August 20, 2022: Parashat Eikev – Reward & Punishment
This week's Torah portion is from Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25. Join David as he uncovers a secret embedded in the word "eikev" that points to eternal reward and punishment, and ultimately to the Resurrection of the Dead.
Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashat:
This week, we embark upon the third portion in the Book of Deuteronomy (Parashat Eikev), of Moses’ great and final speech to the Jewish people before entering the Promised Land. Moses continues to admonish the nation to listen to and perform the commandments of Hashem, to not have fear, that Hashem will go before them to give them the Land; Moses also reminds the people of the great encounter at Mount Sinai and the giving of the two Tablets of the Covenant; of Moses’ advocating on behalf of the people in turning away the wrath of Hashem due to the sinning of the Golden Calf; and finally, we read of the uniqueness of the Promised Land, that the eyes of Hashem are always upon it.
The parashah gets its name “Eikev” (“עֵקֶב”) from the second word from the opening which literally translates as “because”. Let’s open up with these first words in Deuteronomy 7:12:
וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃
“And it will be because of your listening to these judgments, and your observing and performing them; then Hashem, your God, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”
What is so special about this conjunctive word “because”? We’ll get to that shortly.
Furthermore, what are these “judgments” (“מִּשְׁפָּטִים”, “mishpatim”)? Let’s turn back to last week’s parashah to see. There, at the end of Parashat Va’Etchanan, we read in Deuteronomy 7:11:
וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֨ אֶת־הַמִּצְוָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֣ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם לַעֲשׂוֹתָֽם׃ פ
“You shall observe the commandment, and the statutes and the judgments that I command you today, to perform them.”
Keep in mind that this last verse of last week’s parashah is simply a repeat of the same message that Moses reiterated over and over since the start of the Book of Deuteronomy. Yet, here in this week’s parashah, the focus is only on the judgments. But what are judgments (“מִּשְׁפָּטִים” “mishpatim”) as opposed to statutes (or “חֻקִּים” “chukim”)? And furthermore, why is the “commandment” (or “מִּצְוָה” “mitzvah”) in the singular form, while judgments and statutes are pluralized?
With respect to the singular form of “commandment”, we find a similar case in this week’s parashah, in Deuteronomy 8:1, where it says: “All the commandment that I command you today you shall observe to perform…” The simple meaning is that the “commandment” refers to the entire body of commandments, the Torah, as if it were one commandment. This is in line with what we spoke about last week with the entire Torah being summed up as one declaration in the Shema. As for the difference between judgments and statutes? These are two types of commandments. Judgments are those commandments that we are able to understand and that our judicial system is setup to guard and maintain. For example, we understand why it is wrong to steal, kill and covet and that there are direct and indirect punishments associated with them.
Ramban comments: “Scripture mentions this in order to sternly warn us about carrying out the judgments specifically. This is because a large nation cannot in its entirety be heedful of all the commandments without transgressing any of them at all, and it is only through "judgments" that the courts can establish the authority of the Torah…”
On the other hand, statutes are those commandments that we are not intended to understand, but nevertheless, we do them because Hashem commanded us to do so – for example, the ashes of the Red Cow, or the obligation by men to put on tefillin every morning. We don’t fully understand why Hashem gave these commandments, but they are to be done out of obedience nonetheless.
So here, in this week’s Torah portion, as the focus is on judgments and not statutes, we open up the parashah with a focus on the judgments, or in other words, those commandments that we understand and should take to heart. So, let’s read that first verse in Deuteronomy 7:12 again with all of this in mind: “And it will be because of your listening to these judgments, and your observing and performing them; then Hashem, your God, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”
What is being said here is that there is a promise of reward for those that listen, observe and perform the judgments – those understood and comprehensible commandments of the Torah.
Now, there is a hidden message here as well, embedded in the word “eikev”. The word here takes on a conditional form, translated as “because”. Typically, when the Torah features conditional phrases, it usually makes use of the preferred word “im” meaning “if”, as in, “if you will follow my statutes…” (Leviticus 26:3). However, it is peculiar that the choice of word is “eikev” here. Interestingly, we find the word used only once more in the same context later in the parashah, in Deuteronomy 8:19-20:
“It shall be that if you forget Hashem, your God, and go after the gods of others, and worship them and prostrate yourself to them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish, like the nations that Hashem causes to perish before you, so will you perish because (“עֵ֣קֶב”) you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your God.”
