirash", of inheriting the land of your enemies. Moses then goes on then to say, "Don't fear them. Just as God redeemed you from Egypt, just as God has done amazing wonders for you, so, too, God is going to help you overcome all of those other nations that you're afraid of.
Daniel: Right. Just like Good promised to Abraham at the end of the story of the "Binding of Isaac". That his children would inherit the "gates" of their enemies. So, too, we're seeing that same promise reemerge. That the Children of Israel will inherit – the implication is that the seven nations in Canaan would be their enemies. And, don't you worry about it because we know God can do that sort of thing. Because we saw what happened in Egypt.
Ami: Correct. I'm just postulating here that it could be that, for some reason, Moses is choosing to use the language of that promise to Abraham, at the end of the "Binding of Isaac", in order to set up the conditions that the Children of Israel can expect to face, as they enter the land now.
Daniel: What do you mean by "conditions"?
Ami: Well, "V'hayah eikev tishma'un", is actually an inverse of what happened with Abraham, right? With Abraham it's, "eikev asher shamata b'koli". All this is going to happen because you have already listened to my voice.
When Moses sets it out to the Children of Israel, it's in the future: "eikev tishma'un". This will happen as a consequence of your listening to God, in the future.
Daniel: Interesting. So, if I'm following the logic here, it sounds like: Even though God promised to Abraham already that his children will inherit the gates of their enemies, and have blessing, and have increase of offspring because of what Abraham did, there still seems to be a step, or condition, necessary for that blessing to come to fruition – pun intended – for the B'nei Yisrael, the Children of Israel. That there s something that they need to do. And, "eikev" that these blessings will happen.
Ami: Right. It's very interesting that you're phrasing it that way, Daniel. I guess, let's leave these as open questions. How much of this is an unconditional promise? And, how much of this is perhaps inviting the Children of Israel to enter into the same kind of "Binding of Isaac"-like stance, or Abraham-like engagement with God, that may be the cause of them receiving all these blessings? I want to leave these as open questions we can bring up as we continue to explore here.
Daniel: Sounds good.
Ami: I want to continue. I told you we were going to take a little bit of a hike, a journey through this Parshah. I want to jump ahead now in "Eikev", to the next chapter; Chapter 8. We actually see another element, another echo of the "Binding of Isaac" sort of entering in here into Moses' speech to the Children of Israel. Come with me to Chapter 8, Verse 2.
Why don't you read that out, Daniel? And, again, just give us a surface-level translation summary here.
More Paralles Between God's Test of Abraham and the IsraelitesDaniel: You got it, Ami. Verse 2 says, "V'zacharta et kol haderech asher holich'cha Hashem Elokecha," and, recall all of this path (or journey), that Hashem, your God led you on; "zeh arba'im shanah bamidbar," these 40 years in the desert; "l'ma'an a'nnot'cha l'nassot'cha lada'at et asher bilvav'cha hatishmor mitzvotav im lo," for the purpose of afflicting you to test you, to know what is in your heart, if you will guard His commands, or not.
Ami: Okay. Now, before we get into anything else here. Do you see any "Binding of Isaac" echoes in that verse?
Daniel: Well, the idea of affliction and testing certainly feels "Binding of Isaac"-like.
Ami: "Affliction and testing". Can you tell us a bit more? What you mean by that?
Daniel: Yeah. I mean, I would imagine that, for Abraham, on one level, his experience is one of being tested. That's probably the thing we think about the most. But, I'm sure his experience is also one of great pain and affliction or – I shouldn't say "I'm sure," I'm not actually sure, I don't know – but, I would imagine that that would probably be present to some degree in his experience. Having to face the prospect of sacrificing his only son.
Ami: Mm-hm. What's interesting is, we're used to this language of Abraham having been tested, right? As the rabbis talk about, "Abraham was tested 10 times". It's a big theme we know about Abraham. Actually here at the "Binding of Isaac" though, is, if I'm not mistaken, the only time where the text is very explicit about that.
Let's look at the very first verse there at the beginning of Chapter 22 in Genesis. "Vayehi achar hadd'varim ha'eilleh," it came to be after these events; "v'haElokim nissah et Avraham," and God tested Abraham.
Daniel: There you go.
Ami: We have here an explicit nisayon. Just as Moses is telling the people here. God walked you through the desert for 40 years, "l'nassot'cha", to test you. So we have this test at the "Binding of Isaac".
On one hand, it's very simple. What was this test about? Is Abraham willing to sacrifice his child to God, or not? That is a pretty big test, I would think.
