Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ekev–Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12–11:25
“And it shall be, because you hear these judgments, and keep and do them, even YHVH your Elohim will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers” (italics added)), is the opening verse of Parashat Ekev. “Because” is “ekev,” from the root a.k.v (ayin, kof, bet/vet) whose primary meaning is “heel.” In other words, taking the right step (of hearing and obeying) will result in the desired consequences. Our forefather, Ya’acov, was so named because he was born holding his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26). He literally came in the footsteps of his brother, and thus his name, which means to “follow,” perfectly matched the birth condition. His, however, was not the kind of following of the faithful disciple, who walks in the footsteps of his master. The image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel grabbing’ refers to hindering or trapping someone, such as we see in the following examples: “Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse’s heels” (Gen. 49:17 italics added); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9 italics added); “They mark my steps [heels]” (Ps. 56:6). In the following words of Psalm 41:9, we find an allusion to Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend... which did eat of my bread has lifted his heel against me” (italics added). This type of follower will possibly steal quietly behind the one whom he follows, with a crafty intent (as was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Indeed, from the same root of “heel" and “follow," (a.k.v.) stem words like “crafty, cunning, and deceptive,” as we see, for instance, in Yirmiyahu (Jeramiah) 9:4: “... surely every brother deals craftily [akov ya’akov]” (italics added). When Esav (Esau) was startled by his younger brother’s cunning, in B’resheet (Genesis) 27:34, 36, “He cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ...’Is not he rightly named, Ya’acov? For he has supplanted (“akav”) me...?’” (italics added). The prophet Hoshe’a (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya’acov”) to their progenitor: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel” (Hos. 12:4, italics added). In the wake of this ‘birth mark,’ Ya’acov (the man and the nation) remained true to his (and their) nature. “In the wake of” or “as a result of” - in short “because” - is “ekev,” such as is cited here. Quite often YHVH declares: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because (ekev) you have obeyed my voice“(Gen. 22:18 italics added). David answers the prophet Na’tan (Nathan), who told him a parable following his sin with Bat-Sheva (Bathsheba), and says: “He must make restitution for the lamb, because [ekev] he did this thing and had no compassion” (IISam.12:6 italics added). Thus, this little “ekev,” - “because” - becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice depends, much like the heel in terms of the physical body. And just as this section of the Parasha started with “And it shall be, because [EKEV] you hear these judgments, and keep and do them…” so it ends with: “So you shall perish; because [EKEV] you would not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim…” (8:20).
Parashat Ekev features two major themes, which alternate throughout; the physical conditions of the Land and the connectedness of these conditions to the people’s obedience to YHVH. The second topic is in the form of reflections on the people’s rebelliousness during their wilderness journey. The recounting of the latter is for the purpose of illustrating sin and rebellion, and warning the people in face of the new circumstances that they are about to face.
In 7:12-13, “keeping the judgments,” as we saw above, guarantees a promise of love, blessing, and multiplication, a promise which is built into the two-sided covenant (the other side being the curse incurred by disobedience to the “judgments,” as we shall see next week). “Covenant” is “b’reet,” of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), leading to the verb “barot” whose primary meaning is “separate out the parts” , thus rendering the covenant as a very special agreement with a special and separated out people. “Blessings” – “bracha” is primarily “growth, or unhindered prosperity”. Its root, b.r.ch (bet, resh, kaf) is also the root of “berech,” which is “knee.” This all-important word, to “bless, or blessing," is surprisingly not attached to the imagery of the more regal hand-stretching posture, or to the mouth which is often an instrument of (verbal) blessings, but rather to the humble action of kneeling which connotes submission. Neither is there a special word to describe Elohim's blessings (so as to distinguish it from blessings conferred by men); time and again this ‘humble’ term, ba’rech," is used just as we see here: “YHVH your Elohim… will bless you”.
The words uttered in 7:12,13 are echoed in 8:13, in a manner that confirms the above-definition of “blessing”: “And your herds and your flocks will multiply, and your silver and your gold will have multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied…” However, this multiplication (of the root “rav”) may “rise up into your heart, and you [could and will] forget YHVH your Elohim who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves” (v. 14). Thus, the very blessing may turn into a temptation leading to sin which will, in turn, lead to destruction (ref. 8:20). The wilderness, therefore, was to serve as a place of refinement, humbling and trial (ref. 8:2,3,16) in order to obviate just this kind of outcome. Some of the blessings (in 7:13) will entail “the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock.” Here “increase” is “sh’gar”- “cast or throw” in Aramaic, hence “that which comes forth from the womb.”  “Oxen” in this context is “alafim,” which also means “thousands” (“elef” singular). We already encountered this term in Parashat Chayey Sarah (Gen. 23 – 25:18), where we found that its root, alef, lamed, fey, is also shared with “aluf” which means “prince or chief” and with “alef,” the name of the first letter of the alphabet). The prominence of “alef” makes it, by implication, also of great numerical value – hence “elef” - a “thousand.” Thus, the oxen mentioned here allude to great wealth. The “wealth of the flock” is the rare “a’shtarot” (used in this way only in Dvarim) of the root a.sh.r (ayin, shin, resh), related to “osher” – “wealth” and to “eser,” which is the figure “ten” (and is also connected to Ashtaroth, the goddess of fertility, hence multiplication and riches).
