Ekev: Might and Humility

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ekev

This week’s parsha is Ekev, which has Moshe alternately exhorting and
rebuking the people as they prepare to enter the Land. He wants them
to remember all that God has done for them over the past 40 years, and
if they do, they’ll better appreciate the blessing of the land they’re
about to receive. To that end, Moshe reminds them that God is both the
mighty and merciful:

“For the Lord your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the
mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe,
but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends
the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.”
(D’varim/Deuteronomy 10:17-18)

Our friend Rashi points out the contrast between the first part of
this passage (where God is called great, mighty, awesome, etc) and the
second part, which names widows, orphans and “strangers”- that is,
non-Israelites- as special categories of Divine concern. Here’s Rashi,
first quoting the verse:

“[God] upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow. . . . This
[first part] showed God’s power, but alongside God’s power [gevurah]
one finds God’s humility. ”

Rashi says that where you find descriptions of Divine mightiness,
there you will also find hints of Divine humility. Notice what
humility is linked to: not a set of emotions, as such, but a set of
actions, namely, taking up the cause of widows, orphans and strangers.
These latter three are often found together in Torah passages
concerning justice, because in a patriarchal, tribal society, widows,
orphans and strangers are without protection and of liminal status. As
I read it, Rashi’s moral point is that if God – Who has just been
described as the Almighty – cares about the most marginalized members
of humanity, then clearly it’s a sacred value for us to do the same.

So humility, in this case, means encountering and caring for others
without regard to status- or, put another way, with regard only to a
person’s humanity and not any external factor. Humility does not mean
thinking of oneself as less than others, but as not separate from
them. It’s not about feeling small, it’s about remembering that no
matter our title, status, honor, or label, we are never free from the
spiritual obligation to see each person as equally created in the
Divine Image, and act accordingly.

I remember vividly a Shabbat dinner at Beit T’shuvah, in Los Angeles,
which is a residential recovery center for Jews struggling with
addictions. I was serving as a rabbinic intern with the men’s house,
and a retired rabbi had given the d’var Torah [Torah talk] during erev
Shabbat [Friday night] services. Commenting on how much he respected
and loved that retired rabbi, one of the men said with reverence:
“I’ve known him a long time, and he never talks down to anybody.”

That, to me, is the essence of Rashi’s portrayal of Divine humility-
which is really the humility that we experience when we are most in
harmony with the Divine within each of us and in others. It’s about
never talking down to anybody, because we are living deeply in the
experience of knowing that all people are expressions of the Divine
Image, and thus represent a chance to encounter God in the face of
another.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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