What's interesting though, is towards the end of Parshat Ha'Akeidah, towards the end of the whole story of the "Binding of Isaac" there seems to be another articulation of what that test proved. What did Abraham prove through his actions here?
What Did God Need to Test Abraham?Ami: Let's jump to Verse 12 in the "Binding of Isaac" story. Where the angel says, "Vayyomer al tishlach yad'cha el hanna'ar," Abraham, don't send your hand out against the youth. "V'al ta'as lo m'umah," do nothing to him; "ki atah yadati kiy'rei Elokim atah, v'lo chasachta et bincha et y'chid'cha mimmenni." Because now I know that you are fearful of God. And you did not withhold your child, your only one, from me.
It seems to add something, correct? It's not just the endgame of the test is, are you going to give the child up, or not? That, in itself, is part of another test. What does Abraham need to prove here? Do you have fear of God, or not? If you're willing to give your child up to me, now I see. You've really proven yourself that you are fearful of God. But, if you continue to withhold your child from me, it seems that Abraham would have failed that test.
The test was not only about Isaac being brought up the mountain, or not. The test was about, what that symbolizes.
Daniel: That would then be a kind of indicator or symbol of something deeper, which was Abraham's fear of God. Interesting. Ami, are you going to suggest that that was the same thing being referred to in Chapter 8 of Deuteronomy?
Ami: Let's take a look. What does Moses say? "L'nassot'cha", you were tested in the desert. What was the outcome of that test?
Why Did God Test the Israelites in the Wilderness?Daniel: I don't know necessarily the outcome but the purpose, at least, was "lada'at et asher bilvav'cha hatishmor mitzvotav im lo." Which means whether, or not, you will follow His commands.
I guess, on the surface, this is similar to the idea of being fearful of God. But it's not necessarily the same thing, right? "Hatishmor mitzvotav", feels more like a question of the actions you do. "Y'rei Elokim', feels something more like your inner self and your commitment to allegiances. At the same time, though, it does say in Deuteronomy, Chapter 8, "lada'at et asher bilvav'cha."
Daniel: It's not just about what you do. It's also about the motivations, or the mindset you have, that leads to your actions.
Ami: Right. The truth is that, both in the "Binding of Isaac" and in Parshat Eikev, even though the language isn't identical, we have God testing Abraham/the Jewish People, to discover what is in your heart? And, what are your actions? Or, rather, how do your inner state and your outer actions align with one another?
Daniel: Okay. That's cool. Ami, I do have a question, though. The question is about the order. We mentioned that, in the case of Abraham. Abraham was given his test. He passed his test. Then he was given His promise of, "eikev asher shamata b'koli". You will get all these wonderful things. Right?
We mentioned though, that in the beginning of Parshat Eikev, it seems to be saying, you will get all these blessings if, in the future you do all of these things that you're supposed to do. Yet, over here in Chapter 8 in Deuteronomy, later on in Parshat Eikev, we talk about the fact that God, for the last 40 years, had been testing them in a similar way to the way God was testing Abraham at the Binding of Isaac. So it sounds like the test already happened.
Ami: So, Daniel, that's a really good question and I feel like I don't have a comprehensive answer for you, but one thing that I already want to float here, and an idea I think we'll come back to as we continue on, is what if the Binding of Isaac itself wasn't just this one time test, this one time achievement, but somehow set into motion a kind of paradigm that Abraham's children are going to have to revisit time and time again, as they continue on in their journey and continue in their relationship with God.
Daniel: Ami, that's an interesting idea. I have to say, right off the bat, it's sort of a little bit of a head scratcher, because I sort of feel like what's the point of making a promise to someone who passes the test about what's going to happen to his children if his children have to pass the same test all over again. But I want to see where you're going with this.
Ami: Okay. Great, and Daniel, I totally agree with you on one level. It wouldn't really make sense that the test was passed but not quite passed. But let's just see what the text seems to show us here in Parshat Eikev as we go on. I want to just jump ahead a few more verses, now again, in Chapter 8, to another language of that affliction and the test that the Children of Israel went through in the desert. Here I'm talking about Verse 16 and we're talking specifically about the manna.
Moses goes on, "hama'achilcha man bamidbar," God fed you manna in the desert. "Asher lo yadu'un avotecha," your ancestors never knew this kind of food. "L'ma'an anotcha u'lma'an nasotecha," once again, to afflict you and to test you. V'heitivcha b'achritecha, to benefit you in your end.
