Parashat Ekev

Motivated by Love of God

Beyond reward and punishment.

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This seems to be the directive, irrespective of the consequences. But how do you command love? And how can the Torah even ask for love in this portion given what immediately precedes it? That seems to be exactly the point. After reading the conditions of the text, which will be the only approach that will persuade most people--the fear of punishment and the incentive of reward--the Torah feels compelled to command the love of God. And if Martin Buber, the 20th century theologian is right, then we are to model in all that we do the relationship that we are being asked to establish with the Divine. Our relationship with others is to be a reflection of our relationship with God--irrespective of concern over reward and punishment.

"If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving the Lord your God, walking in all of God's ways, and holding fast to God, the Lord will dislodge before you all these nations: you will dispossess nations greater and more numerous than you. Every spot on which your foot treads shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River--the Euphrates--to the Western Sea. No one will stand up to you: the Lord your God will put the dread and the fear of you over the whole land in which you set foot, as God promised you" (Deuteronomy 11:22-25).

While this chapter contains the same theme of positive rewards that we have seen elsewhere, it is not for its own sake. It is out of a love of God.

Like a well-formed composition, the ending of the portion recapitulates its beginning. If the Israelites observe all of God's commandments, and are motivated by a love of God, if we follow in the Divine footsteps and cling to God, then we can prevail against nations mightier than us. We will be rewarded with a successful conquest of the land.

But the main thing that drives us is not fear--it is the love of God. And consequently the love of people--all people--especially those who have joined us from other nations and with other backgrounds.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.