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Ekev - August 2, 2021 - Torah Portion

By Miriam Wakefield

The Torah portion for August 2 is called Ekev meaning “the covenant and the love” in Hebrew the word for this love is pronouced “(c)Hessed” which means “loving-kindness”. Our Christian translation often reads “covenant of love” depending which one we read. The covenant between Israel and God was a covenant of law, AND of loving -kindness (chessed) and I’m going to highlight here “Covenant” and two examples of “loving kindness” Chessed.

There is a phrase that appears at the end of last week’s Torah portion and at the beginning of this week’s, so there is a link and its all about Covenant and Loving kindness. The first one is, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping the covenant and the loving kindness to a 1000 generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9

This week‘s Torah says “if you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep the covenant and the loving kindness with you as he swore to your ancestors. Deuteronomy 7:12 A covenant is reciprocal. Two people pledge themselves to one another, each committing to a responsibility to keep it. This is how it was defined by God at Mount Sinai; “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, out of all nations you will be my treasured possession, for all the earth is mine“ Exodus 19:5. It’s Conditional.

He goes on “If you are My people, I will be your God. If you serve me, I will bless you. Every covenant has an “If” and an “I will” like in a marriage covenant. Therefore, every covenant is inherently vulnerable and can be broken. If you do this, then I will do that. If you love me then I will love you. It’s conditional and reciprocal.

However, there is another loving kindness “chessed” and that shows unconditional love to someone who has no claim whatsoever upon us.

The book of Ruth is a wonderful example of “loving kindness” which teaches us the greatness of the reward for loving unconditionally.

There are two brilliant examples, the first occurs when Naomi, bereaved of her husband and two sons, decided to return to Israel. She says to her daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. She was telling them that they had no further obligations towards her. They had been married to her sons, but now they were widows. Naomi has no other sons and being Moabite women, they would be foreigners in Israel: they have no reason to go there. You owe me nothing, she is saying. You have been kind, you have been good daughters-in-law, but now we must go our separate ways. But Ruth says, “Bid me not to leave you, where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge, Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God and nothing but death will part me from you. Chessed Loving kindness.

The second one occurs when Ruth has gone to gather grain in the field of Boaz who treats her with great care and consideration and she asks him: “why have I found such recognition in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner”? The two key words here are “recognition” and “foreigner”. “Recognition” means that you have behaved toward me as if you had an obligation to me. She says, “I am a foreigner.” It means, a complete outsider. Ruth is saying to Boaz, you don’t even know me …. I am also a foreigner… and you owe me nothing yet he is showing her Loving kindness – chessed.

That is what makes Ruth the supreme book of loving kindness, that is good done to another who has no claim whatsoever upon you. What Ruth does for Naomi, and what Boaz does for Ruth, is pure “chessed” loving kindness.

God will never break His covenant, even if we do, because of his loving kindness towards us. We are talking about a relationship between God and Israel and Jesus and the Church which is like a marriage covenant between a husband and wife but its different between a parent and a child.

Between husband and wife there can be a divorce, between parent and child that cannot be. They may be estranged, but the parent is still the parent and the child is still their child. Marriage is a covenant; parenthood is not.

Yet when we pray “Our Father who art in heaven..we are saying to God, You are our loving Heavenly Father, our parent, and we are your children, no matter what we have done. This Loving kindness is the kind of love a parent has for a child, whether they deserve it or not. It is unconditional love. It is the highest achievement of our lives. It is what Ruth did for Naomi, and Boaz for Ruth, and from that Loving kindness came David, Israel’s greatest king, and ultimately Jesus, from David’s family line.

In unconditional Loving kindness, God created the universe. In unconditional loving kindness we create moments of beauty that bring joy and hope where there may be darkness and despair. Jesus is our “Chessed” – He is Unconditional Love personified and that love cannot be broken.

We are like a “Ruth church” studying the Torah portion each week. Boaz is a Jesus figure – our Kinsman Redeemer, who treats us with great care and consideration even though we are “foreigners – gentiles - gleaning in the field of Israel” as Holy Spirit drops sheaves of the “Wheat of His Word” for us. Boaz the Jew eventually marries Ruth, the Moabite a beautiful picture of The Gentile Bride who marries her Kinsman Redeemer, having gleaned in the field of Israel, and who loves us “unconditionally”.

Shabbat shalom

Miriam Wakefield

Personal notes taken from teaching by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Ekev - A Covenant of Loving kindness (Chessed) and the Book of Ruth

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