Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, Moshe says (Devarim 10:12-14):
And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your God ask of you? Only to revere Hashem your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep Hashem’s commandments and His statutes which I command you this day, for your good. Behold – to Hashem your God belongs the heaven and the highest heaven, the earth and all it contains.
The Maggid discusses the directive to revere and love Hashem. We are Hashem’s servants, exerting ourselves throughout our lifetime to perform the 613 mitzvos that He commanded us, along with various rabbinical enactments, and receiving reward in return. Now, a servant must do what his master tells him in order to receive his wage, but he is not obliged to revere and love his master. Why is it different between us and Hashem, that we are obliged not only to serve Him, but also to revere and love Him?
The Maggid answers through an analogy. Imagine a rich man with a houseful of servants. Suppose he finds a destitute person on the street, and hires him as an additional servant. Surely this servant is obliged to love his master, for he should recognize that the rich man hired him not out of need (for he had plenty of more capable servants already) but out of compassion for him. Now let us consider a modified version of this story. Suppose the rich man comes across an orphan boy who has no one to look after him, and he takes the boy into his home, treats him like a son, and says to him: “I will provide you food and fine clothing, and I will pay you ten gold pieces a month, and your duty will be to serve as a study companion to my son, studying with a tutor along with him.” If this boy has an understanding heart, he will realize that he owes great love to his master, for his master is giving him food, clothing, and a salary, and his only duty involves an activity that is really for his own good.  
This is how it is between us and Hashem. Hashem has taken us on as His servants, and commanded us to carry out certain activities He has specified in the Torah, i.e., mitzvos. But He gains no benefit from what we do, for the entire universe is His, and there is nothing we can give Him. As it is written (Iyov 35:7): “If you have been righteous, what have you given Him, or what could He take from your hand?” Rather, the mitzvos are really for our own good. All that Hashem asks of us, Moshe tells us, is to revere and love Him as we carry out His directives. And surely we can see, if we reflect on what Hashem gives us, that we owe Him this reverence and love. Moshe goes on to elaborate, noting that Hashem, as master of heaven and earth and all they contain, has no lack of servants. He already has myriads of servants much more eminent than we are: the ereilim, serafim, ofanim, and other celestial beings. It is thus clear that He took us on as His servants not out of need, but out of compassion for us.
Later in the parashah, we read the second paragraph of the Shema. This paragraph begins as follows (Devarim 11:13): “And it will be, if you earnestly pay heed to My mitzvos which I command you this day, to love Hashem your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.…” We can read this verse as calling on us to reflect earnestly on our foundation of our relationship with Hashem and gain an understanding of the true nature of this relationship, along the lines we have explained above. Mitzvos – they are not meant for Hashem’s benefit, for, as we explained, Hashem has no need to receive anything from us. Which I command you – even though Hashem has myriads of celestial beings ready to serve Him, nonetheless He has directed the mitzvos specifically to us, mortal man, creatures with a coarse physical body. This day – it is only in this world, during our limited earthly lifetime, that we are required to perform the mitzvos, while in the next world we receive eternal reward. If we reflect on these points, we will be automatically led to draw close to Hashem – to love Him so dearly that we are eager to serve Him personally, rather than just support others who serve Him. With all your heart (בכל לבבכם) – here the use of the term לבבכם rather than לבכם indicates that we are to serve Hashem with “both our hearts,” e.g. with both our good inclination and our evil inclination.
The evil inclination focuses on the pursuit of pleasure. It naturally tends to regard the mitzvos as chores that Hashem wants us to do for His benefit, and hence to be lackadaisical about carrying them out, saying to ourselves, “Not them and not their reward.” But if we lead our evil inclination to reflect carefully on the mitzvos, it will realize that they are in fact a kindness that Hashem extends to us, to bring us blessing and grant us eternal life in the next world. And when the evil inclination comes to grasp the true nature of the mitzvos, it will agree to perform them. It is just as in the analogy we presented above. There, the servant boy takes note of everything his master gives him – a place to stay, sumptuous food to eat, and a tutor to educate him – and he sees that the payment arrangement between him and his master should really go the other way around: Instead of the master paying him, he should be paying his master for all the benefits he provides him. Similarly, if we reflect carefully, we can see that we should be paying Hashem for arranging for us to partake of the sublimity of His holy Torah, with its mitzvos that bring blessing and eternal life.
A verse in Tehillim reflects this idea. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 116:12): “How can I repay Hashem for all the good He has bestowed upon me (מה אשיב לה' כל תגמולוהי עלי)?” Note that the term David uses for “good” is גמול, a term often used to mean “compensation.” Accordingly, on a homiletical level we can break up the verse into two parts – מה אשיב לה'? כל תגמולוהי עלי! – and read it as follows: “How can I repay Hashem? He gives me compensation for keeping the Torah, but in truth all this compensation should be going from me to Him!”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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