Friday, August 7, 2020 /17 Av, 5780
Parashat Eikev Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
This week, we read the Torah portion call Eikev, meaning “on the heal of” or “because of.” During this Torah reading, Moses will share the consequences of our actions, as he will do throughout Deuteronomy, teaching us that there are always consequences, both positive and negative to the choices and actions that we make and take. During his recitation, he refers to us as a “stiff-necked people,” suggesting that we are stubborn and immovable, at times, not following the guidance of either Moses or God.
Until this year, I have always read this part of Torah, in quite a literal sense, thinking only about the consequences for our actions. I haven’t really bought into the concept of a punishing God, so the idea that God will reward us if we listen and punish us if we don’t did not resonate with me, but I was always able to relate to the idea of consequences. It truly was not until this year, and specifically, Sadie Lieb’s bat mitzvah, that I began to focus on the concept of the “stiff-necked people.”
We have always read this passage as unyielding, uncooperative, and stubborn, making it a triple negative in my mind. “Rabbi” Sadie suggests that perhaps it’s not all negative. In fact, perhaps our stiff-necked-ness attributes to our resilience and tenacity. I noted this week, during Torah study, that the very person who is calling us stiff-necked, Moses, once defended us, when God witnessed this behavior, 38ish years prior, but now admonishes us for it, and in fact, has been known to be quite stubborn and unyielding, himself, at different moments in his life. So maybe Sadie has something. Maybe being stiff-necked, while it could be a tremendous negative if not kept in check, could be part of the reason why our people have survived so much persecution over history. Indeed, had we not been “stiff-necked,” would the Maccabees have revolted, creating the Hanukkah story? If we had not been so “stiff-necked,” would Esther have dawned sackcloth and risked her own life to confront the King of Persia? If we had not been so “stiff-necked,” would we have fought back, hidden, and done whatever it took to survive the holocaust?
Several years ago, during one of my temple trips to Israel, we had the opportunity to speak with a developing tech company leader. When asked why he thinks that Israelis have been responsible for so many technological, medical, and agricultural discoveries and breakthroughs, his response was simple, “When you tell an Israeli that it can’t be done, the Israeli does everything in his or her power to prove you wrong, even if it means failing and starting all over again.” Sadie’s very definition of “stiff-necked!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way encouraging any of us to be anarchists, or so stubborn that we can’t admit when we are wrong, or so unyielding that we can’t give others credit, when credit is due, but I am reminding us that we can never just roll over and accept things that need change. In the words of the late, great Senator John Lewis, sometimes we need to “get into good trouble.” I think Moses would agree, were he standing by John’s side, and we must all be able to be “stiff-necked” when it helps us to help our people, our community, or our world. Thank you to my wonderful bat-mitzvah, Sadie Lieb, for making me look at these words differently. Maybe there’s a future for you, in your Papa Rabbi David Lieb, z”l’s business.
Cantor Ilan Davidson