In Shmot (Exodus) 23:27, 28 (Parashat Mishpatim), we read the following promise: “…and I will confound all the people among whom you come. And I will give the neck of your enemies to you. And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you” (italics added). Here, in 7:20 we read again: “And YHVH your Elohim shall send the hornets among them, until the ones who are left perish, even those who hide themselves from your face” (italics added), and in verse 23: “And YHVH your Elohim shall…. confuse them into great confusion until they are destroyed” (literal translation). Both “confound” in Shmot 23:28 and “confusion” here in 7:23 are of the root h.m.m (hey, mem, mem) meaning to “make noise, confuse or discomfort” (and is an onomatopoeic word, just like the English “hum”). This, then, in not only a promise for the future; but also in looking back, the Israelites could recall that YHVH had “confused – “va’yaham” - the camp of the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:24), when they were emerging out of the “house of bondage.”
In spite of all the material wealth and the increase promised, both in the beginning of the Parasha and later (in 8:7-10), sandwiched in between these two passages, in 8:3, is the following: “And He has humbled you, and caused you to hunger, and caused you to eat the manna, which you had not known, and your fathers had not known, in order to cause you to know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH” (italics added). All material goods, whether plentifully or scantily supplied, are the outcome of a “word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH.” One way or another He ‘calls the shots’. Moreover, it is not these provisions, again whether in great or small quantities, which determine life or the quality thereof but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH.” When Yeshua cited this very scripture, in a situation somewhat similar to that of Yisrael which was (according to 8:2,3,16) “tried,” like Him, in the wilderness, He passed the test and overcame his trial. The word “bread” - “lechem” - is many times translated “food,” as indeed it is a generic term for man’s sustenance. The root of “lechem” is l.ch.m (lamed, chet, mem), with the last two consonants - ch.m - making up the word “chah’m,” meaning “hot” or “warm.” Only by baking the dough in a hot oven will it turn into the desired edible substance. Hence, heat, energy and effort are all part of the bread-making process. Another noun that shares the root l.ch.m is “milchama,” which is “war,” as does the verb to “fight, or struggle for one’s existence or survival” – “lachom.” The closeness of these two terms is well illustrated by two verses in Mishley (Proverbs) 23. Verse 1 says: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, look carefully at what is before you.” The Hebrew for “eat” reads here “lilchom,” which literally means “to fight,” but because of l.ch.m’s dual meaning it is possible to read the verb as “eat” or more literally “to partake of bread.” Verse 6 of the same chapter, says: “Do not eat the bread of one who has an evil eye, and do not desire his delicacies.” Here “eat” is “tilcham,” which again could be read as “fight.” Thus, we may infer that man cannot live solely by the bread of his own fighting and striving neither “by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says YHVH of Hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
The circumstances awaiting the Israelites in the land will differ vastly from those that prevailed in the desert, yet just as until now every detail pertaining to their lives and needs was determined by “every word proceeding out of the mouth of YHVH,” so will it continue to be the case in their new home. But for this principle to stay afloat, the people must keep and guard His every word and live in accordance with it. The section of 8:7-10 is regarded “as the classic description of the fertility and other wonderful qualities of the holy land. But we must not ignore its other implication. The Torah sings the praises of the land to emphasize too the moral dangers and pitfalls that such gifts might bring with them. Although the life of the Israelites in the Promised Land would no longer be dependent on water being extracted from the rock or on manna dropping from heaven, nevertheless even the normal rainfall and all the natural gifts of the land were similarly derived from the Creator and not in virtue of their own power and might of their hand”. 
