We read in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25), Take care lest you forget Adonai your God and fail to keep [God’s] commandments, rules, and laws that I enjoin upon you today. When you have … built fine houses to live in … and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty, and you forget Adonai your God (8:11–14).
As many have suggested before me, Eikev reads like the parting words of a parent whose children are leaving the nest and crossing the threshold into independent adulthood: Never forget that I gave you life, remember all I have done for you throughout your life, remain loyal to me and stay true to all I taught you. If you do, all will go well; if you do not, your life will disintegrate into a cosmic failure.
The “parent’s speech” is filled with wisdom and warning, but also tinged with anxiety and the fear of being jettisoned from the core of the children’s being. Once parents have raised them to function on their own, the very fact of their competence threatens the relationship. If the children consider their success wholly their own, haughtiness will cause them to discount their parents’ role in their lives, both past and future.
In the course of our daily routine, there are certain focal points – actions, comments, or individuals – which can ignite our passion like nothing else. While they may not receive a great deal of conscious thought or even much of our waking effort, their significance lies in how vital they are to our sense of identity, worth, and meaning.
As Rabbi Bradely Shavit Artson suggests, “Each of us may have our own reality for which we are willing to make sacrifices. Most parents would give up their lives for their children; some special individuals have given their lives for the children of others. On a very different level, may people get ulcers and heart attacks to serve their passion for wealth, prestige, or beauty.”
How we live our lives is often shaped by what we value most. And that value can be identified simply by asking ourselves, “What am I willing to die for?” The question requires us to think about what do we see as our ultimate value and sense of purpose. Simply concluded, it does not matter what we have learned and received over time; rather, what have we received that commands our deepest commitment.
Our parents gave us the tools to lead our lives with blessings. God taught the Israelites the boundaries necessary to attain blessings. Now, it is our turn to determine the best path to follow to ensure another generation of more blessings.