In Parshat Ekev, God is described as “great, mighty and awesome.” This rare and descriptive language was important enough that it was included in the Amidah to be recited three times daily.
This moment stands out in the narrative, bringing our attention to its specificity. Before this, Moses shares the story of the Ten Commandments. It spares no detail, discussing the gritty and frustrating mistakes of the Golden Calf. Moses reminds the people of their mistakes, directly, and without equivocation. The Torah says, “Circumcise your hearts, and stiffen your necks no more” (Deuteronomy 10:16).
In the face of our errors, we are commanded not to be callous and that we can do better. To be “stiff necked” in the Torah is usually understood to mean stubborn. Rather, I believe that we’re being instructed to keep our eyes open and really look around. We are to expand our perspective and really see how our actions impact the world. To “stiffen your necks no more” teaches us to really see those around us.
Next, God is described through verbs: “Who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing them with food and clothing.”
We might ask, how could God be bribed? This language appears strange on its surface. Just as in the ancient world, so too today, those with power and money might believe that they can control everything, even God. But, we’re told, our God is a God who seeks justice, who pays attention to those who need the most help among us, and cannot be bought.
We are given a model of what a powerful figure should care about: the vulnerable. We are being taught that those with power have a responsibility. It defines this obligation clearly for us, meaning that we should provide the stranger with food and clothing. We are instructed to treat them with dignity.
The Torah is explicit, not allowing any misunderstanding of our duty: “You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt.” God loves the stranger and we are to do so as well. We are to be like God, as those who cannot be bought, who seek justice and fairness. We should those who protect the vulnerable.
The discussions in our country around immigration, including those who were separated from their children and their parents, need to be realigned. Are we acting with dignity? How we treat veterans and the elderly needs to be re-examined in our nation. Like God, are we upholding their cause?
God tells us clearly that we must remember our responsibilities. We are reminded this week to treat the vulnerable with dignity, to not allow ourselves to become callous, to act with fairness, and to make space in our hearts. PJC
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is the director of Derekh and Youth Tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association. Follow the Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter for the latest stories.