Twitter and Torah: Reading Parshat Ekev

Twitter and Torah: Reading Parshat Ekev

Popular twitter gif of baby kitten copying mother next to a pillow with a skull and crossbones.Summer is winding down. Mine was productive and wonderful. Except for three weeks I spent on the couch hosting a virus. And then the weeks I spent getting well. Poor me. I tried so hard to read. But my attention span was only 280 characters long. So, I spent a lot of time reading twitter.

There, I follow many political writers. Some are optimistic about political activism. Others feel that everyday people have little power. Because there’s much we can’t control. Thus, twitter can be distressing.

Tweeters know this. So, every few days, they ask each other: please, post photos of your pets. Adorable ones, especially. So, twitter can be uplifting, too.

Torah is like twitter, in this way. Especially the book of Devarim – Deuteronomy. It’s quite political. And much of it is distressing. Including Parshat Ekev (Deut. 7:12 – 11:25). “You have lots of enemies,” Moses says. “So, you should wipe them out. You’re not really very nice, anyway. Rather, you’re quite sinful. And, if you’re not careful, you’ll destroy the planet. But you can do better.”

And most of us try.  But still, so much is out of our control. Public events, anyway.

But maybe our minds, hearts, and spirits are different. That’s what the ancient Stoic and Epicurean philosophers believed. Empires control the economy, courts, and civic peace. But individuals control their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. So, these philosophers recommended, turn inwards. Master what you can.

Early Hasidic teachers of Torah taught this, too. Yes, they acknowledged, much of Torah is about politics. About our flawed early history as confused riff-raff. And crazy group dynamics that don’t change. But Torah is so much more than that. It’s also a map of the spirit.

To see the map, you have to move past literal reading. And into metaphor. Sure, Torah describes community dynamics. But also the community of one person’s inner voices. Events happen in local places. But each place is also a psychic space. Kings structure politics. But the King of King of Kings shapes consciousness.

Parshat Ekev seems to invite a Hasidic spiritual reading. Here’s a sample section.

The Holy One brings you to a land of goodness, a land of streams, springs of water, and deep rivers flowing from the hills and from the valleys. A land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and honey. A place with no danger and no scarcity — even the rocks are filled with precious metals. And when you are content, say “Thank you” to God (Deut. 7:7-10).

Literally, the verses talk about the land flowing with milk and honey. The one the army will enter. To wipe out the enemies. Take their fields, orchards, and mines. Or die trying. No one will escape the war. God and Moses have decided.

But metaphorically, the verses talk about happiness, contentment, inner peace. A mood of gratitude, nourishment, and security. The Holy One, the spirit, brings you there. Has brought you there, in fact. But, to realize it, you have to lift your spirit in appreciation. Because only you can control your attitudes.

Here, Torah really is like twitter. Read its world one way, and it can be quite harsh. But, read it another way, and it’s comforting. It all depends on what you put in your mental feed.

Thus, I highly recommend spiritual readings of Torah. Not as the only reading. But as an antidote. Maybe when the Torah’s version of history upsets you. Or when current events push you to despair. Because these spiritual metaphors kept our ancestors going. Renewed their hope. Shored up their strength.

Just as (dare I say this?) photos of cute companion animals do on twitter today.

  1. Dear R. Laura,

    The Holy One
    (AKA Being in a state/a land/a place of one-ness/at onement)

    (IS a land of all good resources of nurturance and wealth)

    You won’t need to invade or force—to obtain it.

    OBJECTION #1: soooo poverty and, let’s include illness, and schizophrenia result from ignorance of this overtherainbow state of OM? No. Save the bathwater (Torah) but dont throw out the baby.

    There’s got to be a more complex reading that is simultaneously spiritual—that does not throw out the realities of human violence—the history of real violence–violent thievery and murder. …lest we turn away from the world out of bitterness to build a nest in oblivion.

    Yes turn inward to reexamine/recall ones own motives and to empathetically imagine the contexts of the other’s motives, too—so that you may reengage, thereafter, with the remaining questions, the struggles, the unsolved terribly difficult circumstances of our life with the other kids on the playground.

    1. Absolutely! Beautifully said.

      If you follow the analogy to twitter, obviously no one says “Forget the fight to save democracy; just look at cute kitten pictures instead.”

  2. Hi Reb Laura,
    I struggle with this a lot!
    Next Shabbat, Shoftim, I’m slated to leyn, I chose the reading with Lo tashchit et eitzah …(Dev. 20:19)
    But the reading includes preceding verses saying not to leave a soul alive during war time.
    A teacher (Eleanor Epstein) taught me that “kol netivotecha shalom” means that if you’re not interpreting for peace, you’re simply interpreting it wrongly!
    For now, I’m opting out of reading verses 15-18, I cannot find a metaphoric translation I can live with.
    If you have any suggestions….
    Glad you’re feeling better, btw…

    1. Hi Margo, thanks for writing. These are really upsetting verses. The obvious metaphorical interpretation is one that points towards the “inner jihad” or “the true Klingon warrior is within” — in other words, purifying one’s own inner chorus of nations. It includes a call to discern which inner qualities or reflections will bear fruit and to cultivate those.

      Another approach: focus on the call to begin with peace negotiations, which is followed by the reminder of how awful things could be if those negotiations fail.

      Also, this comes right after the list of exemptions from military service. One of them (20:8) could be interpreted as exemption based on a soft heart. Thus, the description of total war that comes next could be viewed as a way to awaken the hearts of those who might object to participating.

      Finally, there is the realistic acknowledgement that people — even the ancestors we’re supposed to look up to — do horrible things. If we don’t know how easy it is to be drawn into it, we won’t know how to look for warning signs and avoid it. Torah might not be a modern-style history, but it is the only history we have. Knowing history doesn’t guarantee we won’t repeat it — but it might help.

      If I have time, I might just write this up as a post!

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