Remember I just said that the use of “eikev” in Deuteronomy 7:12 points to reward? Notice how the use of “eikev” in Deuteronomy 8:20 points to punishment?
So, in Deuteronomy 7:12, Moses is saying that ‘your listening, observing and performing these judgments will cause Hashem to safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers’. That is the conditional phrase connected with a reward. On the other hand, in Deuteronomy 8:20, Moses says ‘those that do not hearken to the voice of Hashem will cause them to perish’. There is a punishment associated here. Moreover, as you can probably piece together from the two verses, ‘listening, observing and performing these judgments’ is equivalent to ‘hearkening to the voice of Hashem’. And hence, we are introduced to the concept of reward and punishment in the Torah, as connected to our listening, observing and performing the judgments of Hashem.
Let’s dig a little deeper and evaluate another meaning of the root letters that make up the word “eikev” – “עקב” (“ayin”-“qof”-“beit”) – by changing the vowel points, we get the word “עָקֵב” “akev”, which means “heel”.
Ramban comments: “The commentators have said that the meaning of "eikev" is a reward to be received for something in the end. [that is, the word "eikev" comes to mean reward, because it comes as a result of an action, and "akev" means "the end".]” Ramban goes on to say: “And it is a sound interpretation, because in the Hebrew, the beginning of anything is referred to by the word “rosh” or "head"… The foremost of something is called its "head", as in "the leaders [“rashei”] of the nation" (Numbers 25:4), as is the finest of a group, as in the "the foremost of (or “rosh”) spices" (Exodus 30:23). And so conversely, the end of any thing is called its "heel", for the language adopts its figurative comparisons and makes them like a human, whose head is his beginning and whose heel is his end and conclusion.”
So, in the context of this week’s parashah, “eikev” alludes to reward and punishment received for something in the end. What end? But of course the End of Days. We are learning that depending on our listening, observing and performing the judgments of Hashem… our listening to the voice of Hashem, we will be rewarded or we will be punished at some time in the future, in the End of Days. In other words, there is eternal reward or punishment based on our actions in this world.
As such, Moses was alluding to this as he spoke to the people. Here we are in the 40th year of the journeys in the Wilderness, with the people on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Moses, their leader, is not able to enter into the Land with them, and as such, is admonishing them to obey the commandments, to listen to Hashem, to love Him with all of their hearts, souls and resources. And furthermore, here in this parashah, he goes a step further, alluding to the greater reward in the End of Days that awaits them if they draw closer to Hashem. Ultimately, he is telling them that life goes on beyond this world... that their pursuit of Hashem in this world is not temporal, but rather long-lasting… eternal. Now that’s a reward worth striving for!
In fact, at the end of the parashah, in Deuteronomy 11:18-20, Moses commands the people to remember all these words spoken to them by adorning tefillin on the arm and between the eyes, teaching the words to the children, speaking constantly of them throughout the day and night, and placing mezuzot on the doors and gateways – as signs and actions of remembrance.
In Deuteronomy 11:21, Moses continues: “In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the land that Hashem has sworn to your forefathers to give them, like the days of the heavens over the earth.”
Rashi comments: “’to give you’ is not written here, but rather ‘to give them’. From here we find that we learn that the “Resurrection of the Dead” has a source in the Torah.”
How do we extract that from the words “to give them”? The words are implying that the forefathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – will be resurrected and receive the Land in person! This goes beyond Abraham looking forward to just his descendants inheriting the Good Land as we read in the Book of Genesis. No, he was also looking forward to one day in the future when he too would be walking in the land of his inheritance from Hashem, along with his descendants!
As is written in Hebrews 11:8-10: “By trusting, Abraham obeyed, after being called to go out to a place which Hashem would give him as a possession; indeed, he went out without knowing where he was going. By trusting, he lived as a temporary resident in the Land of the Promise, as if it were not his, staying in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were to receive what was promised along with him. For he was looking forward to the city with permanent foundations, of which the architect and builder is Hashem.”
