Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Eqev 5760/2000

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Eqev 5760/ 19 August 2000

The Sovereignty of the Lord (Deut. 10:12-11:9)

Dr. Meshulam Margaliyot


Exodus is the book of the covenant at Sinai, and Deuteronomy is the book of the renewal of the covenant on the plains of Moab. Moses, acting as sole mediator between the Lord and Israel, was the agent through which the covenant was both first established and later renewed.

The gist of Deuteronomy can be summed up in one sentence: the Lord, on His part, upheld all the terms of the covenant, but the Israelites violated the covenant time and again. Due to Moses' early removal from the scene, the covenant needed to be renewed at that time. After the sin he committed at the Waters of Meribah (Num. 20:9-13), he was not permitted to complete his mission. It was decreed that he die on the eastern side of the Jordan River, before the Israelites cross the Jordan-- "for you shall not cross yonder Jordan" (Deut. 3:27). Thus Deuteronomy is also Moses' last will and testament in two senses-- both to the Israelites in his time and to the Jews throughout all generations.

The renewal of the covenant in Deuteronomy follows the standard format practiced in the ancient Near East for covenant treaties between nations. The senior partner in the covenant, that is, the Lord, recounts to the junior partner, the Israelites, the course of their mutual relations from the beginning of the covenant until the present. This is exactly what we find in Deuteronomy: Moses, who speaks upon the Lord's instructions (1:3), begins with an account of the conquest of the eastern Transjordan (2:3) with the Lord's help. In other words, thus far the Lord has upheld His side of the covenant regarding His promise to conquer the land before them; in contrast, right from the first chapter of Deuteronomy we are given a detailed account of the sins of the Israelites, their violations of the covenant and the refusal of their parents to enter the promised land.

On the occasion of the covenant's renewal Moses repeats its main articles, namely the Decalogue (Deut. 5:6-18, 21), and along with this he depicts how the Lord appeared in His majesty on Mount Sinai to mark the making of the original covenant (chapters 4-5). His purpose in all this is educational, so that in the future the Israelites will refrain from returning to idolatry in any form whatsoever. Due to the nature of the subject matter -- contrasting the deeds of the people with the deeds of the Lord -- it is presented by Moses (the most qualified person for presenting this complex and sensitive matter to the Israelites), in the form of an ongoing dialogue between the two partners to the covenant.

One more remark is necessary in order to understand this dialogue. Note that some of Moses' words are addressed in the singular, to the individual Israelite (11:1--"keep His charge", veshamarta mishmarto), yet others are addressed in the plural (11:8--"Keep, therefore, all the instruction", ushmartem et kol hammitzva). This is explained by the need to address both the individual and the society at large, the people of Israel all together. How can both audiences be addressed simultaneously? Only by constantly switching between the singular and the plural. For example (8:1-2): "You (sing.) shall faithfully observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you (pl.) today, that you (pl.) may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that the Lord promised ... Remember (sing.) the long way that the Lord your G-d has made you travel ... that He might test you (sing.) by hardships to learn what was in your heart." Similar alternations in number can be found in Deut. 8:19-20, 10:19-20, and many other places in Deuteronomy.

One of the more notable statements of Moses in Deuteronomy is the passage from chapter 10, verse 12 to chapter 11, verse 9. Its exceptional importance lies, among other things, in his statements about the sovereignty of G-d, (Hashem as Elokim), to which we shall now address ourselves.

"And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your G-d, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your G-d with all your heart and soul" (v. 12).

"And now, O Israel" -- after reviewing the grave sin of making the golden calf and recounting the Lord's wish to destroy Israel, and after describing his desperate attempt to obtain the Lord's forgiveness and to renew the covenantal relationship between them, Moses proceeds to discuss the characteristics of the two parties: on the one hand, the special godliness of the Lord (defined thrice, in verses 14, 17 and 21), and on the other hand, the necessary characteristics the Israelites must display for the covenant to continue, in fact, for it to exist at all. Therefore Moses addresses his words to "Israel" and not to the "children of Israel," because this passage, and others so addressed, are especially intended also for future generations. [1]

What, then, are the essential things demanded of Israel? As is stated in verse 12, to revere the Lord, to love Him, and to keep His commandments. What does it mean to love the Lord? This does not refer to platonic or mystic love. "Love" here is a patently contractual term meaning to uphold one's obligations, in the case at hand, on the part of Israel. The prototype for this term is the verse in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:6 or Deut. 5:10): "showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments," meaning that those who love Him are precisely those who keep His commandments (the word "and" signifying the definition of the preceding phrase). The same holds for Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your G-d," where the continuation enjoins: "Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day." [2]

