Eikev 5779 – Loyal to God

Throughout history, Jews have been accused of having “dual loyalties,” of being tied to Israel, of not being loyal to the nation where we live. Such charges go all the way back to the story of Purim, where Haman accuses the Jews of being disloyal:

“There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the nations in all the provinces of your kingdom, who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” 

In first century Rome, the intellectual Seneca accused Jews of being disloyal:

“…in Rome Caesar does not love the Jews any more than he does the Egyptians. They will not mix, they are a race apart, they will not do sacrifice to the Gods or to Caesar, and they claim all sorts of privileges. Caesar does not want such people in Rome, though they flock there more and more…But I have heard – and have you, who know so much, not also heard? – that with a Jew religion comes very near to politics?” 

A German official in WWI posited Jewish loyalty to a “supreme government of the Jewish people:”

“The supreme government of the Jewish people was working hand in hand with France and England. Perhaps it was leading them both.”  

Noted anti-Semite Henry Ford expressed the feelings of many people in early 20thcentury America: 

“He thinks of himself as belonging to a People, united to that People by ties of blood which no amount of creedal change can weaken, heir of that People’s past, agent of that People’s political future. He belongs to a race; he belongs to a nation; he seeks a kingdom to come on this earth, a kingdom which shall be over all kingdoms, with Jerusalem the ruling city of the world.” 

I was very disappointed that after I was ordained as a rabbi no one showed me the secret handshake that went with this secret society running the world. I’m reminded of the story of two Jewish guys in New York riding the subway, one is reading an anti-Semitic rag, and his friend asks, “why are you that thing?” The friend replies, “The news is so much better! We control EVERYTHING!”

And then we have the contemporary charges of disloyalty, such as what Representative Ilhan Omar said in a thinly veiled reference to Jews being loyal to Israel:

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”   

And in a head-spinning reversal, President Trump recently accused Jews of being DISloyal to Israel – as if the assumption is we have “dual loyalty,” and that’s OK:

“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

This week’s Torah reading, Ekev, is largely about loyalty. It tells us where our loyalty belongs: to God.

The opening line of this week’s parsha is: 

And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the LORD your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers.

Our covenant is a mutual promise: we promise to be faithful to God and God promises to be faithful to us.

God warns us that He will test our loyalty:

Remember the long way that the LORD your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.

We are cautioned to be loyal to God even in times of plenty, when we are prospering:

beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the LORD your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage;

We are warned what happens to us if we lose faith with God:

If you do forget the LORD your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish;

As Jews we don’t put our faith in military prowess; we put our faith in God, as it says in Psalm 20:

אֵ֣לֶּה בָ֭רֶכֶב וְאֵ֣לֶּה בַסּוּסִ֑ים וַאֲנַ֓חְנוּ ׀ בְּשֵׁם־יְי אֱלֹהֵקינוּ נַזְכִּֽיר׃
These [nations place their faith] in chariots, and those, in horses, but we shall invoke the name of the Lord our God.  

Not only that, the psalmist tells us we don’t put our trust in men, we don’t rely on men. Not in Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu, not in Bernie Sanders or Benny Gantz. As it says in Psalm 146: 

אַל־תִּבְטְח֥וּ בִנְדִיבִ֑ים בְּבֶן־אָדָ֓ם ׀ שֶׁ֤אֵֽין ל֥וֹ תְשׁוּעָֽה׃
Don’t put your trust in the great, in mortal man who cannot save.

תֵּצֵ֣א ר֭וּחוֹ יָשֻׁ֣ב לְאַדְמָת֑וֹ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַ֝ה֗וּא אָבְד֥וּ עֶשְׁתֹּנֹתָֽיו׃
His breath departs; he returns to the dust; on that day his plans come to nothing.

אַשְׁרֵ֗י שֶׁ֤אֵ֣ל יַעֲקֹ֣ב בְּעֶזְר֑וֹ שִׂ֝בְר֗וֹ עַל־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהָֽיו׃
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

Our real loyalty goes to God and abstract concepts, such as justice and freedom, not to men. As the psalmist cautioned, put your faith in men and you will inevitably be disappointed. We are loyal to America because of what it stands for – liberty and justice for all, which are very Jewish values. Our loyalty is not to a particular political party or particular political leader.

This week’s parsha also contains a beautiful statement of what God wants from us: 

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul,

Ultimately, that’s our charge: To serve God, to be a partner with God in making the world a better place. We keep faith with God, and God keeps faith with us.

Shabbat shalom

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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