This week’s Torah reading, parashat Eikev, has layers of meaning for us today, and as we begin to approach the High Holy Days. Moses is repeatedly telling Israel that the things they do, the choices they make, will have consequences that will rebound onto them, and onto the world around them. It’s a difficult concept in the best of times, how much more so for a people who used to be slaves. As a slave, accountability is to the master, and repercussions are swift and personal. Freedom necessitates a more global understanding of our actions and their impact. The word Eikev, meaning ‘because’, immediately speaks to cause and effect, a sense of outcome and accountability. The problem is, the people Moses is talking to were never slaves.
With very few exceptions, everyone from Moses’ generation has died and he is now speaking to their children who have no memory of Egypt. This generation has lived in the wilderness, and has indeed experienced God with accountability, responses, and a clear message that their actions will have consequences. Then why is Moses repeating this message so often and with such emphasis?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that we all teach the way we learn. When we try and explain ourselves to others, we resort to things that make sense to us but might not necessarily make sense to someone else. When that happens, it’s hard for us to see we’ve done it, and we can easily end up with misunderstandings. Moses was taught that the people following him were slaves and he learned to address them as such –he is unable to make the shift, and so he continues to speak to them as such. We are being shown why he cannot lead them into Israel.
But another part of the answer is that even though we understand what accountability is, we often confront it in hindsight. I look back at the things I’ve done and will hold myself accountable. Moses is trying to make Israel understand that accountability begins when we choose a course of action before we’ve actually enacted it. We must hold ourselves accountable with our choices as Judaism will hold us accountable later for our actions.
Rosh Hashanah is approaching, and thoughts of accountability begin to enter our days. It is not the understanding that we will enter the High Holy Days and hold ourselves accountable in retrospect, it is that we now begin to question patterns and choices we currently make, and whether they should be reconsidered before we act.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.