Parashat Ekev: A different kind of theology

God’s strength and power are inextricably connected to His humility, and to the moral values of compassion, justice, and benefiting others.

Goodness rules the world. (photo credit: PIKREPO)
Goodness rules the world.
(photo credit: PIKREPO)
This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, is part of Moses’s long speech given before the nation only days before he parted from them. In this speech, Moses transitions from a historical survey of their 40 years of wandering through the desert to directives and guidance on how the people should build their national and private lives in the land they are about to enter, the Promised Land, the Land of Israel.
Here are his words: “Behold, to the Lord your God belong the heavens and the heavens of the heavens, the earth and all that is on it.... For the Lord your God is God of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great, mighty and awesome God, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe. He executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and He loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing. You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:14-19).
At first reading, it looks like Moses is jumping from one topic to another. First, he talks about the infinite and inconceivable power of God, and then he moves on to talk about God acting in accordance with moral values that obligate us – the Jewish nation – as well.
The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yohanan discerned the connection between these two topics. “Rabbi Yohanan said: Wherever you find a reference in the Bible to the might of the Holy One, blessed be He, you also find a reference to His humility. Evidence of this is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings. It is written in the Torah: ‘For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords,’ and it is written immediately afterward: ‘He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow’” (Megillah 31).
Rabbi Yohanan sees this principle as a phenomenon that repeats itself. God’s strength and power are inextricably connected to His humility, and to the moral values of compassion, justice, and benefiting others.
This principle reflects a theological concept that characterizes Jewish faith: Reality is not happenstance; occurrences are not coincidental, neither the global ones nor the national or personal ones. What happens in the world is for a reason, and the reason is good. The power that runs reality is not apathetic to moral issues. Goodness rules, and no control is given to any purpose other than justice.
We can see a beautiful expression of this concept in the prayer “Nishmat kol hai” (The soul of every living thing), which is recited during the Shacharit service on Shabbat. In this prayer, we express amazement about God’s power and greatness. “Who is like You, O God?” And here, a person is likely to ask himself: What amazes me? What excites my spirit?
Let’s look at the way the prayer is phrased: “Who is like You, O God, Who delivers the poor from one that is too strong for him, the poor and the defenseless from one who would rob him.” And again the cry of wonder: “Who is like You, who is equal to You, and who can be compared to You, O great, strong and awesome God, God Most High, the Owner of heaven and earth?!”
Two connected exclamations. One exclaims wonder about morality and compassion, and the other about God’s power. Judaism believes that these two exclamations go together: Goodness rules the world.
The practical implication of this theological perspective is far-reaching. Firstly, the understanding that power and control should not be disconnected from morality. Secondly, the belief that reality is striving for, and marching toward, moral goodness, and is providing man with hope and trust in good deeds. Indeed, justice does have a chance of winning!
Judaism believes that theology is not research of the divine, but a message that is directed to humanity. Faith calls upon us to act in a certain way. “Love the stranger,” “Love your fellow as yourself” – these are the implications of the commandment “And you shall love God, your God.”!

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.