This summer like the months leading up to it has been a period of nostalgia; where was I supposed to be and where was I this time in previous years. The demonstrations occurring around the world evoke memories of the summer of 2011 in Israel, where the people (at its peak 400,000) demanded social justice. As always this sounds so much better in Hebrew העם דורש צדק חברתי. We actually developed a curriculum around these four distinct words. inviting/ perhaps demanding deep understandings and interpretations of these expressions. These moments of deja vu were also prompted by a striking verse in this week’s portion of Ekev describing God’s relation with Israel 11:12;
אֶ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ דֹּרֵ֣שׁ אֹתָ֑הּ תָּמִ֗יד עֵינֵ֨י יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ בָּ֔הּ מֵֽרֵשִׁית֙ הַשָּׁנָ֔ה וְעַ֖ד אַחֲרִ֥ית שָׁנָֽה׃
It is a land which the LORD your God looks after (demands of?), on which the LORD your God always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end
It is a curious expression, why would God be demanding of the Land? Sforno, the Italian Biblical commentator has an enlightening exclamation on this;
דורש אותה להשגיח על מעשי יושביה אם הם ראוים למטר ואם לא.
God is ‘Constantly seeking / checking to ensure that the residents through their behavior are worthy of the blessings of rain/ dew.’
Lidrosh is a fascinating term, it means to interpret or explain, and in its noun form, Drasha, means sermon. The term also means to demand. I love the concept and implication of the “Beit Midrash” to describe the ‘House of study’. Our houses of study are rather different to libraries, they are lively, cacophonous spaces where we demand of the text, and each other. We hold ourselves accountable.
In the spirit of Sforno’s explanation (drash) the iconic demands of the prophet Micah 6:8 become all the more poignant;
הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־יְהוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃
“He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires (demands) of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God.
These are the values and behaviors we must constantly demonstrate.These ideals which shape our way of life, our treatment of others must constantly be demanded and interpreted , for these we are held accountable מֵֽרֵשִׁית֙ הַשָּׁנָ֔ה וְעַ֖ד אַחֲרִ֥ית שָׁנָֽה- from the year’s beginning to year’s end. – On Demand!