Ekev 5783 – Ya Ribon
One of my favorite comics growing up as a kid was Calvin and Hobbes. I had every anthology book and would read them over and over again. In a classic series of strips from 1992, Calvin has to write a story for a class and ends up going time traveling instead. Of course, he has writer’s block, and Hobbes (his anthropomorphic stuffed pet tiger) gives him some incredible advice:
I think this is the feeling basically all clergy have as we head towards the High Holiday season. And maybe last-minute panic works for some, but for others concluding Tisha B’av reminds us that the High Holiday season is fast approaching and they should figure out what the central message is that they hope to share with their communities.
In this week’s parashah, Eikev, Moses seems to have a pretty good idea of what he thinks God’s central message to us is at this time,
וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל מָה ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי אִם־לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ וְלַֽעֲבֹד אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ׃
לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־מִצְות ה׳ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לְטוֹב לָךְ׃
And now, O Israel, what does God demand of you? Only this: to revere God, to have awe of God, to walk in all of God’s ways, to love God, and to serve God with all your heart and soul, keeping the commandments and laws, which I repeat to you today, for your good. (10:12-13)
This is it! In her commentary on this parashah, Bible scholar Nechama Leibowitz says that this verse is a summary of the essence of the entire Torah. What is required of us? To walk in God’s ways. We say God helps lift up the downtrodden? So should we. We say God lowers the prideful? So should we.
But the bookends of this sentence are what she really focuses on. V’atah – and now. This is the beginning of a new chapter looking ahead. Even through all that they have done, all that the people of Israel have been through, now is still always the right time to begin again, to make a change.
And L’tov Lach – For your good. It may seem like it would take so much time to do all of this! To focus on awe and live our lives with more wonder. It would take a lot of time out of each day for this to happen. But really, that time can serve a higher purpose. It can center us, guide us, prepare us for what the world has in store for us.
Some times the words of our siddur can seem foreign to us – so much about celebrating and praising and glorifying a God that we might not relate to in that way. But at their core these prayers are really about letting go of the ego – finding a way to look out at the world and know that we are just a tiny part of it – and knowing that there is more to this world than just you.
Ya Ribon, one of my favorite Shabbat Zemirot, reminds us of this very same theme. We sing,
“God, Sovereign of all the Worlds, You are the Ruler, above all rulers. Your mighty deeds and wonders, it is beautiful to declare before You.” Though I don’t relate to God as a deity sitting on the throne, I can get behind the idea that there is so much beauty and wonder in the world that was here before me and will exist long after me. And so we sing out, we look around, we marvel, and we take this new now as an opportune moment to start again.