Our parsha this week continues with the overarching theme of review that is the book of Deuteronomy. Parshat Eikev finds the Israelites still poised to enter the land, with Moses (still) reminding them of all they have encountered thus far; but Moses’ soliloquies are not pure review. Scattered throughout the re-telling of the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert we find warnings and prognostications of what the Israelites will encounter upon entering the Promised Land: namely, enemy peoples. In a strikingly early example of Jewish guilt, Moses admonishes the people, saying, “Know, then, that it is not for any virtue of yours that your God, Adonai is giving you this good land to possess; for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6) He then goes on to cite God’s previous covenant with Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as the reason for this continued relationship with the Israelites, and delivery into the Promised Land.
Earlier this week I awoke to the old, familiar pain of a pinched nerve. Besides being a literal pain in the neck, this recurring injury results in a variety of secondary annoyances, limited range of motion and a shorter-temper to name a few. To be stiff-necked is to be intractable, unable to see the periphery, or to even look up or down. Traumatized by their years of slavery and burdened by their uncertain desert wanderings, it comes as no surprise that the Israelites became stiff-necked; unable to look up from their feet to the horizon, unable to find comfort in the views of the broader picture unfolding around them. And so they became ornery, quarrelsome and lost faith. But Moses’ speech in this parsha reminds us that to be stiff-necked need not be a permanent state: “… what does your God demand of you? Only this: to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul…” (Deuteronomy 10:12). We can look up, look around, stretch out those places of constraint and move forward into fresh terrain – to savor the bigger picture and our own place in it while putting one foot in front of the other, ever moving forward.
Rabbi Callie B. Schulman