Parashas Eikev

Near the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah presents the second paragraph of the Shema. This paragraph describes the reward for obeying Hashem’s mitzvos and the punishment for worshipping other gods, and discusses the mitzvos of Torah study, tefillin, and mezuzah. The paragraph concludes (Devarim 11:21): “In order that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land which Hashem swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.” The Maggid asks about the meaning of measuring the days of our lives in terms of the days of heaven and earth, whose number we do not know. He builds on two verses:
1. Mishlei 10:27: “Fear of Hashem adds days, while the years of the wicked are shortened.”
2. Tehillim 50:4: “He calls on the heavens above and on the earth, that He may pass judgment on His people.”
In regard to the second verse, it is clear that heaven and earth do not literally act as judges or constables – rather, the verse is a metaphor. The Maggid explains its intent as follows. There are two factors that determine how long a person should live: the person’s physical constitution and the spiritual merit he has accrued through his conduct. One factor may dictate a short lifespan, while other dictates a longer one. Now, a person’s physical constitution is the concern of the earth, while his spiritual merit is the concern of heaven. When the psalmist speaks of Hashem calling on heaven and earth to join Him in passing judgment on a person, the intent is to say that Hashem considers both physical and spiritual factors.
A saintly man’s spiritual attainments can lead to a verdict in heaven that he live a longer lifespan than he naturally would have on the basis of his physical constitution. Conversely, a person can be physically very robust and fit to live many years, but be so wicked that a verdict is issued in heaven that his life be cut short, so that he does not degenerate further. It is in this vein that Shlomo HaMelech says that “fear of Hashem adds days, while the years of the wicked are shortened.” In regard to the latter, in particular, it is written (Tehillim 73:4): “For there are no pangs at their death, and their physical health sound.” Here, the psalmist is speaking of a person who dies in his physical prime due to spiritual degeneracy. The heavenly verdict can override the earthly verdict.
If a person firmly commits himself to raise his children in the Torah path and train them to act uprightly, a verdict is issued in heaven for him to live longer than his natural physical lifespan. He is granted added days, for he needs the extra time to inculcate Torah values into his children to the full extent that he wishes. And so the Torah says: “And you shall teach them [the Torah’s words] to your children … in order that your days may be multiplied … as the days of the heavens above the earth.” When a person dedicates himself to teaching his children Torah, he receives from heaven an added allotment of days, above and beyond those accorded to him by earthly factors.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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