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Rumination #43: A true disciple of Messiah knows that there is something special about the Land of Israel… and it isn't about all the gaudy "Jesus walked here" myths.

The "Holy Land" is a place of exploitation. From the Fourth Century on there have been countless shams that prey on hapless pilgrims who don't know the first thing about the Jewish Messiah, much less about biblical history. Their ignorance is not to be condemned; it is merely more evidence of nearly two millennia of "Jesus" myths foisted upon sincere men by less sincere men.

To be sure, there are valid and precious connections between Messiah, His first disciples, and the Land of Israel… but they are not to be found inside the gaudy walls of the "Church of [fill in the blank]" - so save your tour dollars.

For a Messianic connection, all the true follower needs to see is the Sea of Galilee, the Arbel cliffs, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem to appreciate the historicity of the Bible. But that is not what makes the Land special. As good as it might be to "walk where Yeshua walked" that is not the draw that the Land has to His true followers. There is something else. Something that, without the Scriptures, we would find inexplicable.

To the eye, it is a reasonably pleasant land, but less so than the highlands of Scotland, and the lowlands of the Atlantic coast. To the senses, it is appealing, but less so than the streets of Paris or Florence.

And yet, our hearts leap at the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of it.

It is because He is there. It is because He has etched upon it His eternal Name. To all of us that know the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is our home and it eternally matters because it matters to our G-d.

For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which HaShem your G-d cares; the eyes of HaShem your G-d are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.
Deuteronomy 11:10-12

Parashat Ekev - 'On the Heel' (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

This week's parasha is named for the second word of the first verse.

V'hayah ekev tishm'un, et hamishpatim ha'eleh, ush'martem va'asitem, otam--v'shamar hashem elokeicha l'cha, et-hab'rit v'et-hachesed, asher nishba, la'avoteicha

Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that HaShem your G-d will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.
Deuteronomy 7:12

Normally in English the first two words of 7:12 [v'hayah ekev] are translated something akin to, "Then it shall come to pass, because." Ekev is the root for the name Ya'akov [Jacob]. It means quite literally, "heel." In Deuteronomy 7:12, it is a word describing cause and effect. The "effect" is to leave a footprint as it were.

So what is the cause? It is this beloved, to sh'ma, to hear and obey the Voice of the Almighty. When we sh'ma the Holy One, blessed is He, there is an outcome. Here is what we are told in 7:12-13:

Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that HaShem your G-d will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.
Deuteronomy 7:12-13

Now, you might say to yourself, "That sounds a lot like earning G-d's covenant, and His love." If you did, you would be quite wrong, and you would miss the entire point of this week's portion. But let me remind you of the words of the Master,

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.
John 14:21

Yeshua was not speaking of some sort of precondition of love (or covenant) with us. Rather, both of these passages are speaking of something else: a relationship. Let me explain.

Just a few verses before this week's portion, we are told,

HaShem did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because HaShem loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, HaShem has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8

Clearly, G-d's love and His choice emanates from Himself and His promises alone. The cause and effect of sh'ma-ing HaShem is not a matter of merit.

Throughout this week's portion, we read the repeated phrase, "in the land." This always points to the covenant made with Abraham and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob. There is something about the place we call "The Land of Israel." We will deal with this more in depth in next week's portion, but for now we do need to understand something about the concept of a "Promised Land." In our modern way of thinking, most of our attention is given to when. We speak of the blessings of G-d coming to us in terms of time. The hope of many is for when they "get to Heaven." We speak to each other of a day when we will experience the blessings of our salvation (as if it is yet future!). This is especially true when we find ourselves in trials and unpleasant circumstances.

Don't misunderstand, when does matter (get a copy of Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath for great view of the importance of when); but often we negate the where idea. Clearly, G-d is Master over all time and space; but there seems to be a lot of emphasis on where in the Torah. In this week's portion (and next week's), there is a lot of where. When we consider the Land and the promise made to Abraham we are taken all the way back to Ur, when G-d first called Abraham. The Land is one of the defining aspects of G-d's calling of Abraham.

There is a lot about the Land that we have discounted in the past. It is why that for much of the past 2,000 years, Christianity has sought to spiritualize these very passages. That is, until a little over sixty years ago. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was reborn in the Land. Suddenly, a lot of Bible-believing people woke up to the idea that there is something about the Land that they may have overlooked. It is why today that some of the most staunch allies that the State of Israel has are Evangelical Christians.

Where does matter.

It is why millions of Gentiles have wept as they watched Israel surrender and withdraw from so-called "occupied territories." We all understand the significance of the connection between the Land and the People of Israel. It has to do with G-d's promises - but there is more. It has to do primarily with the Who. It is easy at times to be sidetracked by peripheral things, and in the midst of taking the Land and leaving their footprints (heel prints) all over the Land, it might be easy to forget Who had given it to them, and why. Which brings me all the way back to my point about Parashat Ekev - relationship. It is not about relationship with the Land. It is about being where G-d Himself is. It is about relationship with Him.

