Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Moses’ final words to the Israelite people about their future in the Promised Land continue in this week’s Torah portion called Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25). In 8:7-10, Moses describes what the Land will provide the Israelites when they enter it and observe God’s commandments.
“For the Eternal your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper.”
In this list, we learn about the resources that will sustain the Israelites. There is enough water for the people and to irrigate the fields. The soil, very rich in nutrients, can sustain and grow wheat and barley. There are grapes, figs, fruits, olive trees and honey for ordinary and sacred uses, alike. There is wine from the fruit of the vine for sanctification; olive oil to light the sacred lamps, and even honey that will later be associated with the sweetness of the New Year. There will be plenty of food and they will lack nothing, not even clothes and general provisions. Furthermore, the land and hills will provide metals and minerals to shape tools for use in the fields, and iron, used to make instruments of war, for defense.
Before the section concludes, Torah teaches that after the people nourish and sustain themselves on all these rich resources, they must give thanks for all that they have been given. Deuteronomy 8:11states, “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Eternal your God for the good land given to you.”
An examination of the Hebrew makes it clear that the people should eat and satisfy themselves. They should nourish their bodies and grow strong on the produce the land provides and the blessings God bestows on them. “V’achalta” means you shall eat. “V’savata” means you shall satisfy yourselves; in essence, take a big plate and have seconds, too. And, then, “u-veirachta” you shall bless the Lord your God; that is, give thanks.
In our day, our economy is fairly good; the stock market is high and unemployment is relatively low. Whether that’s good news or not depends on who we ask, but compared to some years ago, it’s a better time for most. Though gross and conspicuous consumption without charitable and generous giving is an affront to Jewish values, living well and prosperously is not. We wish each other a prosperous New Year, and count economic well-being as a blessing rather than mere luck. Even now, centuries later, in light of our wealth, which is not tied to the produce of the land as it was in ancient times or in agrarian societies of the past, we still bear the religious duty to give thanks.
Yes, we can consume ample amounts of good and services. Yes, we can satisfy our appetite for the good life. And, yes, we must give thanks to God. The blessings we enjoy are not of our own making; rather, they are benefits we derive from skills, talents, and opportunities that cannot be attributed simply to our own good fortune or luck. After thanking God, the most meaningful form of thanks, today, would be sharing our prosperity and opportunities with others who lag behind for no other reason than they have limited access to resources, including education, nutrition, and healthcare. Before they can imagine prosperity of their own they must jump higher hurdles than most. There’s nothing wrong with jumping high, but a fair and good running start would enable more people to feel that their aspirations and goals are reachable, too.
Let’s take time to give thanks for the blessings in our life, for the abundance we have come to know, and for the privilege to help others to find reasons to give thanks, too.