Eikev: Tough Love

We don’t punish our clothes when we wash them, we restore their luster.
How do we tap into love and gratitude for God when our problems get intense?

Table for Five: Eikev

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

You shall know in your heart, that just as a man chastises his son, so does the Lord, your God, chastise you.

-Deut. 8:5

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi, Businessman, Mashpia

A loving father doesn’t short-sightedly spare the rod (Proverbs 18:24), for in disciplining his child he shapes him to live up to his highest potential. When a rebuke is given out of love, it may sting but it doesn’t really hurt.

How do we view our life when we experience a significant setback or loss? Do we view it as a chance occurrence, as bad luck, or as a message from the One Above? If we see it as coming from God, does it make us angry or humble? It really depends on our ongoing relationship with Him. If we relegate God to designated compartments in our lives, and we invite him in only for a periodic Shabbat meal or at special God-times and life-cycle events, then when a tragedy occurs we get angry with Him for breaking out of His allotted compartment and meddling in our lives.

We can tend to forget that God created us for a purpose, chose each of us for a special mission and wants to be part of our lives all the time and to be invited in — joyfully.

Remember how Tevyeh, the milkman of Fiddler on the Roof, spoke to God? With the warmth of a child complaining to his loving, devoted parent. We often worship God in our minds but do not bring Him into our hearts. God beseeches us, “You shall know with your heart” that I am your loving father and want your good even as I chastise you.

Eva Robbins, Co-rabbi, Congregation N’vay Shalom, Faculty AJRCA

From the opening of this Parshah, the interwoven relationship with HaShem is emphasized. We are reminded to observe and perform “everything that comes from the mouth of God.”

Though each one of us has a unique relationship with God, as reflected in the opening blessing of the Amidah, when we say “The God of Abraham, The God of Isaac, and The God of Jacob, (and in a non-Orthodox prayerbook, The God of Sarah, The God of Rebecca, The God of Rachel, and The God of Leah)” – each of our ancestors speaking from a different heart – we all call God Avinu, our Father (and same say Imanu, our Mother).

We all share this relationship for God as our parent, the ONE who loves us, has faith in us, and even will rebuke us. The most painful and yet critical gift in our learning to become the better part of who we are meant to be and live up to our potential are the critiques when we stray or make bad choices.

The people are reminded that consequences are an essential feature of veering off the path and as God’s children we are not only given love and acceptance but also the gift of consequences, the means by which we gain wisdom from our mistakes. Just as we care enough to guide and sometimes punish our own children with consequences for their behavior, so God cares enough about us to respond when we ignore our commitments and core responsibilities as partners in maintaining this world.

Aliza Lipkin, Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel

In Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, he discusses how one’s intuitions and emotions guide their reasoning. In other words, the heart instinctively informs the mind what one’s opinions and decisions should be. Therefore, many people remain adamant about their positions even after cogent opposing arguments have been presented. However, if one first conveys warmth and respect to their interlocutor then there is a much better chance those arguments will be accepted.

Moshe tells the nation that they should “know in their heart that just as a father chastises his son, so too the Lord chastises you.” The word ledaat, to know, is the term used to convey deep intimate knowledge. Moshe, in his great wisdom, understood that the only successful way to keep the nation following in God’s ways and observing His commandments is for them to “know in their hearts” that God loves and cares about them like a father loves his son. This knowledge of the heart will ensure continued devotion whether they understand the commandments or not and through good times and bad times.

God is the ultimate Father Who created us uniquely to be His cherished children. He gave us the Torah for our own good so that we can live the best life possible. Just as children know with every fiber of their being that their father loves them and would never mislead them, we must understand that Hashem chastises us only out of love and concern for our wellbeing.

Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Rav Beit Sefer of Pressman Academy, Director of STARS Addiction Recovery

Self-refinement and self-worth. That is how I understand this verse.

The Ibn Ezra understands the verse to mean to mean we follow God even though at times God punishes us severely. The Ramban understands this verse to mean that just as a parent loves a child and any sort of punishment is just and for the right reason, even more so does God demonstrate punishment through the ultimate veil of love.

In the world we live in now, this is a difficult concept on so many levels. Ultimately, we see many signs that point to #NoJudgment or #MyTruth and so on. This is beautiful in the sense that it allows those that have experienced difficulties to move through the process without shame or being gaslit.

Yet at the same time there are things that happen to each one of us that are difficult to ascertain and yet ultimately are for our benefit. In working with recovering addicts, those who have refined themselves through the process of recovery and ultimately carry the mantle of sobriety, understand that everything they went through got them to where they are today. Every misstep, slip up, and night in jail brought them to their own personal redemption. The process, difficulties and chastisement brought them to the person they have become. Without these struggles and consequences, they might be not sober or even dead, and certainly not the person they are today.

May we all see chastisement as a catalyst for growth.

Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO SANE; Author, Reaching New Heights series

The Talmud tells us, “What comes from the heart goes into the heart.” As our loving father, Hashem’s chastisement comes from His heart to ours; He guides us so that we will rectify our misdeeds. Is washing a dirty garment punishing the garment? No, it’s a means of restoring it to its former pristine state. Hashem’s chastisements, similarly, are the means to return us to a holier state.

Chassidus teaches that whatever gain we experience from sin can be rectified through some corresponding pain. For example, if we eat something we shouldn’t, we may experience physical pain in our mouth or stomach as a consequence. If we have experienced emotional pleasure from doing something we shouldn’t have, we may experience emotional pain, such as being insulted or humiliated.

With words of teshuvah, our body rectifies sinful actions; with regret, we rectify the emotional excitement we felt from those actions. Just as flossing our teeth should be part of our bedtime routine, “flossing our soul” should be as well. Reciting the Bedtime Shema before going to sleep provides both the opportunity and the procedure for examining our deeds and cleansing our soul. ​The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that teshuvah should be done in a spirit of joy, because we have been taught that our loving Father will forgive us. ​When we go to bed spiritually strong, we wake up spiritually strong–strong enough to receive Hashem’s chastisement, if necessary, because we ​know in our heart that it is an expression of His love.

With thanks to Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, Eva Robbins, Aliza Lipkin, Rabbi Chaim Tureff, and Miriam Yerushalmi

Image: Detail from The Punishment by Gabriel Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier ca. late 19th Century

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