HaShem your G-d, the great and awesome G-d, is among you.
Deuteronomy 7:21b

Both the cause and the effect in this week's portion are the same: HaShem Himself. He loves us, we respond, and loving Him, we obey. Relationship. When we get sidetracked from that, we will do well to listen to these instructions:

Beware that you do not forget HaShem your G-d by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest - when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget HaShem your G-d Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; Who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; Who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end - then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.'

And you shall remember HaShem your G-d, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deuteronomy 8:11-18

Remember, as you live obediently to HaShem, it is not an end unto itself. As you sh'ma the Master, remember it is for love. He is to be the center of all we do. Our obedience to Him brings Him glory when we allow it to come from our love for Him.

Our family prays "HaMazon" [the traditional prayer after a meal] after we eat. It is from this week's Scripture portion that the command to thank the Almighty after eating comes.

Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech ha-Olam,
Hazan et ha olam kulo, b'tuvo, b'chen, b'chesed uv'rachamim.
Hu noten lechem l'chol basar, ki l'olam chas'do.
Uv'tuvo ha gadol, tamid lo chaser lanu v'al yech'sar lanu mazon l'olam vaed. Ba'avur Sh'mo ha Gadol, ki hu El zan um'far'nes lakol,
Umetiv lakol umechin mazon l'chol bri-yotav asher bara.
Baruch Atah HaShem, Hazan et ha kol.

Blessed are You HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe,
Who nourishes the whole world, in His goodness, with grace, with kindness and with mercy. He gives bread to every flesh, for His kindness is everlasting. And by His great goodness, we never lacked, and may we never lack food forever and ever. For the sake of His Great Name, for He is a nourishing and providing G-d for all. And gracious for all, and He prepares food for all of His creatures which He created. Blessed are You HaShem, Who nourishes all.

Cause and effect. Ekev.

As for the where, we will get back to that next week. As we have seen - it does matter.

Haftarat Ekev - 'On the heel' (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

This week's haftarah is the second in the series of seven haftarot of consolation that are read between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashana. These verses of consolation are HaShem's response to Israel's mournful cries of repentance. It is passages like these that so many toss into the trash heap along with the Torah. It upsets their neat and careful theology. HaShem is not concerned with man's theology. He keeps His Word. He fulfills His promises. Comfort for Israel is coming...

But Zion said, "HaShem has forsaken me, and my L-rd has forgotten me." "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me... as I live," says HaShem.
Isaiah 49:14-16; 18b

Even Israel has doubted her exalted place as the congregation of HaShem. Who wouldn't? We were scattered to the four corners of the earth. The Holy Temple was destroyed. We were hunted like animals and millions of us were slaughtered by Romans, Muslims, Nazis, and so-called Christians. We have had hateful words shouted at us by so-called Christians for 1,900 years. We were told that we were despised and rejected by HaShem - because we had rejected and murdered Christ. We were told that we were replaced by "the church" - G-d's new chosen people. We were told that our holy Scriptures were superseded by New Scriptures - that the covenant by which HaShem had betrothed Himself to us was an "Old Covenant" and that a "New Covenant" had superseded it - and that this "New Covenant" freed all participants from the burden of "the Law." Our holy days became days for some to mock us and even kill us.

No wonder we said, "HaShem has forsaken me, and my L-rd has forgotten me." It seems that we deserved it...

And yet, HaShem is compassionate and forgiving. He remembers not our sin, but His promises. Grace calls to us: See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands...

In a reversal of roles, our oppressors will become those destroyed by our Avenger. As He applies His grace to us, He will destroy those who have persecuted us. This gives us no pleasure, but only awe for the One who promised our father Abraham: I will bless those that bless you, I will curse those who curse you... (Genesis 12:3a).

But thus says HaShem: "Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible be delivered; for I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children. I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine. All flesh shall know that I, HaShem, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob."
Isaiah 46:25-26

Yes, all flesh will know that HaShem is our Savior, Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

HaShem Moshiecha v'Go'alecha Avir Yaakov.

Embedded in these titles is our Master's Name and His title: Yeshua the Redeemer ("Moshiecha" [Our Savior] shares the same root as the root for "Yeshua").

Our consolation is not about us, it all about Him. Praise His Name, He has not forgotten us!

Prayer Focus for Ekev - "V'va l'Tzion Goel " [A Redeemer shall come to Zion]

The Mincha prayer [afternoon] includes V'va l'Tzion Goel [A redeemer shall come to Zion]. It includes portions from Isaiah and the Psalms. Toward the end of this prayer, are phrases used throughout the Siddur regarding HaShem's forgiveness and compassion. This week's focus is the end of this prayer.

HaShem - His Kingdom is established forever and ever.
HaShem, G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our forefathers, may You preserve this forever as the realization of the thoughts in Your people's heart, and may You direct their heart to You.
He, the Merciful One, is forgiving of iniquity and does not destroy; frequently He withdraws His anger,
not arousing His entire rage.
For You, my L-rd, are good and forgiving,
and abundantly kind to all who call upon You.
Your righteousness remains righteous forever, and Your Torah is truth. Grant truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham,
as You swore to our forefathers from ancient times.
Blessed is my L-rd for every single day,
He burdens us with blessings, the G-d of our salvation, Selah.
HaShem, Master of Legions,
praiseworthy is the man who trusts in You.
HaShem save! May the King answer us on the day we call.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
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