parshat eikev, deuteronomy 8-10
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on August 18th 2022. Much in this parsha relates to the correct and incorrect attitude. The Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels” (mamrim). They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is their fear. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading the Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels”. They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is Yira… translated as fear, awe or wonder. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought. So welcome to Attitude is Everything.
Well, welcome back rabbi from the holy city of Beer Sheva, it’s great to have you back.
Adam Mintz 01:08
It’s nice to be back in New York. And I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight about Eikev.
Geoffrey Stern 01:13
Absolutely. And next week, we’re going to do it at 12:00 Because you’re going to be in Paris
Adam Mintz 01:19
So we’ll see whether we can put a little bit of French Jewish history into it next week.
Geoffrey Stern 01:25
You should be called the Traveling Rabbi. But anyway, we are all traveling one portion one parsha at a time. And this week, we are in the portion of Eikev. And as I referred to it has a lot in it. But towards the end it says And now Oh, Israel in Deuteronomy 10: 12. What does your god demand of you? Only this, to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul? And the fear your God isכִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָ֠ה אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֜יךָ. And so, you know, this kind of reminds you of these great closing lines. I’m thinking of Micha, but where the prophets really end up saying, and this is it all in a nutshell. And the rabbi’s took something profound from this verse. In the Talmud, Berachot 33b, it says Rabbi Hannina said everything is in the hands of heaven, except for fear of Heaven. הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם man has freewill to serve God or not, as it is stated, and he quotes our verse. And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord? So why don’t we stop right here we’re going to have a great discussion about orientation and disposition and we’re going to touch upon all of those other verses that talk about maybe the characteristics of the Jewish people. But let’s stop here for a second and just talk about Yirat Shemayim. you know, it’s a very basic term you introduce religious parents to a friend in New York. He’s a real Yirat Shemayim… it’s kind of the tagline for a religious observant. Personality. What does Yirat Shemayim actually mean? Is it fear and trepidation?
Adam Mintz 03:35
It’s a good question. I like to translate it as awe what is all mean, if you meet, I don’t know, if you’re a basketball fan, and you meet LeBron James, you’re not afraid of LeBron James, but you’re in awe of Lebron James. That’s the way we’re supposed to think of God, we need to be in awe of God. Now there is some fear, because God has the ability to punish. But if you’re in awe of God, then you behave in a certain way. Like if you’re in the presence of the Queen of England, you’re going to behave in a certain way, because you’re in awe of the Queen of England. So, I prefer the word awe to fear.
Geoffrey Stern 04:16
So you mentioned about fear of punishment. And I think if you start to look at the traditional texts, you start to sense this tension between fear of outcomes and fear of God. So, in Pirkei Avot, it says Antigonus a man of Socho received [the oral tradition] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם So here it’s almost in a positive sense rather than fear of punishment, it’s looking for reward. But they seem to be all tied together. And you can’t but ignore this concept that I always heard in the Yeshiva, which is do something for its own sake do it L’shma. What is the tension here?
Adam Mintz 05:23
Well, you bring up the idea of doing it for its own sake. See, you also said this what you learned in the Yeshiva, you know, I see them and what you call the yeshiva people had a big dispute. Hasidim thought that you should do things. because they get you closer to God. You know, there’s a dispute about what time to daven, to pray in the morning. Yeshiva, people like to pray early, because that’s when the time the Rabbis say, That’s the proper time to pray. Hasidim, if you ever went to a Chabad shul, you know, they start at 10 o’clock in the morning, because they believe that it more it’s more important to pray in a way that will get you closer to God. And the way that will get you closer to God is if you get to sleep late, then you’ll be able to pray and get closer to God. So the idea of why you do something, are you afraid of punishment? Do you want to get closer to God? Or is it just l’shma? Just because is actually a fascinating discussion.
