Parshat Ekev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3.
In Parashat Ekev, Moses is in the midst of preparing the Israelites to cross over the Jordan into the land of promise.
We recently completed the Book of Numbers, where, toward the end of the book, Moses has embraced his new role as a leader who will step aside for Joshua, and Moses climbs up Har Ha’Avarim (Numbers 27:12).
Listening to Rabbi David Wolpe’s podcast on Parashat Pinchas, Wolpe noted that Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th-century German rabbi, translated Har Ha’Avarim not as the Mountains of Avarim, but as “the Mountain of Transition.” The root of Avarim is ayin, vov, raish, which can be translated as crossing or on the other side. Hirsch’s translation as the Mountain of Transition echoes what our ancient rabbis say about why Abraham was called Ivri, a Hebrew, “because all of the world was on one side and Abraham was aver, on the other side.
Abraham had to make a transition from being like everyone else to being different. So, too, Moses has to transition; his leadership was in flux. He eventually accepts the end of his tenure, allowing the people to move forward, closer to entering the land.
Being in a state of transition continues into the Book of Deuteronomy. Building from Hirsch and Wolpe, we can read Deuteronomy 1:1, when Moses addresses Israel b’ever ha-Yarden “on the other side of the Jordan,” as another moment in transition, in a liminal space. Wolpe notes that we live in a liminal state, “the state between what you were and what you’re becoming.”
After the Exodus, in Numbers, Moses and Israel struggle with transition — from being slaves to being a free people. It was easy to agree that freedom from slavery would be good, but it was a struggle to learn what that freedom would look and feel like.
It can be a struggle to not be like Pharaoh or Balak, who do not recognize there’s a power greater than themselves. Israel is called to recognize the Divine Presence in their midst by creating a society built on justice and striving for goodness. Building and striving are ongoing journeys.
In Ekev, Moses wants Israel to create rituals to internalize this lesson because life gets really busy and it’s easy to forget; so teach Torah to your children; connect with your heart and mind; and inscribe it on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. Keep a sense of holiness at your center as you move through life’s journey.
We don’t know how we’re going to react or feel, but we know that we can keep a sense of holiness at our communal center, working and caring for each other, so that when one of us stumbles another person can pick us up.
Davey Rosen is a Jewish educator based in Ann Arbor and a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.