Parshat Ekev: The road to happiness

In only a few words, Moshe Rabbeinu summarizes the central point of the will of G-d, who took Am Yisrael out of Egypt and is about to bequeath to them the Land of Israel.

By SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
July 25, 2013 22:22
4 minute read.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz

Shmuel Rabinowitz 150. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In this week’s Torah portion, we continue to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu’s parting speech, a speech that continues throughout most of the book of Deuteronomy, and which contains a wide variety of commandments and good advice for the nation about to enter its land and establish its country.

In only a few words, Moshe Rabbeinu summarizes the central point of the will of G-d, who took Am Yisrael out of Egypt and is about to bequeath to them the Land of Israel.

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Moshe says as follows, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep for your good the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command you this day.” (Deuteronomy 10, 12-13) Anyone who reads these verses is surprised.

At the beginning of his words, Moshe presents the will of G-d as something minor, matter-of-fact, as it seems from the words “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your G-d require of you...” But immediately, Moshe begins to detail a list of demands that are not easy and not simple; the kind that even a person who tries his whole life to keep the Torah’s commandments will face great difficulty in keeping: to fear the Lord your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep for your good the commandments of the Lord.

And the reader asks himself: Is this the “easy” thing that G-d requests? But this is hard work over a person’s entire life! The person who solved this question was Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the Ramban, one of the greatest Torah commentators in Spain about 800 years ago) who read these verses in a new way, illuminating the eyes of the reader seeking to understand Moshe Rabbeinu’s intentions. The Ramban understood the verses as follows: “What does the Lord your G-d ask of you – taken to mean “for your good” – meaning: He does not ask of you anything for His own needs, but for your needs, simply everything is for your happiness.”

The Ramban explains what is written saying that everything G-d wants of you, man, is one thing alone: that you should be happy! That’s it. This is all that G-d wants.

He needs nothing from you. He does not lack anything which you can provide Him.

The purpose of everything He instructs you to do is just that, and it is amazingly similar to the basic aspiration of every person around the world. This similarity is not coincidental. The Torah teaches us that the desires and aspirations of man were planted in his heart by G-d. And what is this lofty purpose? That we be happy.

But G-d does not just express “goodwill” to benefit every person. He also shows the way in which man should go to reach happiness, and that way is what Moshe details at length: to fear the Lord your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep for your good the commandments of the Lord.

This list is not one of demands; it is not a list of instructions. It is a list of guiding pieces of advice on how man can attain happiness – through faith, love of G-d, walking in His ways, and keeping the commandments.

This idea which the Ramban reveals to us was already written in the book The Zohar which terms the commandments of the Torah as “advice.”

Advice for whom? For us, for every person who wishes to advance in his life, to improve it and be a happy person.

Looking at the Torah and its commandments as a list of pieces of advice and guidance on how man can realize great aspiration to be happy is a perspective that provides man with the motivation to keep the commandments even when they don’t come easily. This perspective pushes man to learn and go deeper into the meaning of every commandment. It is a loving perspective that provides man with the sense that someone is lighting the path to the mountaintop for him. It provides the strength to face difficulties and problems that sometimes seem insurmountable.

The Holy One, blessed be He, wants what is best for us gave us the path for reaching a life of happiness and tranquility.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.


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