Parshas Eikev: Assimilation and spiritual danger

Eikev, the name for this week’s Parsha, means “because”. As the name suggests, we learn a lot about cause and effect in Parshas Eikev. Everything happens because of something else;
everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, it can be hard to find the “because”. We only take actions at face-value, rather than determining the motives behind them. But stopping and thinking is the first step towards remedying the behaviours we’re warned against in Eikev. There are many of them. In his address to the Israelites, Moshe Rabbenu speaks of straying from G-d’s path, and the ensuing punishments; he tells them not to repeat the sinful actions of Korach, and to never worship idols as they did the Golden Calf; and he also warns against haughtiness, such as attributing one’s success to their wealth or righteousness.

It’s quite clearly stated in Eikev what will happen if the Israelites observe the mitzvot, and what will happen if they don’t. It’s like a carrot-and-stick mechanism, only Divinely ordained. Even the outlines of spiritual endangerment are detailed; it’s quite clearly stated that the Israelites need not fear their enemies, for G-d is on their side, but instead, they should be wary of going astray and worshipping idols. The Parsha reads; “The carvings of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not desire the silver or gold that is on them, or take it to you, lest you be snared with it, for it is an abomination to G‑d your G‑d. Neither shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you become accursed like it; you shall utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is taboo.”

The enemies surrounding Israel from all sides seem like the most obvious danger. But in fact, it is not them who the Jewish people need to worry about. It’s the danger from within; idolatry. Idolatry featured in Parshas Devarim, and many other Parshiot, too. It’s a common sin, perhaps because it’s the one which most often goes unnoticed. Many transgressions, such as murder or theft are instantly noticeable. But idolatry occurs in many forms. It’s not just bowing down to the idols made of gold and silver, it also comes in the form of an unhealthy obsession with one’s bank account, or celebrity culture, to name just two examples.

A parallel can be found between these contrasting fears, and the state of Jewry today. Anti-Semitism is still rampant; gravestones are defaced, rabbis are attacked, and Synagogues are stoned. It’s commonplace, but it’s obvious. There’s no way that one can “miss” it. It’s reported upon, and there’s a good deal of discussion within the Jewish community about how we can defend ourselves against it. It’s undeniably horrible, terrifying and threatening. Many Jews are living in fear around the world, and even last week, a Chabad man was stabbed in Strasbourg, critically injuring him. Jews are leaving Europe and making Aaliyah, the situation is so dire; and that’s no easy feat.

And yet, it’s not just terror attacks which are killing Jews. There are actually two ways to kill a Jew. One of these is to physically kill him; once his soul has departed from his body, he can no longer perform Mitzvot, and ceases to exist. The other is to have him marry a non Jewish woman. Once this happens, his children aren’t Jewish. The family line has been killed off. It’s a terrible fate, brought on by assimilation. Of course, it’s almost as terrible for a non Jewish man to marry a Jewish woman, but, thank G-d, the children remain Jewish. Assimilation is a silent killer. While anti-Semites across the world throw grenades and stab Charedim, the threat of intermarriage is wreaking just as much havoc, only it goes unnoticed. And it’s not only intermarriage which poses a problem. Assimilation itself is a terrible threat, for as Jews become assimilated, they stop observing the Mitzvot, and drop highly important aspects of observance such as keeping Shabbos and Kosher.

Just as idolatry can sweep the world without anyone so much as blinking an eye- until it’s too late, of course- so can assimilation creep up upon us unawares and rob us of our identity. Yiddishkeit is a source of pride. Being Jewish is an amazing gift; we are the Chosen People. But more and more people, both young and old, are turning their backs on their Jewish roots thanks to this frightening phenomenon. Parshas Eikev carries a very important message. It’s not just the physical attacks we need to be worrying about; it’s the spiritual ones, too.

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