By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Expressing appreciation is central to the proper social workings of
families and society. As an interdependent, integrated entity, we must
be able to communicate our understanding of the value imparted when we
are given a gift, a helping hand, a bit of advice, a word of
encouragement, or a listening ear.
This is in contrast to the animal world where interdependency is a
by-product of nature and instinct. The lion's den, the ant hill, or the
beehive function as perfectly effective societies because Hashem has
ordered them to be so. The worker bee, ant, or lioness, do their jobs
because the law of the jungle dictates such behavior, whether or not
they are acknowledged and thanked for doing so.
This is not so with the human species. We are told that "if not for the
fear of government (meaning: potential societal punishment) man would
swallow alive his fellow man". Humankind must be taught and trained in
the necessary decencies of social expectations and behaviors.
The most basic unit of human interaction is the parent - child
relationship. It is essential for the continuity of the human race and
framed in basic, instinctual feelings. A mother and father are
protective of their child far beyond the basic necessities for survival.
In many instances, the parent cares and protects far beyond what the
child's behavior would dictate.
In such instances, parents must be trained, against their instinctual
tendencies, to show "tough love" for their more difficult and wayward
children. However; these same feelings of love and protection are not
instinctual in the child - parent relationship.
Children are easily able to ignore the primacy that parents have, and
should continue to have, in their lives. Under the rationalized guise of
independence and individual
expression, children can be exceptionally hurtful and uncaring toward
their parents. They too must be trained to understand the value imparted
to them from parents who raised them, cared for them, stood beside and
behind them, and imparted to them the ultimate gift of life. They too
must be trained to express their appreciation for all that the parents
have gifted to them.
In last week's Parsha, Moshe reviews the Ten Commandments. As everyone
knows, the fifth commandment is to "honor one's father and mother". The
inclusion of this law on the Luchos shows the importance that Hashem
placed upon this fundamental relationship, as well as underscoring that
such a relationship is not necessarily instinctual. (e.g. the Torah does
not command us to sleep, breathe, or eat.)
The relationship between the Bnai Yisroel and Hashem is often described
as that of a parent to a child and a child to a parent. It reflects the
total dependency that a child has upon his parent and the total
dependency that the nation has upon Hashem. The natural tendency of the
child and the nation is to deny their dependency upon the parental
figure. However, as the child must be taught to understand the primacy
of the parent in his life, so too must the nation be taught to
understand the primacy of G-d in their lives.
Expressing appreciation begins with understanding. Our expectations for
appreciation are far greater when relating to a maturing or adult child
than with a younger child. The maturing child has the ability to
understand how important parents are, and to recognize the fundamental
gift of life that they have imparted. The same is true for the Bnai
Yisroel. Hashem had a far greater expectation that we would express our
appreciation (through our adherence to the Torah) after we had matured
than when we were just starting out.
The 40 years in the desert were our years of national maturation. The
daily manifestations of G-d's caring in the setting of the desert
emphasized our total dependency upon Hashem. This assaulted our natural
tendency toward independence and forced us to acknowledge our dependency
and our responsibility to express appreciation. As Moshe said good-bye
to his beloved nation, he explained to them their fundamental dependency
upon G-d, and forewarned them about their tendency to deny it.
Pasuk 17, Chapter 9 in this week's Parsha states, "...be careful that
you do not say to yourself, "It was my own strength and personal power that
brought me all this prosperity". Moshe forewarned us that our personal
and national downfall will come about when we do not give Hashem His due
Regardless of personal education, training, initiative, ingenuity,
national unity, effort, military might and intelligence, our successes
are the direct result of Hashem's ongoing direction and intervention,
and it is incumbent upon us to express that understanding and
As the Bnai Yisroel were poised to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe
directed their attention to the realities of being the "Chosen People"
living in the "Promised Land". The bottom line was cause and effect,
action and reaction. As pointed out, the experience of the desert
taught them basic dependency upon G-d. This was most evident with the
Mana that fell daily from heaven and in the fact that their shoes and
clothing hadn't worn out.
These experiences were the foundation for the nation having absolute
confidence and faith in Hashem regarding the future battles for the
Land. However, His protection came with a price tag: expressing their
appreciation by following His Torah and His Mitzvot, and removing from
Eretz Yisroel all idolatrous practices and influence. The Land was and
is a special place where the symbiotic relationship between G-d, Land,
and People is manifest in the dirt, stones, fruit, and rainfall.
By keeping the ways of Hashem, all of nature will serve us faithfully.
Children will be born whole and healthy; the farms will provide for a
strong economy; our cattle herds will grow and prosper; and the Land
will flow with milk and honey. We will be victorious in battle and our
military successes must be attributed to G-d, and only G-d.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that we merited our successes. If the
past was any indication of the future, then we were destined to sin and
lose faith, and to "test" G-d. G-d will then want to punish us; yet,
His promise to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, will guarantee His
forgiveness. Hashem simply wants us to show our understanding and
appreciation by listening to His laws and reaping the benefits of His
The second paragraph of Shema, which is recorded in the sixth Aliya,
captures the essence of Parshas Ekev. A closer look at this paragraph,
and the entire concept of cause and effect, suggests that the Eretz
Yisroel is ruled by a system more intimate than reward and punishment.
We don't just receive reward and punishment. As judiciously mandated
through our actions, we put into effect a consequence that is as natural
to the workings of the universe as nature itself. Through keeping the
Torah we empower a system to function, as intended, in the service of
humankind. If we do not fuel the system through our adherence to
Halacha, then the natural system grinds to a halt resulting in famine
and destruction. Moshe presented these conditions to the Bnai Yisroel
as they prepared to occupy the land. Appreciation through devotion,
commitment, and faith is the only thing that G-d asks in payment for His
love and protection.
"...what does Hashem want of you? Only that you remain in awe of G-d,
that you follow all His paths, love Him, and serve Him with all your
heart and all your soul." (10:12)
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.