Daniel: Interesting. Again, that idea of l'heitivcha b'achritecha. That the tests are there for the purpose of giving you some sort of benefit.
Ami: That passing a test isn't just because God is a mean fifth-grade teacher who wants to prove how wrong you are. There's some kind of benefit that's embedded there in the test for you.
Daniel: Comparing that to the idea of "ata yadati ki yirei Elokim atah," or to know what's in your heart. There's a purpose to the test for God, but it's not just to satisfy God's curiosity and have us be guinea pigs, right. There's also something in it for us.
Ami: So now let's read these next verses. V'amarta b'lvavecha, you might say in your heart "kochi v'otzem yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh," my strength and the power of my hand made all of this might that I have.
Daniel: Ami, what might is that talking about?
Ami: Okay. Good. So, we actually skipped over the verses in between. The chayil, the might, that you have has to do with the Children of Israel eventually entering the land, settling it, building these big homes, eating all their food, having all this yield and produce, and in a sense forgetting that God fed them miraculously for 40 years without them doing a thing. So this chayil, this self-made success, is the illusion that we might fall into once we enter the land and forget about the desert experience.
Now, look at what the next verse says. Why is it so important to remember the tests of the desert? "V'zacharta et Hashem Elokecha ki hu hanotein l'cha ko'ach la'asot chayil." You shall remember Hashem your God because He is the one who gives you strength to perform all of this might. "L'ma'an hakim et brito asher nishba l'avotecha kayom hazeh," in order to uphold His covenant that He promised to your forefathers this very day.
Now, on the one hand, locally we're talking about why is it important for the Children of Israel to continue to remember God when they settle the land and build their own society, reality, et cetera. But what's interesting to me here is that I think we have another thematic parallel to part of what Abraham faced in Akeidat Yitchak, in the Binding of Isaac. That parallel's the following. What really is the test here that we're talking about when you enter the land?
Why Does God Test Us so Much?Daniel: I feel like I might be losing track of things a little bit. First, we noticed that the Children of Israel will be eligible for all these great blessings if they listen to the commandments. Then we said that they were already tested in the desert. Now are we saying that the blessings they get in the land are a test and not just a reward?
Ami: It sounds to me like what we're seeing here is that the Children of Israel were tested in the desert. Their test was God's going to give you this food from heaven. How are you going to relate to that God-given gift? It seems like the lesson of that test is going to come back and become relevant once again once they enter the land. God's going to be giving you this land. You're going to build it. You're going to work the land. You're going to receive all of its yield and produce and have these great, big homes. The question is are you going to remember where that came from?
In my mind this is actually pretty resonant with the tests that Abraham faced at the Binding of Isaac. God gave you a child. How are you going to relate to that gift you were given from God? Can you receive God's gift? Can it be your child and you also still recognize that this child is God's?
Daniel: Interesting, Ami. So it sounds like what you're saying is the blessings we're going to get are a result of guarding "et hamisphatim ha'eileh," the cryptic reference to the laws we get in the beginning of the parsha. On the other hand, we also have this whole parallel to the Abraham story with the word l'nasoticha, about the Israelites being tested in the desert. There, in that test the test seemed to be about whether the Israelites could recognize that the great things that they have come from God, and passing that test could lead to all the blessings. Just like Abraham had to recognize in some way that the good things that he had, meaning, his son, also came from God and that was what will lead to the blessings.
Ami: Yeah what's kind of crazy about all this it seems like each test that's passed produces another blessing and then once we receive that blessing we're going to have to face a similar kind of test. Can we recognize that that blessing is also coming from God? Or do we then forget where it came from and kind of just take it for granted that that's what we've been given?
Being Tested by God to Deserve the Rewards?Daniel: It's like we sort of earned the reward but also have to acknowledge that we didn't earn the reward.
Ami: Something like that.
Daniel: But even the reward that we earn is still something we need to attribute as coming from God.
Ami: Yes, something along those lines. This is kind of what I meant when I said, could it be that the children of Abraham had to somehow follow in Abraham's footsteps, no pun intended, to his eikev? You know, Abraham walked a certain walk. He received a certain reward. Maybe we need to continue to walk that walk even as we reap the benefits of that reward, and I want to add one more line here to the mix that's in the very end of the verse here in Eikev. "L'ma'an hakim et brito asher n'shba l'avotecha." In order to uphold to his covenant...
Daniel: I was hoping you were going to come back to that. Because I didn't really know what that meant.
Ami: You're asking what does it mean, Daniel?
