Friday, August 3, 2007

EKEV - LOST IN THE SHUFFLE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

What connection can we make between the Torah's mitzwoth and the Garden of Eden?

And how can the prism of Torah guide us to overcome the defining challenges of our day?

"Vehaya EKEV tishmaoon..."

"And it would come to pass ON ACCOUNT/IN EXCHANGE that you would listen, safeguarding and keeping them, then G*d your Lord will keep in mind the Covenant and Kindness which He swore to your fathers (Deuteronomy 7:12)."

What connections can we make between this odd word ekev in this passage and its use in earlier contexts? Here are two previous instances of the Torah's use of ekev:

Ekev, the root of Jacob's name, Yaaqov, who caused his brother to EXCHANGE his birthright for a bowl of lentils.

Ekev, the heel of the woman which would be targeted eternally by the snake (nachash).

The snake is the one who lost his own heel (in losing his capacity towalk since being doomed to crawl on his belly) and therefore seeks his vengeance on the heel of the woman, the woman who was caused to EXCHANGE a life in paradise ON ACCOUNT of the wiles of the snake. Eve with hindsight, could finally recognize that the snake was indeed Satan's agent, if not Satan himself.

Satan in Hebrew means "accuser,"pronounced sa-tahn, i.e., the one who tempts one to sin as a test of one's spritual/moral fortitude and then himself becomes the accuser in the heavenly court. Satan, the accusing angel, personifies evil, in the sense that he causes people to do the wrong thing while at the same time they believe that they are guiltless, even sublimely worthy (note the religious fervor of the terrorist who believes himself destined to attain heavenly reward for intentionally slaughtering the innocent).

While able to recognize sin, her curse was that, now exiled from the Garden, she would be forever subject to the terror of the snake, the fatal bite at the heel while minding her innocent pursuits! This is perfectly ironic because while in the Garden, the Evil Inclination (yetzer hara) was external to wo/man, tempting us from without, once outside the Garden it entered our consciousness, tempting us from within. So while its spiritual manifestation finds its locus internally, it expresses its physical manifestation externally.

The name "Eve" means Mother of all Life." Mothers are identified with infinite chesed, kindness, while evil represents its opposite. That is why the opening verse in the parsha employs both the words chesed and ekev, bringing home the point that Torah consciousness is indeed chesed consciousness. We forsake the Torah and exchange this chesed consciousness at our own peril. Indeed one can argue that the core idea of chesed has been essential to our perennial survival, passed on primarily through the mothers. It is therefore no coincidence that the evil of terrorism explicitly targets mothers and their children. Note that the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew letters for snake (NACHASH-358) and (SATAN-359) are nearly identical!

How can this "discrepancy of one" be understood for our times? If we connect with the ONE G*D (ONEG means spiritual delight) in our lives, making the fulfillment of G*D's will the purpose of ourexistence, then we can attach the alef/one of godliness onto the snake, again making the snake the agent for healing and blessing, instead of a curse. In a sense you are nullifying the Satan's power by aligning against it its exact counterpart spiritual DNA.

This idea is similar to the poisonous snakes narrative in parshat Chukat (Numbers 21). The Nechashim/Seraphim became transformed into very positive Seraphim(angels) when hoisted on the banner. Israel looked up at the copper snakes and therefore perforce looked up to heaven for salvation. We too, while suffering from vile terrorism, are perforce made to look heavenward for salvation. By becoming a more godly society we begin to nullify the curse of the expulsion from Eden/Israel.

Note that the poison snake narrative followed on the "heels"of the people complaining about a lack of bread in the wilderness! The curse of the Exile was man's necessity to earn his bread by his own labors. In Eden bread was provided without labor, in exchange for recognition of G*d's Presence and taking responsibility for one's actions. So too in the wilderness, the manna was provided gratis, provided that Israel develop a concomitant faith in G*d's Power and Promise.

By acknowledging G*d in our lives, by living Divinely-focused lives as manifested by our attachment to Torah and its mandate of NON random acts of Practical Kindness, we can actually transform the curse of the snake and thereby attain an equality (symbolized by the now numeric equivalence with the Satan). In other words, the evil of terror can be nullified by our drawing closer to G*d and His Torah. Through our adherence to the Torah's commandments and value system, the negativity of the poison snake can be transformed into positive energy, which can then become a corrective to counterbalance the negativity of the Satanic energies. Terror, as evil as it is, can yet be transformed into a force for good, if we as individuals and society as a whole turn closer to living more kindly and G*d infused lives.

Like on a see-saw, we wildly lurch towards G*d and then away in the opposite direction. The terror of 9/11 helped make us more aware of the spiritual import of unity and harmony. We became closer to our families and our communities, and reevaluated the priorities in our lives.

And yet we so quickly forget.

Having explored Eve's connection to the word ekev, the eponymous name of our parsha, let us briefly examine Yaacov's association with ekev. The very root of the name Yaakov is ekev. Jacob was so named largely on account that his descendants would become the nexus of this spiritual battle between good and evil. Evil personified in the guise of terror and negativity would come to do battle with the forces of good and positivity. Through the dark night he wrestles with the forces of evil, until he overcomes the angel of the darkness as the dawn begins to emerge. Esau, his brother/foe, had been blessed by their father with inhabiting the "oil places" of the earth MISHMANEY HAARETZ YIHYEH MOSHAVECHA (Genesis 27:39). Shuman/shemen means both fat and oil. The fat places of the land (traditional translation) can be also read as the oil places of the land. That is, the one place in the entire Middle East without oil is Eretz Yisrael (Lebanon and much of Syria are within the Torah's boundaries of Eretz Yisrael (Numbers 34/Massey)! Whereas in the midrashic literature Esau/Edom was seen as the progenitor of Rome, the arch rival of Israel in antiquity, today the Arab/Islamic world more readily qualifies as the Esav/Edom foe du jour.

Interestingly, Jacob is blessed with the name of Israel by none other than the wrestling angel himself! This means that those whom we wrestle against, i.e., our enemy, can yet come to bless us, as long as we strenuously assert our will to live and take our rightful place as purveyors of the Light of Torah, living lives that are blessed by acts of compassion and kindness to each other. Thus we shall perforce illuminate the darkness with the arrival of a new dawn.

But the price of the blessing was a limp in the leg, causing a curious shuffle. The word "shuffle" in English comes from the Hebrew word "shafel,"which means "lowly." People who perceive themselves as lowly, lacking a certain dignity, often shuffle when they walk, incapable of taking the noble strides of one filled with self-respect. Many today view our shuffling/hardships, both in Israel and America, as a sign of lowliness among the nations, that somehow our afflictions are deserved. Otherwise we would not be afflicted! But what they fail to see is that our affliction is not in our heel, it is in our thigh! It is not the heel wound from the snake a la Eve; it is the wound from the wrestling angel, a la Jacob, and a precursor to blessing! Thus our attitude and self-knowledge can transform the feeling of victimization and lowliness/loneliness to the heights of hope and the cliffs of courage and bravery. Our thoughts are our destiny; our actions are our fate.

Shabbat Shalom © 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

This Torah is sent out in the merit of my father of blessed memory, Israel J. Melman, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaaqov Hakohen Melman.

Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately.
My band, Niggun, is available for simchas and performances. I may be reached at niggun@aol.com

NEVER GIVE UP!

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is to not be afraid.
-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor." - Aish Kodesh
"As you want G*d to give you a chance, give everyone else a chance to also begin again." - Shlomo Carlebach

About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!