Geoffrey Stern 06:33
So I went to, I would consider Torah Vadaath a Hasidic Yeshiva. And so the explanation I heard for why the Hasidim can start services, even after the prescribed time of saying the Shema. They say if you go to a restaurant, and the food is mediocre, it better be served fast and on time. But if you go to a five star restaurant, you’ll excuse them if it’s a little late. That’s what they tell me. So it was the quality of the prayers, too. But I totally agree there is a tension, I wouldn’t say quality and quantity. But certainly when you talk about fear of God, it brings up this dialectic between what exactly are you afraid of? And what is your motivation? So Maimonides on his commentary on the Pirkei Avot that I just quoted, he kind of gets into this tension too. And he says, And nonetheless, he did not exempt us from fear of God. So he talks about how important it is to be serving God not for reward. And he said, even as you serve from love, do not discard fear completely. And may the fear of Heaven be upon you serve from love, serve from fear, he quotes the Talmud in Berachot. And then he adds, he says, you know, Love is a great pathway for the positive commandments. And fear is a great pathway for the negative commandments. And all the more so for the irrational commandments. So again, I think there’s this sense that even though our text in our pasuk that we just quoted seems to imply or at least the rabbi’s took it this way, because if you read the whole verse, it says, you know, revere God and then it says, work in his pathways love to serve your God with all your heart and soul. The thread that we’re following tonight, focused almost in isolation on this concept of fear. And the commentary seems to try to, I don’t know, square it with all the other intentions that are so important, and it almost comes out to be a backstop. And that’s why tangentially This Antigonus Ish Socho said, do it for the right reason, do it for the right reasons, but never give up on fear. So it almost seems like a default. A plan B if everything else fear fails, there’s always fear.
Adam Mintz 09:20
Well, let’s go back to the pasuk that you quoted. It says what is God asked from you? He only asks fear. So actually, that’s what I think they’re playing on. Why is it that he only asks fear? What about everything else? God doesn’t ask you to fast on Yom Kippur. God doesn’t ask you to keep the Shabbat. God doesn’t ask you to keep kosher. What do you mean all God asks you is for fear of God. So the Rabbis say everything’s in Heaven’s hand except for fear but that’s kind of a weak answer. I think that’s what we have to talk about. Why is fear qualitatively different than everything else.
Geoffrey Stern 10:02
So I love I love your focus. And I think really for the rest of our discussion, we are going to discuss the “only”. The total laser focus on this disposition. But before we do, I would like to bring this Yirah up into the more present. And I do want to say, because we’re going to be discussing this concept of a disposition, of an attitude as being so singular. I do want to bring Heschel into it, and Heschel writes in God in Search of man. He says, according to the Bible the principle religious virtue is yirah. What is the nature of yirah? The word has two meanings, fear and awe. There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come. Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition. Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. … So, we’re going to talk a lot about this isolated disposition. But clearly, I don’t think we need to be cornered into talking about fear, certainly not fear of punishment. You said you think of it as awe. I love even going a step further with Heschel to wonder. And of course, he wrote a whole book on All I ask for is Wonder, which is actually a re-statement of what “only” God asks from us. So I love this wonder. And I think if I bring anything and maybe the two of us, if we bring anything every week, it’s reading the verses again, and thinking about it with an element of wonder.
Adam Mintz 12:03
I mean, it’s so great, that really what we’re talking about here is just the definition of one word, which is yirah. And it’s on it’s wonder, and it’s fear. And it’s all of the above. But isn’t it so interesting? How we’re looking for the right English word?
Geoffrey Stern 12:18
Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s get back to this concept of intentionality and attitude and disposition. Once I focused on this verse, and I reread the portion, and I couldn’t help and I said this in the intro. Notice that for instance, in Deuteronomy 8, where God is kind of bringing back the whole history of the travels in the desert. And he said, and when you get to the land, and when things start to look good, do not say to yourselves, my own power, and the might of my own hand, have won this wealth for me. The Hebrew is כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה. And for those of you who know Hebrew, certainly rabbinic Hebrew. That’s a catchphrase. That’s a phrase for again, a disposition of someone who feels that the good that he has, is because of his doing, his merit. And that, again, it’s the opposite of hakarat haTov of recognizing that we are just a small little part and anything good that happens to us, we should be thankful to God to others to happenstance to circumstance for but certainly not proud. So it is a disposition. And it’s a powerful one, is it not?