Daniel: Well, not literally. Well, the literal translation I know. It means that in order that He can fulfill his covenant that He made to your forefathers. I just wasn't sure while remembering the fact that God is the one who gives you ko'ach (energy) would somehow be a prerequisite to God being able to fulfill his covenant.
Ami: Well, it might be a condition, right. As long as you remember that your gifts are coming from God, this is going to enable God to continue to uphold that covenant with you.
Daniel: You know, Ami, I guess now the more we're talking about it, it makes sense. Because if you have a student who crams for a test and gets every question right but can't tell you anything about the material the next day, maybe technically they passed the test but in all the meaningful ways they didn't really pass the test.
I guess you can say something similar, that if somehow the test of the Binding of Isaac – for all the tests we're hearing about now are really tests about recognizing God and being willing to admit that all of the good things you have in your life really come from Him – well then if you get rewarded for that and then you don't acknowledge that the reward came from God, then you didn't really acknowledge that good things came from God in the first place. It's a self-reinforcing test, sort of.
Ami: In a sense that test is going to last the span of generations. It's the same test that Abraham faced. It's not a repeat. It's Abraham's test is going to play itself out through the generations. Just to make that point even stronger, those words "l'ma'an hakim et britoI," we see those same words in God's commandment to Abraham about the circumcision and specifically about creating a covenant with Isaac and through all of his offspring and generations.
Daniel: Ami, this is all really, really cool.
Ami: Right? It's almost as if through all these subtle hints, all the subtle messaging, Moses is telling the people that those tests that their forefathers and ancestors went through, it wasn't just something that happened in the past. They're going to have to keep on reliving and re-experiencing those same kind of stories. What's even cooler, Moses is also telling us this as readers of the Bible, that somehow continue to play themselves them out in our relationship with God in an ongoing way.
So remember I promised you that we'd be taking a hike of sorts through the parsha, I want to just roadmap with you where the rest of the parsha's going. Because starting in Chapter 9 right after these verses and through the next couple of chapters, Moses starts to talk about things that are sort of the inverse of all this language of having kept God's command and listening to God's word. What I'm referring to is a kind of drawn out discussion of the sin of the Golden Calf and of all of the other kind of failures and complaints that the Children of Israel launched against God through their 40 years in the desert.
What Happens If We Fail God's Tests?Ami: So something that I just want to pause at here is if the opening chapters are talking about these sort of proto Binding of Isaac like tests that the Children of Israel faced in the desert, that they maybe succeeded in passing and they might face again in the future, I think what Moses is talking about in this next part of the parsha might be the places where they actually failed in those tests.
Before we look at texts together, I just want to point out some overarching thematic parallels here. Now besides for the Binding of Isaac, Daniel, where else can you think of a mountain with a fire, with olot, these sort of raised elevated offerings, with the chosen place where God wants to meet with His children? The chosen mountain where God wants to meet with His children. What are those two mountains?
Daniel: It sounds like you're referring to Mount Sinai...
Ami: Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah, where the Binding of Isaac happened. So I want to just look at a verse not here in Deuteronomy, but back in the Book of Exodus, in Shemot Chapter 32, where the sin of the Golden Calf actually took place. Now when I saw this verse, it kind of just blew my mind as far as again this sort of inverse Binding of Isaac story. I want you to look with me at the beginning of Chapter 32 in Exodus. I'm just going to paraphrase to start us off. The people see that Moses is late in returning from the mountain. So they all come to Aaron. They say, come Aaron, make a new God for us et cetera et cetera. They make this golden calf.
Now, I'm just going to read to you one verse, Chapter 32 Verse 6. This is what happens right after they build the calf and Aaron announces to everyone "chag l'Hashem machar." We're going to have this great celebration for God tomorrow. What happens the next day? Vayashkimu m'macharat, and they wake up the next day. Vaya'alu olot, and they bring an olah offering, an elevated offering; vayagishu sh'lamim, and peace offerings. "Vayeishev ha'am le'echol v'shato vayakumu l'tzacheik," the nation sits down to eat and drink and they get up l'tazcheik, to revel, to laugh, to play.
Daniel: Wow, Ami. This is really interesting. These are all words that are part of the Binding of Isaac story.
Ami: Isn't that crazy?
Daniel: It's really crazy. Abraham waking up early, vayashkeim baboker, and he's instructed to bring Isaac as an olah and there you have vaya'alu olot and the word l'tzacheik.
Ami: Yes, so what's l'tzacheik?
Daniel: Sounds like it's a reference to Yitzchak (Isaac).
