Parsha of the Week

Bringing education home, and not getting lost


The first chapter and a half that begins Parshat Eikev contains what we might describe as the opposite formula of the “Tokhachot/Rebukes” that appear in Bechukotai and Ki Tavo. In those cases, an ideal is put forth, which is subsequently dwarfed by the enormity of the rebuke which follows it. In our parsha, the ideal eclipses the possible bad.

The parsha begins (7:12) with the words “V’haya Eikev Tish’m’oon (on account of your listening and observing the following laws)” God will love you, will heal you of your illnesses, will give you bravery unmatched, will cause your enemies to flee from before you, etc. All you have to do is rid yourselves of their idols.

The emphasis on avoiding the worshipped images of silver and gold is so strong that other terms are introduced (7:25-26) to bring the point home: to’evah (serving these items is an abomination), cherem (enemies’ belongings are taboo and may not be used), sheketz (having these items is offensive), and mokesh (taking the idols will ensnare or trap you into becoming more curious about them). 

Mokesh contains a rare root form which appears one other time here (7:16 as mokesh and in 7:25 as tivakesh), in Shmot 10:7 (in a different context) as well as in Shmot 34:12 and Shmot 23:33 (similar contexts to here), the latter example ending a description of what the conquest of the land will look like. Much of what is mentioned there is echoed here, with a few slight differences.

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Back in our parsha, Moshe continues painting an idyllic scene when we expect to hear the bad that could come from turning away from God.

“Guard yourself, lest you forget God and are not observant of His laws. Maybe you’ll … build nice homes ... have cattle, sheep, silver and gold aplenty. You will become haughty and forget God, Who took you out of Egypt. … You will say, ‘My strength and fortitude made all this happen.’ Be sure to remember God, because He is the One Who has given you the ability to be successful.” (8:11-18)

The concern is that amidst all the good you have you’ll forget God. Therefore, don’t forget God. Fair enough.

Moshe continues however, with the consequence of forgetting God.

“If you forget God and start worshipping other gods, you will be lost or destroyed. Just like the nations who are being removed from before you, so will be your lot — eikev (on account of) your not listening to God.” The word eikev closes the unit with a nice bookend paralleling the way the parsha began.

In context, it highlights how abandoning God for the snare of idolatrous worship and how losing all, due to misplaced appreciation, becomes the theme of this chapter and a half.

The Or HaChaim focuses on the double language of avod tovedun, and says there are two stages of what can happen: becoming lost, then being destroyed. [The root alef-vet-dalet can mean either one.]

As I believe “destruction” is ultimately God’s choice, I also believe it is truly in our power to do more to avoid becoming lost.

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If we are to succeed as Jews eikev (on account of) our remembering God and heeding His bidding, an overhaul is needed in Jewish education. Schools could always use improvement. But the overhaul that is needed is in the homes, where children must be taught over and over, “What we have is a gift of God.” And where parents literally learn Torah with their children.

Consigning all our children’s Torah learning to other people is a recipe for saying, “Of all the things we do as a family — learning Torah is not one of them.” With that kind of attitude, we will be lost “like the nations” who don’t value Torah in their own homes. Making TVs, computers, mobile devices and similar technology into the items we utilize the most in our homes — unless they are used regularly for maintaining our focus on God-— is the modern-day challenge of avoiding the mokesh (the snare and trap) that helps us get lost.

It doesn’t have to be Daf Yomi, Gemara, or even something in the Hebrew language (though that is, of course, ideal). But a text should be picked and studied — not just read — and discussed on a regular basis. This will not only enhance parent/child relationships, but will also make absolutely clear what our values are, and will helpfully assure we don’t get lost along the way.

Rabbi Avi Billet, originally from the Five Towns, is a mohel and the spiritual leader of Anshei Chesed  Congregation in Boynton Beach. A version of this column was previously published. Originally published in 2012.