The land YHVH promises to Yisrael is a land “in which you shall eat bread without poverty – miskenot” (8:9). “Misken” (of the same root, s.ch.n) is a “poor person, one to be pitied” (e.g. Ecc. 9:16). In Shmot (Exodus) 1:11, we are told that the storage cities that Yisrael built for Par’oh were “arey miskenot.” Ironically, the Hebrews themselves were very “miskenim” (plural of “misken” - poor and to be pitied) when they built those “miskenot cities.” Now, not only will they not experience poverty and want, neither will they have to labor for someone else. In fact, last week we read in 6:10,11 about their future dwelling places: “…to give to you great and good cities, which you have not built, and houses full of every good thing which you have not filled…” Moreover, there will be so much provision that they will not even need to erect for themselves “arey miskenot,” cities of storage, as storing up for the future will not be called for. However, this plenty will require “watchfulness” lest they forget YHVH (ref. 8:11), who “took you out of Egypt… who led you through the wilderness,” and “who fed you” (vv. 15, 16). There is always the danger of saying in one’s heart: “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (v. 17), while it is YHVH “who gives to you power to get wealth” (v. 18). Wealth is a translation of “cha’yil.” Remember “not by might…” (Zech.4:6)? “Might,” in Z’chariah 4:6, is also “cha’yil.” Thus, it is only YHVH’s spiritual might – cha’yil - which is able to grant all this wealth. It is therefore paramount that you should “remember YHVH your Elohim, for He gives to you power – “ko’ach” - to get wealth.” Again, Z’chariah’s “nor by power” (4:6) is “lo be-ko’ach,” but it is by YHVH’s “ko’ach”.
Chapter 9 continues to center on YHVH’s promises of “consuming the enemies” in the land, and also recounts Yisrael’s golden calf rebellion and the need that arose then to inscribe anew the two tablets of the Torah. It opens with the famous words: “Hear oh Yisrael…” implying that Yisrael is to hear and obey, as “hearing the voice…” is a Hebrew idiom for obeying, as is evident from the previous verse (the last one in chapter 8): “…You shall perish; because [EKEV] you did not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim” (v.20, emphasis added). In 9:6,13 reference is made to Yisrael’s “stiff neck,” or literally “hard nape.” Having a “stiff neck” implies a literal inflexibility, which does not allow one to turn one’s face (panim - “face” - from the root p.n.h which is also the root for the verb “turn,” while “pina” is “corner”). Thus, the proverbial stiffness of the neck speaks of a head that is facing in one direction only, and of a person who is headstrong and unable to turn (from his old ways). We have already noted in the past that “panim” - “face” - stemming from the verb “to turn,” exposes the essential nature of YHVH’s approach toward us, and that is His relational nature of which we are to partake. Yisrael’s “stiffness” and “hardness” of neck and uncircumcised heart are addressed in the following: “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your neck any more” (10:16). “Such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it [that is, of the exhortation], and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it”.  In chapter 30:6 there is a promise that YHVH will circumcise their heart, so that they may love Him, thus laying the foundations for the new covenant of the heart, in the course of which the latter becomes the ‘parchment’ on which the Torah is inscribed (ref. Jer. 31:33).
The Parasha ends with another look at the land; “a land which YHVH your Elohim cares for; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to its end”  (11:12). “Care for” is “doresh,” whose literal meaning is to “seek.” YHVH is very intent in His constant surveillance of the land, “from the beginning of the year to the end…” (1:12), meaning that He is involved in every part of the natural cycle to which this land is subject. And as pointed above, Yisrael’s conduct toward Him will also have its ramifications on the land (e.g. 11:13 – 17). These words of YHVH were to be inscribed on the hearts and are also to be for a sign on frontlets – “totafot” – between the eyes and on the hand (ref. 11:18). One of the explanations for “totafot” is that it is a derivative of the Egyptian hair ornament “tataf”. 
Above we noted that multiplication (of the root “rav”) of both people and livestock is mentioned several times in our Parasha. In summation it says: “And you shall teach them [YHVH’s commands] to your sons by speaking of them as you sit in your house, and as you go in the way, and as you lie down, and as you rise up. And you shall write them on the side posts of your house, and on your gates, that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied [“yirbu”, again of the root “rav”], and the days of your sons in the land which YHVH has sworn to your fathers, to give to them, as the days of the heavens over the earth” (11:19-21). These “heaven and earth,” according to last week’s Parashat Va’etchanan (4:26), are YHVH’s witnesses in His dealings with the people of His choice, both here and also when He proclaims a new covenant in Yimiyahu (Jeremiah, 31:37).
1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers,
Jerusalem. New York.
2 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers,
Peabody, Mass. 1979.
3 New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library,
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn,
4 Online Bible, Gill Commentary.
5 The spelling of the word used here for “beginning”, “reshit”, is not regular. This irregular
spelling of “reshit” hints at “ree’sh”, which is poverty (ref. Parashot Matot/ Masa’ey), since
the beginning of the year in the month of Aviv, occurs at the end of the winter dormancy.
6 Chumash Dvarim with Daat Mikrah comentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.