Abraham was looking forward to “the city with permanent foundations”.
Continuing in Hebrews 11:13: “All these people kept on trusting until they died, without receiving what had been promised. They had only seen it and welcomed it from a distance, while acknowledging that they were aliens and temporary residents on the earth.”
They saw the future hope and believed and obeyed Hashem.
And here in this parashah, Moses was teaching this concept to the people through the use of the word “eikev”. So, you may ask, why did he not just come out and outright tell the people about these concepts instead of using such subtle allusions embedded in the word “eikev”? Who said he didn’t? Today, we are only able to gauge this based on the subtleties embedded in the Written Torah, but they are expanded upon in the rest of the Tanakh, like the Books of Psalms, Proverbs and the Prophets, and in the New Testament.
“For His blessed ones shall inherit the earth, while His accursed ones will be cut off.” (Psalm 37:28)
“Examine me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. And see if a way of rebellion is within me; and lead me in the way of eternity.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
“I will exalt you, my God the King, and I will praise Your Name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:1)
“He who observes a commandment safeguards his soul; one who scorns his proper ways will die.” (Proverbs 19:16)
In Matthew 25:14-30, Yeshua taught a parable on reward and punishment in the form of giving various amounts of money to three servants to manage. For the two servants that invested well and provided a return to their master, the master replied: “You have done well, good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful with a little, I will entrust you with much. Enter your master’s joy!” For the servant that was lazy and did not produce a return, he said: “Cast the worthless servant to the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Paul wrote in Romans 2:6: “For Hashem will pay back each one according to his deeds.”
John wrote in 2 John 1:8: “Watch yourselves, so that you won’t lose what you have worked for, but will receive your full reward.”
And John again in Revelation 22:12: “Pay attention, I am coming soon, and my rewards are with me to give to each person according to what he has done.”
Clearly, the writers of these books and letters in the Bible knew these concepts, and how to extrapolate these hidden concepts in the Torah and elaborate on them. All of this to say… Moses was teaching the people the concepts of reward and punishment, of the End of Days, and the Resurrection of the Dead… and that their actions towards Hashem in this world would determine their outcomes in the World to Come. These are essential concepts to know and understand. Why? Because (pun intended) the gift of salvation is intertwined with eternal life. And conversely, our rejection of the gift of salvation is eternal destruction.
For those of us that have received the gift of salvation by coming into the knowledge of Hashem, what is there to look forward to in this world? We have our eyes – like the forefathers – focused on “the city with permanent foundations.” Without any expectation of greater things promised beyond this temporal world, our lives are relatively meaningless. Not completely meaningless, just relatively inconsequential. After all, Hashem created us to live in this world for a season. We did not choose our lives here on earth, He did. As such, there is a purpose for our life here on earth.
As Moses says in Deuteronomy 8:2: “You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your God, led you these 40 years in the Wilderness so as to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would observe His commandments or not.”
As we have gone through the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, can you remember that entire road? That rocky and bumpy road? All of those tests and trials the people faced throughout the Wilderness? That is tantamount to our lives in this world – the wilderness of life, full of tests and trials that Hashem puts in our ways to see what is in our hearts.
As Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:5: “You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your God, chastises you.” ‘Because Israel… Hashem is your God. He is yours!’
Enter the beautiful words penned by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of centuries later as he discussed the long years of the exile (Isaiah 49:14-15): "Zion said, 'Hashem has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.' Can a woman forget her baby, or not feel compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I would not forget you."
Here we see Hashem’s intense love and compassion for Israel compared to that of a mother for her child. Yet, even if the mother were to forget her child, as is the case for some in this world, Hashem would never forget His beloved Israel.
Later on, Moses said in Deuteronomy 10:12: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you but to fear Hashem, your God, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul."
Moses was telling them to acknowledge Hashem as their God, and to fear Him and to love Him (as we spoke at greater length last week with respect to the Shema).
