Have You Ever Seen the Rain?: Ekev 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you felt that you’ve gotten exactly what you deserve? How does it make you feel? Do you feel this happens rarely or rather consistently?

One of the most controversial passages in the Torah claims that our ancestors would always get what they deserve:

The Pitch: “If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin you this day, loving your God Adonai and serving [God] with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. …” – Deuteronomy 11:13-14a

Swing #1: “‘And serve him (with all your heart and with all your soul)…’: This refers to prayer. You say this is prayer, but perhaps it refers to sacrificial service? Yet scripture states ‘with all your heart and with all your soul’. But is there a service that pertains to the heart? Behold scripture states ‘serve him.’ This is prayer. … So just as worship at the altar is called service, so too prayer is called service.” – Sifre

Swing #2: “[These words] are problematic in that in this day of scientific knowledge and greater understanding of the causes of rain or drought, it is difficult for us to believe literally that the presence or absence of rain is an indication of divine favor or disfavor. There is also the moral dimension to consider: Is it indeed true that rain ceases when there is disobedience to God or that the presence of rain is an indication that those who receive it are living according to the divine will? … Human beings depend of God for everything. The question is how to make them aware of it. Larger concepts – such as human life requiring the ever-present heat and warmth of the sun or the presence of oxygen – are rather abstract. The rain as a symbol of our dependency is immediately and easily graspable. … The Jewish definition of atheism is: ‘There is no judgment and no judge.’ The assertion of these two sections is exactly the opposite: There is a judge and there is judgment. Human actions do not go unnoticed.” – Reuven Hammer, Entering Jewish Prayer

Swing #3: “It seems to many that the biblical passage ‘you shall put these My words …’ applies at all times, implying that you are always obliged to fulfill these precepts. Reference to them in the context of ‘and you shall quickly perish from the good land’ implies that even after you are exiled, these precepts apply. Rashi’s statement that ‘they should not be new to you’ is puzzling since they are still obligatory on us, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, as duties of the person, irrespective of the reason. Some explain that when Israel is exiled among the nations and Jews do not own their homes, only renting or leasing them, they would perhaps not fulfill the precept of mezuzah. Similarly, they would not fulfill the precept of tefillin since it requires no distraction from them. It would therefore only be right that the Jew be dispensed from the obligation to wear tefillin in the diaspora. For how is it possible for his mind to be free from distraction when he lives in exile among other peoples! [But] if this reasoning were allowed to prevail, the precepts of Judaism would be foreign to them when they finally returned to their homeland.” – Gur Aryeh

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to feel that we should make a direct correlation between human action and reward and punishment? Are fulfilling the commandments a reasonable goal, or merely an idea to which we can aspire? How would Judaism change (if at all) if fulfilling the commandments is merely an ideal?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It’s always a privilege to join KKBE our annual Shared Shabbat. Due to construction at KKBE, both services will be held at Emanu-El. Please note that the Friday night service will take place at 8:00PM and will be run according to KKBE traditions.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of getting what we deserve, there seems to be far less complaining about the use of performance-enhancing drugs ever since guilty players were suspended 80 games (essentially half a season) for their first offense. Do you think this penalty is still enough to deter potential perpetrators, or should the punishment be even harsher?

Shabbat Shalom!