Adam Mintz 13:46
Very powerful. I mean, that this idea is something that appeared in last week’s parsha. And something that appears again this week. And that’s the idea of humility, right? Don’t think that we’re so great. And I saw somebody today gave the explanation that the reason Moses goes through a whole kind of narrative at the beginning of this week’s parsha saying, you know, it was hard for you in the desert, and God took you out and God took care of you. Because what Moshe’s is most concerned about, …. you know, when you think about it, the Jews had it pretty easy over 40 years, it took 40 years, but miraculously, they survived. They were victorious. And every battle they fought, they won, you know, it’s very easy to get haughty to get arrogant based on that. And what Moshe says to them is, don’t do that. Don’t say כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י realize that we need to be grateful to God and to one another for the fact that we were so successful.
Geoffrey Stern 14:45
The next very famous attitudinal characteristic is in Deuteronomy 9, where God says, I see that this is a stiff necked people עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא It’s not talking about something that an orthopedic surgeon can solve or a good massage can cure. This is again, it’s a disposition. God is really through Moses or Moses on his own is really focused on the dispositions of the people and in these particular two first instances, they’re not all that positive. But to say that someone’s עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא is again, it appears throughout the Bible does it not
Adam Mintz 15:33
It all the time, that is a description of the Jews a stiff necked people, a stubborn people. Now stubborn and ungrateful are not exactly the same thing. I think that’s important. They’re not the same thing. Right? They’re two different criticisms.
Geoffrey Stern 15:51
And I think that’s why it’s so important. This is not a broken record today. I mean, the narrative, the soliloquy by Moses is focused on different negative dispositions, orientations, attitudes of the people that come up so often that you’ve got to recognize them, and they’re different. And then the third one is in Deuteronomy 9: 24. And it says, As long as I have known you, you have been defiant toward God, מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם עִם־ה’. So you know, again, this is slightly different than just stiff necked, stiff necked is stubborn. It’s different than כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י which is have ingratitude and to very quickly think that the world operates at your request. These are three, I love that you pointed out that they’re different because they I think, intentionally different.
Adam Mintz 16:51
I think that’s right. I mean, Moses has tried to say a lot of different things. And they’re variations on the same theme, because probably people who are stubborn, are ungrateful. That’s probably true. So they’re related to one another, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Moses is making a few different points, and מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם now the word my Mamrim, that they rebelled right Mei Meriva. The, the place where Moses hit the rock is called Mei Meriva. is where you rebelled. The idea again, if you’re stubborn, you rebel. If you rebel, then you’re ungrateful. They’re all related ideas.
Geoffrey Stern 17:36
So I think that what this raises for us, especially if we end up at the only thing I asked for you is to have this disposition, variously known as fear, or wonder, is that unlike so many other places in the Torah, this particular parsha is absolutely laser focused on you’ve got to have the right disposition. Because if you have the wrong disposition, it doesn’t matter how many of the commandments you keep, and how many of the prohibitions you keep away from your you’re not getting the message. And again, that gets back to what you focused on, which is the word “only”. This is כִּ֣י אִם. This is the holy grail. So I ended up at a yeshiva in Israel called Be’er Yaakov. And the head of it (Rav Shlomo Wolbe) was one of the last of the great mussarniks. The Mussar movement I might have mentioned it before, was started by Israel Salanter. And the whole focus was on understanding what Yirat hashem is understanding what the disposition is. And if you had to pick the textbook for the Mussar Movement, it would have been the one written by a name that we’ve heard before Luzzato. But not Shmuel David Luzzatto. Shadal. But Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal and it was called Melilat Yeshurim which is The Path of the Just and they were related. The Ramchal lived in the 1700s and Shadal lived in the 1800s. They were cousins once removed. And what he did in this book and I have the introduction or parts of the introduction in the notes on Sefaria., he says, you know, there are so many of us that study creation in nature, we study astronomy, mathematics, there are those of us who study the holy Torah among those occupy themselves with halakhic and analysis, others with Midrash he says, but there are few who devote thought to this study of fear, clinging in a The branches of piety. And then he goes on to say, and most of us who are educated think of those who have a focus on fear as almost superstitious. They’re saying psalms over and over again, they’re holding their prayer beads or twiddling their, their prayer shawls. And he really created a revolution, in the sense that he wanted to focus in a laser-like fashion in trying to understand: , we truly examine the matter, we will discover the truth and benefit ourselves. He quotes King Solomon, and it says, if you will seek it as silver and search for it as buried treasure, then you will understand the fear of God. And he ends by saying, and I’ll end quoting from him here… Why shouldn’t demand set aside for himself at least fixed times for this study, if he is forced for the rest of his time to turn to other studies or affairs? So what happened in the Mussar Yeshiva? We were talking in the pregame about us study partner at high school. The most unique thing about studying Mussar for half an hour a day in a mussar Yeshiva is you don’t do it with a study partner. You do it totally alone. And you read these books and you try to understand what is this disposition? And it really focuses on everything that we’ve been talking about till now. Which is yes, there is fear of punishment. And yes, there is fear that protects you from doing wrong and the bad things, but at the crux of it, is what is this only thing that we have? And I just find that so, so fascinating?
