Great Expectations: Ekev 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever feared that you cannot meet expectations others have for you? How have you managed that fear? To what extent do your expectations of yourself match the expectations others have for you?

The Torah, of course, is filled with expectations for the Israelite people, although at certain times, such as in this week’s Torah portion, the text tries to boil down these expectations into just a few simple ideas.

The Pitch: “And now, O Israel, what does your God Adonai demand of you? Only this: to revere your God Adonai, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God Adonai with all your heart and soul, keeping Adonai’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Swing #1: “’What is it that the Eternal your God demands of you?’ The ‘what’ refers to humility, as when Moses and Aaron say ‘What are we?’ Hence, in our text too: Humility is what the Eternal requires.” – The Baal Shem Tov

Swing #2: “When man prays to God to fulfill a request of his, he cannot be certain that his prayer will be answered. The decision is entirely ‘in the hands of God.’ God is free to choose whether or not to fulfill the request. But such doubts do not obtain when a man prays to God to inspire him with the fear of God. In that case he may be sure that his prayer will be answered.” – Ohel Torah

Swing #3: “God has told the Jewish people that He doesn’t ask much – just fear! … When Datan and Aviram rebelled against Moshe, the Torah tells us that ‘Moshe sent to call Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav’ (Numbers 16:12). The Chasidic masters explain this verse in a fascinating way. Everyone has a spark of good in them, for if not, they would cease to exist. The way to influence a person to abandon negative and self-destructive behavior is to get in touch with that person’s spark, and ignite it. But sometimes, it seems a person cannot be reached. They have so covered over that spark that it is only by connecting back to their parents [and appealing to their fears] that one can reach them.” – Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Paradise: Breathtaking Strolls Through the Length and Breadth of Torah

Late-Inning Questions: Ohel Torah and Rabbi Shoff thinks that God’s main demand is for us to fear God, while the Baal Shem Tov believes it centers on humility. If you were to try to boil down what God expects of us in one or a few words, what would it/they be? Would doing so be an oversimplification of the Torah and its commandments? Or might it help to keep us focused in our day-to-day tasks?

On Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us for the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light” will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush. Don’t miss out!

The Big Inning at the End: While I’m obviously a Cubs fan, I still like rooting for some players on other teams, and I’m especially impressed by Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Duvall, who is having a standout season while managing Type 1 Diabetes. It’s always inspiring when athletes can overcome massive physical obstacles. I’ll be rooting for him to have a great conclusion of the season (providing he doesn’t hit Cubs’ pitching too well, of course).

Shabbat Shalom!