Parashat Ekev Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

by Rabbi Shelton Donnell

Everyone admires the entrepreneur, the one who sees an opening of opportunity before anyone else and dives right in, going for the brass ring of success.  Our society crowns its achievers and its risk-takers with material rewards and often celebrity status as well.  That is not to say that we do not value hard work and diligence as a means to achieving success but, often, our means of measuring success are calculated in material terms, aren’t they?  A person’s value is generally determined by how much she makes or what kind of job he has or what house they live in.

There is nothing wrong with wealth or material well-being.  Judaism holds that material reward is, indeed, a blessing.  But, how one acquires wealth, and what one does with one’s material assets determines whether one’s posessions are a source of blessing or not.  This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, addresses this basic Jewish value:

For Adonai your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams, springs and water welling up from the depths in valleys and on hillsides. It is a land of wheat and barley, grapevines, fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food in abundance and lack nothing in it; a land where the stones contain iron and the hills can be mined for copper. So you will eat and be satisfied, and you will bless Adonai your God for the good land he has given you. …Otherwise, after you have eaten and are satisfied, built fine houses and lived in them, and increased your herds, flocks, silver, gold and everything else you own, you will become proud-hearted, forgetting Adonai your God …you will think to yourself, ‘My own power and the strength of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ (Deut. 8:7-17)

It is good to have wealth, but we should never lose sight of the fact that whatever we have does not really belong to us.  The Psalmist taught, “The earth is Adonai’s, with all that is in it, the world and those who live there;” (Ps. 24:1).  Everything that we possess is given to us in trust to use wisely and well.  Moreover, if what we have is a blessing from God then we should strive to use our resources to create blessing in our world.  Anyone who says, “What is mine is mine and I can do whatever I want with it,” is not speaking from a Jewish perspective.  That is why the concept of Tzedakah is so fundamental in Judaism.

Tzedakah is not like charity.  Charity derives from a Latin root meaning dear or expensive and refers to the attitude of kindness and understanding towards others, while Tzedakah comes from the Hebrew root meaning righteousness or doing the right thing.  While these concepts are not mutually exclusive, in Judaism we are called upon to use our wealth to benefit the community, the poor and the disenfranchised (the stranger) because it is the right thing to do and because our wealth does not really “belong” to us in the first place.

With the right perspective on our part, God’s investment in us through the gifts bestowed upon us, will bear dividends of blessing for us and for our families to enjoy but also for the benefit of our community and the world as well.  This is our opportunity to become entrepreneurs of goodness and holiness.


One Response to Parashat Ekev Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

  1. Elizabeth Victoria morrow July 24, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    There seems to be a misunderstanding of what Tzedakah means and what the Psalmist meant.

    Wealth, or the material and financial situation better than others, is usually the result of one’s work, sacrifices and self-discipline. Together with our gratitude to Adonai for making us capable of ‘building and acquiring’ wealth with our own hands and minds, this is His Blessing bestowed upon us. From one human being to another: “what I have is mine and I’ll do whatever I want”, this IS correct! This is and must be our individual and personal freedom to do what we want with our possessions and our profit, as a result of our hard work that we do to improve or better our lives materially and plainly the remuneration of our own talents, gifts and desires put to work!

    Yes, it is good to share with others in need but bad to be obligated to share with others who are lazy or ill themselves to be incapable of being productive and it is easier for them to panhandler.

    That there are poor people due to misfortune, lack of education and skills or to bad governments which ignore their needs, yes, these we must help as our Tzedakah and our mitvah opportunity towards others is there, no need to create poverty or believe someone is poor so we can have someone to give our share and fulfill a mitvah.

    What I find it wrong is when people do Tzedakah or a mitzva to feel good and not for the benefit of the really needy one. This is selfish and don’t think it is pleasing to Adonai’s eyes. To share from our hearts our wealth with others inside or outside a community once the needs of our family and ours are covered, is to be generous, kind and giving, making our mitzvoh real, accomplished and fulfilled. I do believe this is rewarded by God in His own ways and back to us in the ways that He deems it is necessary for us, this is different from having our wants and desires fulfilled.

    Tzedakah, to me, doesn’t mean to share wealth or fix (to be realistic) temporarily a financial or physical situation of a person. Tzedakah strikes me to do right in a further way. It means to me “Justice – Tzedek” and Tzedakah means to bring justice to others for the benefit of the oppressed, the victim, the abused, and how must it be done? By taking away the rights of their oppressors and abusers, punishing their misconduct or ignoring negligent and money seeking lawsuits. By cracking down the usage of bad drugs at music concerts and public gatherings. By forming/creating laws that listen to the people and that they don’t go by what they see with their eyes only and place judgement in such a blind manner that corrupts and cheaters get away with murder; and, morals get ignored because the smart alleys are considered cool and wiser than their counterparts who suffer their cruelty and abusiveness due to their double lives.

    Morals, did I say morals? Does anybody in this world remember them?

    Don’t distort Judaism to fill financial needs or please others, it is ok to say to mankind what I have belongs to me and I’ll do whatever I want with it. Am referring to words spoken by an individual without immediate responsibilities – a single person – not a man who is a husband and/or a father. We must always be thankful to Adonai for what we have and own. He allows us to live well by blessing the product of our own hands and minds and helping us with our work with health primarily and means. Yes, our possessions or wealth belongs to Him also because with one earthquake, one fire, one flood, one war and everything is gone and taken away from us.