Adam Mintz 21:47
That is absolutely fascinating. And it’s interesting, you bring in the Mussar Yeshiva. You said you went to the last Mussar Yeshiva. What’s happened now is that everything is kind of been put together like a stew, like a cholent. The Hasidim are with the non-Hasidim, the Mussar with the non-Mussar there’s a little bit of everything. So that idea of Mussar, that idea what is fear of God, it’s still there, people still learn Mesilat Yisharim, which is an interesting thing. And you know what he says in Mesilat Yesharim in the introduction that you quote, is that this world is like an entryway to the world to come. That the whole purpose of this world is to get us ready for the world to come. So the purpose of this world is to fear God so that we can be ready for the world to come. It’s all God-centered. That idea that we’re focused on the World to Come means that everything is God-centered. It’s a very interesting notion, which really is found in the Mussar movement, but you don’t find it in traditional Jewish literature.
Geoffrey Stern 23:01
So, the only thing that I would, you know, kind of try to at least parse slightly differently, is because you can translate fear as awe, as Wonder, the what strikes me is and doesn’t have to apply to the world to come a world of punishment or reward. It just strikes me that what the Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was trying to do, was trying to, in a sense, create an interpretation or an outcome from our verse. If all that God asks of us to is to fear him, or hold him in awe, or to have this disposition of wonder, then shouldn’t we kind of focus on it a little more? And, to me, what is fascinating is less the content or the answers to that question, as it is the focus on the question itself, this laser like focus on the disposition, and I think the thinker that I’m going to bring in now, I’m not sure he has ever been brought up in the same breath, as Yisroel Salanter, but I’m talking now about a psychologist named Viktor Frankl who survived the Holocaust. And he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. And what he said in that is, yes, the primary motivational force for an individual is finding meaning in life, he found that if you had meaning, your chances of surviving were better. It didn’t matter if you were communist or a Bundist or a Chasid. As long as you had something to hold on to, you could find a reason to survive. But you know, he went further and he says life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. And that, I guess, is baked into that. But then he goes one step further, we have freedom to find meaning in what we do and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take, when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering, what he said is basically, that the most evil empire in the world could take anything away from you, but it can’t take away from you, your will to life or your will for meaning. And so what he took away from his interpretation, I believe, of the only thing you have is Yirat Hashem awe of God mystery of God is the only thing you have is attitude. And that’s why I named this week’s session, attitude is everything. You can take anything away from anybody, but not your attitude. And I think if you look then backwards, I really do believe you can start connecting the dots in the sense of not whether this person was religious or a philosopher or whatever. But ultimately, at the end of the day, what God could be at or Moses could be saying here is, you know what, at the end of the day, what you got is your attitude. Do I make too big of a leap here?