Ami: Yeah, they get up to Yitzchak. Vayakumu l'tzacheik, to laugh.
Daniel: Ami, it almost sounds like there are all of the potential elements of a Binding of Isaac, and yet it all goes terribly wrong.
Ami: Right. We don't have the time here to go so deeply into all these texts and explore this more at length, but I want to just kind of pause at a theory there and maybe our listeners can explore this a little further.
It almost seems to me that we have the prototype of the Binding of Isaac, which is God's calling you to a mountain and asking you are you willing to devote yourself to God or not. If you're willing to devote yourself, to prove your devotion, then there's all these blessings, this covenant that our God is going to uphold with you in the next generations, that you're going to be part of this great unfolding of the promise of land, the promise of prosperity, the promise of relationship with God. But if you face that moment, that test, where you're asked to prove your devotion and instead of giving of yourself to God you somehow withhold yourself from God, disaster kind of ensues from that. There's a total breakdown in that relationship. That's what happened at the sin of the Golden Calf, right.
Remember, the Golden Calf, in some level it's the response to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. God put himself out there to them and invited them into this amazing relationship and what came of it is this inverse Binding of Isaac, is no we're not willing to really give ourselves to you.
Daniel: What's interesting is that I don't know that we necessarily see the Israelites withholding from God, but you do see them giving of themselves to this idol instead. They take off their golds and their jewels. They're willing to give. They're just not willing to give to the right God.
Ami: It's like all the elements are there. The early waking, the olot, the tz'chok, that laughter, but I guess the piece of withholding here is they're using it in some sense for themselves. They get up l'tzacheik. Abraham gave Yitzchak, gave that child of laughter, that fulfilled promise, he gave that back to God and from there came all of this blessing. From there came all of that sign of his dedication.
But here the Children of Israel are showing as if they're giving of themselves to something, but that tz'chok, that laughter, is something they're just keeping to themselves. They're using it for their own revelry, their own eating and drinking and celebration. It doesn't really have anything to do with their relationship to the God who's giving them the Torah.
Daniel: So we're basically seeing another echo of this pattern of being presented with a test and potential blessings following from it, but this case, like you're saying, is a case of failure, of squandering the opportunity to show devotion to God.
Remembering God's Tests in Our Lives TodayAmi: Exactly. So now just coming back to Parshat Eikev, I get the sense that Moses setting up the stories in this way, right, the story of what's going to happen when you enter the land, the story of what happened at the desert, the story of what happened at Mount Sinai – in a sense the whole parsha here is weaving in and out of the Binding of Isaac story, showing the people there's times when you failed the test of the Binding of Isaac, there's times when you met the test of the Binding of Isaac and there's going to be times when that same test is going to face you.
The question's going to be: are you going to live up to what you really need to be doing when you enter the land? Are you going to be able to receive God's blessings and keep looking heavenward, keep seeing God in your life, keep seeing that what you have in your land, in your home, in your field, is a continued blessing from God and is part of that ongoing covenant and relationship?
Daniel: You know, if the paradigm of this ongoing pattern of tests is the Binding of Isaac, it feels like a pretty high bar. You know, I don't know if most of us are going to be experiencing a test of that magnitude in our own lives. I sure hope not, but I think I can relate to the temptation to be complacent when your life feels like it's full and it feels like it's full of blessing to enjoy it and let's say forget to reinvest all the blessings you get back into your relationship with God and just sort of look at it as a reward and say you passed, right?
There's something gratifying about passing a test and feeling like you're done, but that's not how life works. Life is constant work and constant attempts at growth and you really do need a good pair of hiking shoes.
Ami: Definitely and what's kind of interesting to me, just if we return again to that opening verse, "v'hayah eikev t'shma'un et hamishpatim ha'eileh u'shmartem va'asitem otum." This is all going to happen if you keep these laws, you guard and continue to perform God's commands.
On some level, it seems to me like Moses is giving this broad, general definition of what is the purpose of the mitzvot. Why do we have all these laws? What are all these things really about? It's really all about continuing to recognize God, continuing in all these different ways to invest yourself in that relationship and keep God at the focal point in your life, amidst all of the other things that are going on. Amidst all of the worldly life that you're building you continue to bring God into those experiences. In that sense, you get to live in a real covenant, in a real relationship.
So, Daniel, thank you so much for exploring these ideas with me. It's really exciting to me. It feels like the beginning of a lot more exploration. Listeners, please send us your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You have no idea how much it means to us to hear back from you.