Ekev: The Blessings We Wear

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ekev

It’s the middle of August, the days are warm and long, and that means
we’re smack dab in the middle of Dvarim/ Deuteronomy, the fifth book
of the Torah, which is a review of the events and laws which have
taken place from the beginning of Exodus right through the 40 year
trek to the Land of Promise.

Among the amazing things that Moshe recounts for the people is the way
that God took care of them in the wilderness, by providing food [the
manna], water, protection, and so on. A typical reader might remember
the manna and the wells and the wars from previous sections of the
Torah, but Moshe reminds the people of two additional details of the
journey:

” Your clothing did not wear out upon you, nor did your foot swell
these forty years. . . . ” (Dvarim/ Deut. 8:4)

I’ll leave the question of swollen feet to the podiatrist Torah
scholars among us, because I’m more interested in the image from the
first part of the verse. Rashi, quoting earlier texts, offers an
amazing interpretation of “your clothing did not wear out upon you.”
He says that the Cloud of Glory [i.e., the cloud which manifested the
Divine Presence] rubbed their clothing clean! (Talk about your
ultimate environmentally sensitive dry cleaning!) Not only that, but
clothing on the children grew along with them, like a snail’s shell
grows along with the animal, so that it did not “wear out” in the
sense of having to be replaced.

I think that I understand Rashi’s problem- after all, we can
understand the narrative and theological meaning of great miracles
like the splitting of the Sea and getting water from the rock, but
it’s hard to understand fresh laundry as a compelling sign of the
Divine Covenant, at least, not without some midrashic [interpretive]
elaboration. Linking the Clouds of Glory- that is, the imminent Divine
Presence- with this sartorial miracle is a way of portraying God, like
a loving parent, offering nurture and care in even the most mundane
matters of life.

To that end, we can turn Rashi’s comment around and
apply it to our own lives, and say: if you really appreciate how
wonderful it is that you have clothing to wear on your journey through
life, you could experience God’s Presence in the act of putting on a
clean set of socks every day, just like you could find the Divine
Presence anywhere else you choose to be open to it.

To me, Rashi’s midrash suggests that the experience of being
liberated allowed the Israelites to feel that even the clothing they took from
Egypt was sufficient and wonderful, even miraculous. Granted, the
Israelites did their fair share of complaining about various things
along their 40 year sojourn, but perhaps Moshe is reminding them that
complaining and rebelling wasn’t the whole experience- they were also
at times grateful and aware of being nurtured and sustained.

Thus, what at first appears to be the rather undramatic miracle of
Divine dry cleaning could actually be a powerful image for reflection:
how do can we come to feel that our possessions are sufficient ? How
can I nurture gratitude and lessen the urge for new, cool stuff? How do
I come to truly be thankful for something as simple and ordinary as a
clean t-shirt in the morning? Judaism has prayers which thank God for
the material and physical blessings of life [e.g., the Birkot Hashachar, or
morning
blessings], but do I say them with real authenticity?

Believe me, I’m no Moshe in this regard, and this week, when I’m
packing up to move, I’m definitely thinking that I could better learn
to recognize when just enough is just fine. Moshe reminded the people
that with a sense of the Divine in their lives, one clean set of
clothes could be enough for a 40 year journey. That kind of humility,
gratitude, and appreciation of one’s blessings may have been the even
greater miracle.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

PS- as usual, you can find a summary and futher commentary on Ekev in
the first link, and the texts of the portion and haftarah, as well as
even more lovely commentary (from two of my classmates in Israel), at
the second link:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Weekly_Torah_Commentary/ekev_index.htm

http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/index.shtml

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