This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, describes the Land the Israelites will inherit if they continue to stay strong, stay the course, and obey God’s commandments. Moses tells them that they will rule over all other lands and all other nations. He states that while it will be tempting for them, they are to not worship their gods, as they had fallen into this trap which we read about back in in Ki Tisa. Moses reminds them of their deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt, against all odds, when they were set free from generations of slavery. We also read more of the Shema, learning about the various commandments to put a mezuzah on our doorposts, teach Torah to our children, and pray after meals.
Two things struck me most about this parsha: First, Moses focuses greatly on the negative. He continued to reiterate to the Israelites that they had really messed up in the past without really encouraging them that they can do better. He reminded them of how they had been unfaithful, built a golden calf, and lost faith in God. Second, Moses tells them that they are truly unworthy of inheriting this land, and that they are only receiving it because of the promise God made to their forefathers.
Our Torah is chock full of stories about our forefathers and mothers, the predicaments they would land themselves in, how they handled them and solved them. Or even in some cases, did not succeed in solving them. For the most part, it’s easy to see Moses as an exemplary leader. He’s brave, smart, good at delegating, and humble enough to know that while he is indeed the leader, that he answers to a Higher Power. But this parsha shows us the times in which Moses does not choose his words in the best way. Previously in Parshat Chukat, Moses loses his temper with the Israelites, who are complaining bitterly about their journey to Israel, and hits a rock. Because of his behavior, God eventually punishes him by forbidding him to enter the Land of Israel. Even after all of these good things that Moses has done and the courageousness he has shown, just one seemingly small mistake costs him his lifetime dream of seeing the Promised Land.
To me, Moses seems to be greatly missing the point. We are all created in God’s image, B’etzelem Elohim. This very fact refutes Moses’ claim that the Israelites, despite their egregious behavior in the beginning, are unworthy of receiving the Land and their freedom. One of our sacred rabbinic teachers, Kedushat Levi, whose teachings came to be in the late 16th Century, points to the additional writings of the book of Genesis which command us to praise God with each and every breath we take. He explains this to be part of the explanation of teshuvah, or repentance, which we are moving towards during this season of Elul. He writes, “In the moment that a person transforms themselves through teshuvah (repentance), they also should believe that they have become a new creation and that thereby God, in great mercy, does not recall earlier transgressions.” Moses, being human, seems to either forget this concept, or possibly is unaware of it. In any case, it can be comforting to see that even the greatest leader known to us has very often made similar mistakes to ours. And we can learn from these mistakes and try to make different choices.
Kedushat Levi’s teaching also helps us to see that we alone are good enough. It is not because of those who came before us that we will receive blessings. We alone have the power to partner with God, to create and re-create with every breath, to turn in another direction when we make a mistake, and to work with God to allow blessings to flow into our lives. Despite our upbringings, our lineage, and those who came before us. In my own life, my family was similar to Moses. I often heard more negative criticisms than positive from them, frequently hearing about my past mistakes and being judged for them, even when I knew in my heart that I was working hard and succeeding at making myself better. And I am not alone in this department. How many successful people do we hear about who had very difficult relationships with their families and parents? It is when we are able to get into our kishkes that we are all divine, that we all have that divine spark, that we all are partnering with God to make peace within our hearts and souls, that we can overcome the negative talk, criticism, and words which have made us feel less than divine.
It is my prayer during Elul, this season leading up to our Day of Repentance, that each of us will begin to allow for teshuvah (repentance/change) of the things we would like to do better. I pray that we will look to Moses and other leaders like him for inspiration about both the good and not so good choices they made, and that each of us will be able to tap into that divine spark, which I believe to be God, inside us, and to know that as Kedushat Levi teaches, we can be transformed through teshuvah (repentance/change). May we begin to allow others to completely forget our transgressions by first forgetting them ourselves. Sending you all so much love and peace.