November 22, 2019

Table for Five Weekly Parsha: Eikev

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless HaShem your God for the good land that He gave you. –Deuteronomy 8:10

Jackie Redner
Rabbi-in-residence, Vista Del Mar 

Israel is the place of my heart. It is not an easy place nor is it simple. It is squeezed from all sides and from within. Watched. Always watched … with judging eyes, rightfully and wrongfully. The complexity of choices Israel faces and the harsh realities of any outcome are hard for us to tolerate, to hold. We want the Israel of our ideals — the perfect Israel. And it just doesn’t feel quite fair — at least to me. 

Too often, while our conversations about Israel generate much passion, they fail at compassion, as if there is not enough space to hold the magnitude of the situation in all its complexity. And even so, amid the constant watching and commentary, out of that land and out of that tension, a steady stream of blessing and nourishment flow into human life with almost a limitless generosity in every arena under the sun — from medicine to art, from technology to agriculture, from disaster relief to psychology to poetry. 

Let us take a moment to hold our people and land with compassion — to behold the goodness of Israel. Let us allow the miracle that is Israel, with all of its imperfection, to rest in our consciousness and just be. And then let us give thanks and be satisfied. 

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld
Senior rabbi, Temple Beth Am

The most compelling part of this verse is what is missing. And what was “added” later by the sages. Here, the Torah compels a blessing of gratitude. When? Only when sated, after one’s needs have been met. The rabbis added a blessing that appears nowhere in the Torah: before one eats. For who knows whether satiety will be reached. The blessing-after is nearly obvious. Who would not say, “thank you” to one who provided so completely for one’s needs? Hopefully very few. But gratitude pre-satisfaction is a more elusive stance. 

The medieval Sefer HaHinukh notes that when one has eaten one’s fill is subjective. Many can sit for the same meal, and yet feel full at different moments. While a group Birkat ha-Mazon is commonplace, the command in the verse is to bless when one is full. It is thus a supremely personal and individualized offering of gratitude. 

But the blessing before? All of us stand together, somewhat tenuously, in the not-knowing of whether the food that is provided will satisfy. Most of us who live, blessedly, without food-worry, can glide over the opening blessing. What is the mystery? “Of course the food will suffice. I ordered it exactly as I wanted it!” The grand beauty of the blessing missing from our verse is that it impels a hopeful and expectant gratitude for what is to come. With no guarantee. Were it so that such anticipatory — and patient — grace was the norm in our society. May that be God’s will. 

Rabbi Peretz Rodman
Head of Israel’s Masorti Bet Din

This verse is cited in Birkat ha-Mazon, the “grace after meals.” After all, here is the obvious source of the Jew’s obligation to express gratitude for each meal after it has been consumed. It is surprising, though, that the verse is cited in the second of that series of blessings, not the first. What takes precedence over the obligation to express thanks for the bounty of the Land of Israel? 

Before thanking the Lord for “having bequeathed to our ancestors a fine, broad land of desire’s fulfillment,” we are enjoined to recite — originally, actually, to improvise — a blessing for the gift of ample food enjoyed by all the world. God is praised as “the One who feeds all.” 

Economist Shlomo Reutlinger, who died earlier this year in Jerusalem, found in a World Bank study a generation ago that the world’s food supply was and would remain adequate for the world’s population. Hunger was a function of uneven distribution — i.e., of poverty — not of a shortage of food on our planet. 

Praise for the Divine Provider of food for all implies that being the one to deliver that sustenance over “the last mile” is a God-like endeavor. Before focusing on the unique blessing of our own promised land, we view our planet, the home we all share, as a gift that enables humankind to sustain itself — if the human race stewards it with care and sees to it that everyone on Earth gets an adequate share.

Cantor Michelle Bider Stone
Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

If you hear of an eggplant shortage in Israel this summer, blame me. I just returned from my annual summer there staffing the Shalom Hartman Institute’s community and rabbinic leadership programs. Wherever I travel, I relish the opportunity to taste the culture around me. Israel, after all, is an internationally recognized “foodie” culture. But eating in Israel is more than mere culinary exploration.

In this verse, the Israelites are anticipating the food in Israel, a land of wheat, figs, olives and honey; foods they have been denied for 40 years in the desert. They will eat, be satisfied, and thank God for the land. Not just for the food, but for the land itself. Because eating in Israel can be a celebration of the vitality of Jewish life and culture in our homeland. It can be a celebration of the ingathering of the exiles: Iraqi kubbe soup is served next to Georgian khachapuri, followed by Bulgarian burekas. Israel’s thriving cuisine is an example of the land’s role in our Jewish identity and of what possibilities we can achieve. 

Someone recently tried to explain to me why the tomatoes in Israel are the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes in the world: something to do with sugar infused in the fields. And indeed, we should celebrate the kind of agricultural innovation that enables the desert to bloom. But Israeli tomatoes don’t taste so good only because of agricultural processes. They taste good because they are ours, grown by our hands, on our land. 

Rabbi Aryeh Markman
Executive director, Aish LA

Why is it necessary to tell me to bless God when I am satisfied? Rather, when my bank account is overdrawn I shouldn’t forget to bless God!

The Torah commands us to bless God after eating a specific quantity of bread. The Talmud says God shows His Jewish nation favoritism because its inhabitants took it upon themselves to bless Him, even if they eat a much smaller quantity. Less than the size of a piece of bread they were fed daily on a starvation diet in Auschwitz. 

The word Jew derives from the name Yehuda, which in Hebrew means “one given more than one’s fair share.” Our outlook from the earliest days of the patriarchs and matriarchs is that whatever we have is more than we deserve. Understand the power you have when you exercise this state of mind. You would feel satisfied and complete, no matter what you have. Imagine that! 

This attitude enables us to weather all storms. Last week we observed Tisha b’Av, the day set aside to mourn the Jewish tragedies throughout history. One lesson is there is always a silver lining no matter how abandoned we feel by God. He has given us what we need, even though we don’t realize it. It is with this outlook that we are able to find the strength and indefatigable optimism that has carried us through four millennia. This ideal, though so incredibly lofty, is our greatness. May it be within our reach to attain this inner strength.