Yom Shlishi, 23 Shevat 5780
Tuesday, 18 February 2020
Parashat Eikev 2014

Parashat Eikev
Rabbi Monique Mayer
15th August 2014

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminds the people of how dangerously close they came to being destroyed by an angry God after the sin of the golden calf in the book of Exodus. Moses recounts, “The Eternal further said to me, I see this is a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, and v’ashmideim v’emcheh et sh’mam mitachat hashamayim—I will destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven...” (JPS, Deut 9:13-14). Yet, as we often find in retellings of the same story in the Torah, the language of the original has been changed. In Exodus 32:9-10, God says to Moses, “Now, let Me be, viyichar api bahem v’akhaleim—that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them…” Why are different words used in Deuteronomy?

We know that Moses is about to die. Parashat Eikev is a continuation of his swan-song…his last opportunity to impress upon the people what God has done for them, the mistakes they have made, what they have experienced, and what they have learned. The language of the desire to blot out—v’emcheh—should sound familiar to us. We read it in the book of Exodus after Amalek was defeated by Joshua and his troops: ki macho emcheh et zekher amalek mitachat hashamayim—I will surely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod 17:14). In his waning days, Moses fears that once he is gone, the temptation for the people to stray from the values of Torah may be too great. In spite of all the people have witnessed and experienced, their “stiff-necked” nature may cause them revert back to their old ways of idol-worship. Moses deliberately uses the language God speaks against Amalek as a warning: if the people turn away from God, putting their own desires before what is good and just, they will suffer the same fate as Amalek, doomed to be wiped from existence.

Moses’ admonition is not just for the community he addresses in the Torah; his message is a warning to us as well. When we are so stiff-necked that we steadfastly hold onto our need to be right, refusing to listen with compassion, and closing ourselves off from hearing other points of view, we are in danger of making rightness so important that it eclipses the very values we celebrate and cling to. And when we place our opinions above our values, we risk turning the need to be right into idolatry, destroying everything we stand for.