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Be Satisfied With What Grows in the Backyard
EKEV, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
A weekly ritual of my summer is to pick up vegetables at the farm where my family has a Community Supported Agriculture share.
This week, I filled my bags with beets, cucumbers, zucchini, corn and the first tomatoes off the vine. I tucked some dill and basil around the sides of the heavier produce, and then hoisted a watermelon under my arm. The colors, the scents, the fields I passed and the feel of the earth beneath my feet all grounded me powerfully to the land, the summer season, and the food I was about to bring home for my family to eat.
Ekev, this week's portion, is a continuation of Moses' speech to the people of Israel, reviewing their time in the desert and looking ahead to their entry into the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael.
Over and over in Deuteronomy, it is described as a "good land," a "land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey."
In Ekev, the Bible is a strong advocate for eating locally, just as I eat from the farm around the corner from where I live. The land I live in now is also a good land: a land of beets, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes. Sukkot is not the only moment in our liturgical calendar when we are reminded to appreciate the harvest -- the reminder is here in this portion, which we read in the thick of Philadelphia's summer bounty.
We also learn in Ekev to appreciate produce every time we eat. Following this description of the promised land, the people are instructed: "When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you."
This is the source of Birkat Hamazon, the prayer after a meal. Once we are satisfied, we are instructed to bless God for the good land that we've been given as custodians.
So That the Rains May Fall
Ekev also links the land with the act of following God's commandments. Moses enjoins the people to keep all the mitzvot so that the rain may come in its season and the land may continue to produce a seemingly effortless harvest.
The current generation must especially emphasize the mitzvot for their children, who themselves have not witnessed God's awesome power and wrath. Without firsthand experience to inspire them, the children must look to God's commandments to know how to behave.
Regarding our land today, the position of the generations is reversed.
The current generation of adults must follow the mitzvot of caring for the earth -- of being satisfied with what it gives us -- and blessing God. Just as the children of the generation that came out of Egypt had to imagine the power of God, so, too, can we only imagine the effects that our current actions are having on the earth. It is our children who will experience any future effects of destructive environmental practices that we follow today.
To guard against this, we can begin by following the mitzvah to be satisfied with -- and bless -- what grows in our very own backyards.
Rabbi Danielle Stillman is a Reconstructionist rabbi and the Hillel adviser at Ursinus College.