Adam Mintz 26:25
I love it. So, the I love it. So, let’s just take it, let’s parse it, as you said, you know, Viktor Frankl says, No one can take away your meaning, your self-definition of what’s important to you. And obviously, to a religious person, that meaning is awe of God, it doesn’t have to mean that. I don’t know if it meant that to Frankl. But the point is that it could mean that to people who are religious, they define their religion awe of God. So therefore, they would apply what Frankl said. And they would say, That’s right. You can’t take away my awe of God. It’s related since Frankl lived through the Holocaust, and he was talking about the Holocaust. It’s related to the people who went to the gas chambers with you know, saying Shema Yisrael, or saying Ani Ma’amin. They wanted to show that you can take away everything from me, even my life, but you can take away the meaning you can’t take away the Ani Ma’amin, you can’t take away the Shema. Which is exactly what Frankl, meant.
Geoffrey Stern 27:28
Absolutely, absolutely. And as a psychologist, the other paradigm shift that you see is he was less focused on what was out there. And more focused with what is in here, meaning in your mind. And I think that too, is an unbroken connect your dot type of trail back through the Mussarniks back through the Talmud that says, all you have is a year right Hashem, that the ultimate thing is that it’s in your it’s in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, you are the creator of it. And you can almost look at that verse and the Rabbis is saying הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, we haven’t really focused on that so much, which is to say, almost like God can do anything. God can predict anything. God can control anything. But God has a singular limitation, he cannot control what’s in your mind. And that aspect of it, I think, to me, is the mirror image of a Frankel’s saying that it is truly in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, it cannot be in any way diminished by outside circumstances. And I think that’s a it’s a total trail.
Adam Mintz 28:58
So I love it, I would just change the smallest little thing you know what I would say? What I would say is, I don’t know that God can’t do it. Maybe God doesn’t want to do it. Maybe the meaning your meaning needs to be defined by yourself. And that’s exactly what the Torah says that everything’s in the hands of God except for fear of God. That’s God’s choice. We believe that God can do anything, but God chooses not to do that. Isn’t that interesting?
Geoffrey Stern 29:34
I think so. And I think you would probably agree with me at the end of the day that we might be splitting hairs.
Adam Mintz 29:41
I’m sure we are but since you brought up Frankl I want to kind of fit Frankl in. Now he wasn’t intending to be fit. You know, he wasn’t thinking that he was going to be brought up in the Parsha class on the Parsha Eikev, but it’s interesting to think about him because Jewish thought is Jewish thought and if he gives us some insight into what the rabbi’s mean? They’re not that valuable.
Geoffrey Stern 30:03
So I’ll finish with one insight I had sitting in my first introductory to philosophy class and the founder of modern philosophy as many times thought of René Descartes, who started Cartesian philosophy, which is, I think, therefore, I am “cogito, ergo sum”. And what he said sitting in his room is, how does he know anything is actually out there. And I can’t do justice to that in two minutes, but you can understand how it was all in the mind. And so philosophy almost becomes the study of the mind. But what he based it on was a theologian. 100 years, 200 years earlier, named St. Anselm, and St. Anselm says, you know, you can’t imagine two plus two equal five. So not everything that you can imagine can be true, but you can imagine God we have this concept of God. And God is a being of which there is nothing greater. So, what is greater an imaginary God or a real God. And you can look at the notes, you could spend years studying this, whether it was a good proof or not a good proof. But my point is that the ontological proof for God made by St. Anselm said ultimately, it’s all in your mind. And it’s all your attitude. And I think that is where you and I are maybe splitting hairs, because at the end of the day, it’s the God that we imagine and the imagination that God gives us. And we do have these dispositions. Some of them are good, and some of them are great, and some of them are not so good. But I think what this week’s parsha makes us focus on is those things that only we have, and that are not in the hand of God. And those are our thoughts and our dispositions, and it’s a powerful poem, to the power of our own self realization.
Adam Mintz 32:08
I love it. I think this is great. This idea and Frankl and the idea of fear of God, and putting together a lot of things very much in the spirit of what Moshe tried to do in the parish of Eikev. So, thank you so much. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Looking forward to seeing you all next week from Paris be well, and Shabbat Shalom,
Geoffrey Stern 32:26
Shabbat Shalom, I’ll see you all next week. And make sure you listen to us on the podcast and if you like it, give us a review or a star and share it with your friends. So with that, I wish you a great parshat Eikev. Parshat Mevorachim, and I’ll see you all next week.
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