Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
This week we read a passage that is part of the traditional V’ahavta prayer. It states that if we worship God and obey the laws and commandments of Torah, success will follow. But, if we don’t, our success will end. Why was this passage omitted from the Reform Movement’s prayer book?
“And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Eternal your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers: [God] will favor you and bless you and multiply you – blessing the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and lambing of your flock, in the land sworn to your fathers to be assigned to you…” (Deut. 7:12-13)
Moses tells the Israelites that the Eternal is bringing them into a land filled with streams, grain and fruit, and minerals. (Deut. 8:7-10) Moses then foresees a time when the people look at their good fortunes and say: “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” (Deut. 8:17) Moses implores the people to remember that God provided this wealth in fulfillment of the oath made to their fathers. He states that, as long as they follow God and obey the laws and commandments of the Eternal, their successes will continue…. But, if the people worship other gods or violate God’s laws and commandments, God will take the land from them and scatter them throughout the world.
This thought is repeated later in a quote that has become part of the traditional V’ahavta prayer. However, it is not included in the Reform prayer books. Let’s look at this passage …. Then look at a possible reason for its omission in the past and current prayer books of the Reform movement.
“If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Eternal your God 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. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil – I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle – and thus you shall eat your fill. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the Eternal’s anger will flare up against you shutting up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Eternal is assigning to you. Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart; bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children – reciting them when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – to the end that your and your children may endure, in the land that the Eternal swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.” (Deut. 11:13-21)
This writer feels that one reason for this prayer not being included in the Reform prayer book is because of the underlined portion. Liberal Jewish thought does not agree with the idea that success is totally based on faith in God and support of the Eternal’s law…. And, if this faith is lost, or if laws not followed, the success will disappear.
Today, few if any progressive thinkers accept this cause and affect. Too many good people suffer … too many tragic events affect large groups of people … too many natural events occur as random events. It is impossible to connect these events to the behavior of the populations affected.
It is felt that, if people have free choice, some will make decisions that result in bad effects on others …. And some people will choose actions that help others. Torah presents laws and commandments that, if implemented, will benefit the total community. But, this implementation is dependent upon individual choice. So, progressive thought believes that people … and nature … create the success and failures of a community…. Not the actions of God.
The following three passages from this week’s text seem to supports the idea that God created the world in which we live … then, the actions of mankind shape this world.
1) “You shall destroy all the peoples that the Eternal your God delivers to you, showing them no pity. And you shall not worship their gods, for that would be a snare to you.” (Deut. 7:16)
2) You shall follow the ways of the Eternal: “For the Eternal your God is God supreme … who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing food and clothing – You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:17-19)
3) “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Eternal your God for the good land given to you.” (Deut. 8:10) This verse forms the basis for the obligation to thank God after meals through the prayers of the Birkat HaMazon. ….. This thanks directed toward the Eternal acknowledges the role of God in the creation of the world and the divine influence on the creation of Torah’s laws and commandments
I would hope that the reading of this parsha causes people to make a choice – through free will – to follow the “paths” of the Eternal and adopt the laws and commandments of Torah that will move to people toward the creation of a better world.