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Ekev 5768

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Last week over a cup of coffee my friend turned to me and said, "I feel that I am a good man even though I don't do all of the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah." We then discussed three questions: (1) "What is your definition of 'good'?" (2) "What is the checklist to know whether one is actually good?'" and lastly, (3) "What does 'feeling that I am good' have to do with whether or not one is actually a good person?"

It seems to me that there are fairly straightforward answers to those questions, if one believes that there is a God Who gave the Torah to the Jewish people. (If one needs evidence for those two beliefs, I highly recommend Lawrence Kelemen's Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.) (1) Good is that which the Torah tells us to do or refrain from doing. (2) The checklist is the 613 mitzvot. (3) Feeling good about our actions and ourselves is important - it allows us to live with ourselves. However, it may have no connection with reality.

For those who would prefer a bit more depth and a more philosophical explanation, I present the following piece written by my colleague, Rabbi Chaim Willis, now the director of Aish HaTorah South Africa:

The Torah definition of good is contained in the Book of Deuteronomy, "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil" (Deut. 30:15). Here the choice between good and evil is equated to a choice between life and death. Good is life. Evil is death.

This isn't a comparison that is immediately obvious. What does choosing good have to do with choosing life? A good person will sometimes even give up his life for a good cause. What does choosing evil have to do with choosing death? An evil person cares as much for his health and protection as anyone else, often more.

However, the meaning of the Torah can be made clear if we examine what choosing life or death really means. The classic example of someone who actually chooses death is a suicide. Why does he do it? Not because life isn't worth living - nothing about life itself has changed from before, when he wanted to live. What has changed is that he has now decided that his own life, at this point, is so painful that he can't take it. He escapes from that pain through suicide.

A classic example of someone choosing life would be someone recovering from a major illness that left him paralyzed. Gradually, with a lot of pain, he relearns how to move his legs and arms, walk, talk, get back to where he can live a normal life. Why does he do it? Because he has a strong desire to live as a human being, to be independent, to accomplish, to contribute.

So to be good means to choose what contributes to real living -meaning, awareness. To be evil means to choose to escape from life.

Understood in this way, the choice between life and death is one we are faced with all the time. Someone who spends an evening watching situation comedies on television isn't rejecting living as a whole -but for those hours he is rejecting it. Someone who goes to a lecture on basic ideas in living isn't necessarily choosing life in all areas, but for those hours he is choosing it. Someone who sleeps late on Sunday morning just because it's a day off is choosing a few more hours of not living; someone who wakes up early, even though he doesn't have to, is choosing a few hours of living.

On a deeper level, someone who steals is not obviously choosing death. However, he's destroying himself as a person, lessening his humanity, which is a form of death (the Sages of the Talmud say: "The wicked, even in their own lives, are considered dead"). And someone who does kindness is choosing life, not only for the people he helps, but for himself as a person as well.

The purpose of the Torah is to teach us what life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, are and how to choose life. However, one can gain from examining his own life even before studying Torah. Ask yourself: "What am I doing that's good - that is helping me grow as a person?" and "What am I doing that's bad - that is preventing me from really living?"

For more on "Choosing Life" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

Moshe continues his discourse guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success lest we forget and ignore God.

Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness ("Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to occupy this land ... but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.") He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments during the sin of the Golden Calf.)

This week's portion dispels a common misconception. People think that "Man does not live by bread alone" means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety is, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes out of God's mouth" (Deut. 8:3).

The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself: What does God want of you? "Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God's commandments and decrees ... so that all good will be yours" (Deut. 10:12).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And it shall be if you hearken to My commandments which I command you this day..." (Deuteronomy 11:13).

This is a section of the Torah that is recited daily in the Shema Yisroel. The Torah tells us that there will be a reward for observing the Almighty's commandments. On the first Hebrew word of this verse, vehayah, the Ohr HaChayim comments: Vehayah denotes joy. There is a condition in this verse that the commandments should be fulfilled with joy. True joy comes only when a person does good deeds. However, if a person has high feelings without true meaning, it is only a temporary state that will not last.

There are many attitudes a person can have towards doing good deeds. One attitude is guilt for not doing what is right. Another attitude is fear of punishment. However, even though in verses 16 and 17 the Torah warns of retribution for doing wrong, the attitude that comes first should be joy for doing good.

Most people eat because they enjoy eating. If a person does not eat for a number of days, his life is in danger. In any event, very few people sit down to a delicious meal and say to themselves, "I'd better eat or else I'll die." If a person has no appetite whatsoever he has to force himself to eat, but the vast majority of people focus on the pleasure or at least the pleasantness of eating. Similarly with mitzvot. Keep your focus on the joy of spiritual fulfillment. If someone has no appetite for doing good, he needs to find other motivations. A spiritually healthy person will experience great pleasure in doing good!

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Conscience is what hurts when
everything else feels good.

My thanks to the Almighty
for everything He does for us.

Thank you to my Wonderful Family
who I love dearly:
Sandra, Jennifer, Daniel,

Joel and Nathan

-- Morris Kaplan

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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