As a rabbi, I’m saddened when I encounter people who feel rejected by Judaism because of reactionary or punitive Torah verses, exclusionary language or the depiction of a vengeful God. Torah, when viewed as a Divinely Inspired text with human fingerprints all over it, can be understood as a mosaic of ancient guesses at what it means to be human in relationship with a God that has high hopes for humanity. This week’s parsha, Ekev, is one that teeters back and forth between these two possibilities. If read with the understanding that God is vengeful, then Moses’ recounting of the many trials of the desert wanderings could seem like a laundry list of God’s grievances. If, however, we can read past these reminders, we see that the real message Moses offers here is that the relationship between God and Israel is based on a reciprocal love.
Gratitude is introduced in Deuteronomy, Chapter 8, as an added dimension to this love. That emotion which requires no spiritual or religious outlook to participate in, enters into the Israelite bloodstream to suggest that the act of giving thanks – here, specifically to God, but for us, even as an act of mindfulness – can be a particularly powerful and grounding practice. Further along, in Chapter 10, Torah uses the word shoel, to ask, in reference to what does God ask of us – not what does God require, demand, or insist upon. Moses knows that reverence and love cannot be produced on command, and that the people are free to choose the path upon which they walk – we cannot be compelled.
The language of choice that resonates throughout the Torah (albeit co-present with threats of divine retribution for actions that seem to us to be far from sin,) offers the reader a choice. Particularly as inheritors of the progressive, liberal tradition of Reform Judaism, we are invited to draw near to the text, to read carefully and look for these moments of love, of gratitude, and invitation to relationship; life affirming invitations that can be translated & lifted through the layers of antiquity to quench our own parched souls.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman