Even if You Don’t Listen, the Voice Will Still Be Heard: Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25
Remember when you were young, and your caregiver asked you to hold something with both hands so it wouldn’t fall and break?
“With both hands,” they would say. Nonetheless, sometimes the bowl would slip out of your hands and break. The sound of the shattered glass on the floor was as loud as a thunderstorm. The glass went flying in every direction, and everyone in the room turned their heads in a panic. And like the blade of a knife, their gaze stuck in your heart, which hurt because of the shame.
To this very day, the phrase “hold the bowl with both hands…” echoes in my thoughts. Every time I hold something fragile or precious in my hands – a bowl, a tray, a piece of my grandmother’s china, a baby who hasn’t taken their first step, or a friend who is ill, I remember the voice that continues to say, “with both hands, so it won’t fall, so it won’t break.”
In a different place, long ago, in the core of Eikev, we can hear the slow, ungainly, quiet steps of Moses as he descends from the mountain, holding the two tablets of the covenant in both of his reverent hands. He holds them with two hands and breaks them with two hands. With all his might, Moses flings the tablets and smashes them with everything he has in front of the frightened Israelites: “I started down the mountain…the two tablets of the covenant in my two hands…and I gripped the two tablets and flung them away with both my hands, smashing them before your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 9:15,17)
I close my eyes and try and imagine that horrific moment in the desert. The hunger that seized Moses after fasting on the mountain for 40 days and the rage that spewed out of him like a volcano’s hot lava because he could no longer contain the fire that was consuming him after seeing from afar the molten calf that glowed with the arrogance of sin: “I saw how you had sinned against the Eternal your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path that the Eternal had enjoined upon you.” (Deuteronomy 9:16)
The more I delve into my imagination and let that story of the broken tablets envelop my thoughts, the more I realize just how much the Torah portion underscores that the strength that all of us have received, including Moses, is rooted in dual power, power that derives from the number two. Like a manual that teaches us how to make proper use of the tools at our disposal, it’s as if Eikev repeatedly says “go with the power of the two.” Moses held the tablets close to his heart with both hands so they wouldn’t slip while he cautiously descended from the mountain; he used those same hands to hurl the tablets and smash them into thousands of pieces.
In Deuteronomy 9:16, each whole also has two parts: the hunger and the food; the nourishing bread and the body that requires nourishment. The poverty and the hardship, coupled with the faith that God will provide for all human needs: “And [God] subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat…in order to teach you that a human being does not live on bread alone, but that one may live on anything that the Eternal decrees” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Hardship, hunger, and food (the mysterious manna), as puzzling as the enigma of God, are used to reveal the face of God in the world of human beings – the hunger is a manifestation of the face of the divine; the suffering is an epiphany; the manna is heavenly food. Thus, an awareness of the spiritual state of these needs can strengthen a person and with the force of hunger (both basic and spiritual) – food will be provided.
The power of two appears later in the parashah: “If you forget the Eternal your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish; like the nations that the Eternal will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish – because you did not heed the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20).
א.ב.ד. convey forgetting, but don’t convey loss. Therefore, a person who is lost searching for the image of the divine is not the same as someone heading towards destruction. God permits aimless searching. God does not abandon the lost searchers but gives sustenance to all who are walking the path of faith. Someone who forgets is someone who has the capacity to remember; someone who has lost something is someone who has possessions; someone who does not listen is still someone who hears.
God will speak to all, even if the people cannot hear God’s voice, like the caregiver who repeatedly reminds their child to hold the bowl with both hands.