Eikev: No Satisfaction

August 9, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Posted in Eikev | 3 Comments
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If you all really heed My commandments that I am commanding you all this day, to love God, your God, and to serve [God] with all your minds and with all your bodies, then I will grant rain … and you will gather in your grain and your grapes and your olive oil, and you will eat, vesavata.  (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:13-15)

vesavata (וְשָׂבָעְתָּ) = and you will be satisfied.  (From the same root as saveia (שָׂבֵעַ) = satisfied, full, sated, surfeited.)

A literal reading of the conditional promise from this week’s Torah portion, Eikev (“On the heels of”) would be frightening.  The promise begins with “you” in the plural, implying that all the Israelites must thoroughly love and serve God, in both thought and action.   I can imagine a subsistence farmer wondering: What if I am not completely devoted to God all the time?  What if I am pious, but my neighbor is not?  Will God let us all starve in a drought?

The next verse lowers the bar somewhat by explaining that the important thing is to avoid devotion to other gods.

Guard yourselves, lest your mind deceive itself, and you turn away and you serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of God will blaze against you, and [God] will shut up the heavens and it will never rain and the ground will not grant its produce, and you will quickly be lost from upon the good land that God is giving to you.  (Deuteronomy 11:16-17)

If we all serve our own God, it will rain and we will have plenty of food.  If we serve other gods, the rain will stop and we will starve.

The promise and threat from this week’s Torah portion is part of both morning and evening Jewish prayer services to this day.  (See my post Eikev: Reward and Punishment.)

The word vesavata appears two more times in this week’s Torah portion. Moses tells the Israelites that God is bringing them to a well-watered land full of wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey, iron, and copper—all the raw materials they could want.

And you will eat vesavata, and you shall bless God, your God, concerning the good land that [God] has given to you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

The Talmud cites this verse as the foundation for the Jewish tradition of saying blessings both before and after meals.1  Our blessings express gratitude to God for blessing us with abundance.

But blessing God is only one requirement.  Earlier in the Torah portion Eikev Moses warns the Israelites that they must also observe all of God’s rules:

Watch out, lest you forget God, so that you do not observe [God’s] commandments and laws and decrees that I command you today; lest you eat vesavata, and you build good houses and you live in them, and your herds and your flocks increase, and your silver and gold increase, and everything you have increases—but your mind becomes haughty and you forget God, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.  (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)

Here Moses warns the Israelites to remember that God is the source of their new wealth, and to respond with gratitude (blessing God) and service (following God’s rules).

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The words vesavata and saveia in the Hebrew Bible usually refer to eating enough or too much.  But people can also be dissatisfied, satisfied, or surfeited with shame and honor,2 with bitterness and joy,3 with long life,4 and with wealth.5

All humans need enough to eat.  All humans enjoy the luxuries of wealth.  The “American dream”, like one of the dreams in ancient Israelite society, is to get richer and richer.  But the Bible points out that riches are not ultimately satisfying.

When Deuteronomy was written, perhaps around 2,650 years ago6, the Israelites were in danger of attributing their material blessings to Canaanite or Mesopotamian fertility gods.  Today, we might mistakenly attribute an abundance of food and other material goods to our technology, or to capitalism, or to some other recent human invention that we now treat as sacred.

While we serve these “gods” we may continue to eat, but we are no longer satisfied.  Our bodies become obese from a surfeit of calories, and our houses become full of luxuries, but our minds sense that something is missing.  Our souls are empty when we lack gratitude, love, and service to our own God—whether our idea of “God” means a harmonious way of life, a beauty and purpose in the universe, or the highest ethical ideal.

Have you fallen into worshiping the god of increasing wealth?  You can still save yourself.  Practice gratitude, and look for occasions to give thanks.  Instead of waiting for love to arise, act loving, and practice feeling love for those around you.  Remember to ask yourself throughout the day: Am I about to buy something I do not need?  To take advantage of someone lower in the pecking order?  Or to do something that helps people?

What kind of satisfaction do I want?

          Whoever is in awe of God has life;

          And he will stay savea;

          He will not be called up for misfortune. (Proverbs 19:23)

  1. Berachot 48b.
  2. e.g. Habakkuk 2:16.
  3. e.g. Lamentations 3:15, Psalm 16:11.
  4. e.g. Genesis 25:8.
  5. e.g. Ecclesiastes 5:9.
  6. One theory is that most of the book of Deuteronomy was written during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, 640-609 B.C.E.  One piece of evidence for this date is found in 2 Kings 22:3-13, when the high priest Chilkiyahu gives King Josiah (Yoshiyahu) a “book of law” he has “discovered” while renovating the temple in Jerusalem.  The language of Deuteronomy supports this theory.  (Two scholars who agree on the dating of Deuteronomy, though they disagree on the dating of other strands in the Torah, are Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2003, p. 24-26; and Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2003, p. 155.)

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