The term "love" when used by the Lord to express His relationship towards Israel means that He upholds "His part of the bargain": "But it was because the Lord favored [lit. "loved"] you and kept the oath He made to your fathers [the oath of the covenant in Gen. 22:16-18, after the binding of Isaac] that the Lord freed you with a might hand ... from the power of Pharaoh ... Know, therefore, that only the Lord your G-d is G-d, the steadfast G-d who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments" (Deut. 7:8-9). According to the continuation (Deut. 7:10), those who hate Him (rendered in new JPS translation as "those who reject Him") are they who do not keep His commandments and thereby violate the covenant. [3]

What does it mean to revere the Lord (Heb. yir'ah)? This essentially does not mean to fear G-d, although fear is part of the sense of yir'ah, rather what we might call "reverence," which includes keeping one's covenantal obligations towards Him. One proof of this definition is found in the story of the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:12): "For now I know that you revere G-d, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me." Abraham was obligated by the covenantal relationship between him and G-d to trust in G-d's sovereignty and to be prepared to comply with His request, no matter how hard that may have been. After all, herein lay the test.

The first theological assertion in the passage we are discussing (Deut. 10:12-11:9) is: "Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Lord your G-d, the earth and all that is on it" (Deut. 10:14). In the ancient Near East the divinity of a god was assessed by his ability to create the world attributed to him. Only a god who was a creator was believed to be a true god; otherwise, his status was only that of a demi-god. [4] Therefore emphasis was placed on the Lord as Creator of the Universe, and for this reason the Torah commences with "In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth." "The heavens to their uttermost reaches" (lit.: the heavens of the heavens) signifies the entire cosmos (likewise in Neh. 9:6).

The second theological assertion is found in verse 17: "For the Lord your G-d is G-d supreme and Lord supreme" (lit. Elohei ha-Elohim, "G-d of the gods," and Adoha-adonim, "Lord of the lords"). The peoples of the ancient Near East believed in many gods, actually in entire pantheons headed by a single supreme god who was called the king of the gods. This expression remained in use even after the Lord was recognized as the sole G-d, hence the expression "G-d supreme" (lit. "G-d of the gods"). Elohim is the most frequently used name for G-d, whereas Adon (Lord) is less common. [5] Thus the phrase Elohei ha-Elohim va-Adonei ha-Adonim is well-rendered in English as "G-d supreme and Lord supreme." The continuation of the verse, "the great, the mighty and the awesome G-d," means the awesomely revered, not the dreadful or frightening, G-d.

Chapter 11 follows with a description of what the Israelites experienced in Egypt and in the wilderness. Four events in this passage shed light on the Lord's sovereignty:

1. Verse 3 -- the plagues in Egypt: each one is aimed at proving the supremacy of the Lord over the gods of Egypt, thus proving Him the absolute G-d. [6]

2. Verse 4 -- drowning the Egyptian army in the Red Sea: in the ancient Near East only a god who could rule the seas was considered a true G-d. Proof of this is supplied, inter alia, by the Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish. Therefore, also this deed of the Lord's is considered proof of His truly being G-d. [7]

3. Verse 5 -- protecting the Israelites in the wilderness. The description here is extremely terse, but is further elaborated and thoroughly explained in a similar context in Deuteronomy 29:1-5: "I led you through the wilderness forty years; the clothes on your back did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet; you had no bread to eat [rather, manna] and no wine or other intoxicant to drink -- that you might know that I the Lord am your G-d" (vv. 4-5).

4. Verse 6 -- the earth swallowing Datan and Abiram (Korah is not mentioned here), their households (=families) and their tents (clear proof is given in Numbers 16:28-33). This is the fourth event witnessed by the Israelites, also incontrovertible proof of the sovereignty of the Lord. Such a traumatic event as this they surely would never forget.

Both the theological premises in our passage and the proofs of G-d's sovereignty are thus in accord with covenantal practices in Biblical times. Some of the above incidents show G-d as a G-d of mercy, whereas other show Him as the G-d of strict judgment, to teach us that the Lord weighs each case justly. The Lord's response depends largely on the behavior of Israel, on whether or not they have been fulfilling the terms of the covenant: "to revere the Lord and love Him, keeping His commandments and laws".

[1] As in Deut. 1:1: "These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel"; 4:1: "And now, O Israel," as the preamble to the Theophany on Mount Sinai; 5:1: "Moses summoned all Israel," before the Decalogue; 6:4: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our G-d, the Lord alone"; 9:1: "Hear, O Israel!" preceding his description of the sin of the golden calf and Moses' petition for the Lord's forgiveness.

[2] Also see 11:13, and 10:15, below.

[3] Likewise Deut. 7:12-13 and 10:15.

[4] Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, second edition, 1951, pp. 7, 11.

[5] Cf. Ex. 23:17, 34:23. Also cf. the psalms that are hymns about the Lord's sovereignty: 135:5, 136:2-3, and the often-used expression: A-donai E-lohim.

[6] See the important and enlightening article of Meir Bar-Ilan on the plague, No. 272 of the Weekly Torah Commentary in Hebrew (appeared in 1999).

[7] Cf. under "Water" in Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, vol. 4, pp. 808-809.

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