Or HaChaim goes further to comment here: “The reason the verse was particular to preface its statement by saying the word "now" is to point out that a person has the ability to accomplish this spiritual effect only "now", while he is in this world. But after his death, even if he does wondrous things, he will not have any impact on the spiritual worlds, for he will be like one of the angels, who were not granted this ability. The Torah's reference to this world as now reflects that which we find that our Sages refer to this world as "momentary", as it says (Shabbot 33b): ‘They are forsaking the pursuit of eternal life in the World to Come and occupying themselves with momentary life of this world!’"
Or HaChaim summed it up beautifully.
Then, in Deuteronomy 10:20, Moses said: “Hashem, your God, you shall fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave…”
Again, in Deuteronomy 11:22, Moses says: "For if observing you will observe all of this commandment that I command you, to perform it, to love Hashem, your God, to go in all His ways and to cleave to Him…"
Ramban comments: “It is plausible that the term "cleaving" includes that you should keep God and your love of Him in mind constantly, meaning that your thoughts should not depart from Him even when you ‘walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise’, until one achieves the level that his conversation with people is only with his mouth and tongue, but his heart is not with them, rather it is before God. And it is possible with people who are at this level that their soul is ‘bound up in the bond of life’ even during their lifetimes, for they themselves (i.e. even their physical bodies) are an abode for the Divine Presence.”
Ramban concludes: “As far as what Joshua said: ‘Only cleave to Hashem, your God, as you have done up to this day’; this was because so long as they were in the Wilderness with the cloud of God hovering over them and the manna descending from heaven providing them with bread and the quail coming up supplying them with meat and the well before them providing them with water, constantly, and all of their affairs were conducted by the hand of Heaven through miraculous means, indeed their thoughts and deeds were with God constantly. And that is why Joshua warned them that now in the Land as well, that those wondrous deeds had ceased, and their existence would continue through apparently natural means, their inner thoughts should still be constantly to cleave to the esteemed and awesome Name, and their attention should not depart from God.”
I personally love that concept of “cleaving” to Hashem. We must all comprehend and understand this concept in drawing closer to Hashem. We must program ourselves to see beyond the materialistic fabric of this world to what lies beyond through promise – like the forefathers of the Jewish nation – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – looking forward to “the city with permanent foundations.” As we learnt from last week’s parashah, our relationship with Hashem must be grounded in fear and love.
On the concept of Resurrection of the Dead, in particular, Messiah Yeshua served as a form of “firstfruits”, as he was the first to reveal it in action. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19: “But if it has been proclaimed that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, how is it that some of you are saying that there is no such thing as a resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then the Messiah has not been raised; and if the Messiah has not been raised, then what we have proclaimed is in vain; also your trust is in vain; furthermore, we are shown up as false witnesses for Hashem in having testified that Hashem raised up the Messiah, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then the Messiah has not been raised either; and if the Messiah has not been raised, your trust is useless, and you are still in your sins. Also, if this is the case, those who died in union with the Messiah are lost. If it is only for this life that we have put our hope in the Messiah, we are more pitiable than anyone. But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive.”
Yeshua’s resurrection was a sign to his followers… a form of “firstfruits”, to the Jewish people, and to the entire world at large that we have much to look forward to beyond this world. That this world is temporal and will pass away, but that our actions in this world define what our future will hold. It is through Yeshua that we connect with to come to the knowledge of Hashem and attain eternal life, and it is through our attainment of this knowledge, through Hashem’s “judgments” that determines how strongly we cleave to Hashem. And one day – on that great and glorious day in the future when Messiah Yeshua returns, we and those who have passed on before us who similarly cleaved to Hashem, will be reunited with our bodies in the resurrection of the dead.
May we learn to cleave to Hashem through our Master Yeshua. May we ground ourselves in Hashem… may we learn to live in fear of Hashem and love of Hashem. May we look to our Father in Heaven and recognize that He loves us, and if He didn’t love us, He wouldn’t discipline us through tests and trials in this world. So may we take these tests and trials in our lives… in each of our personal wildernesses of life, and overcome them… be victorious so that we may merit to attain the reward that is in store for us beyond this temporal existence, that is grounded in eternal life all in the merit of Messiah Yeshua.