The Hard Way (Ekev)
Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn’t often, on their own, the hard way. Robert A. Heinlein
It was a threat that parents and movie characters alike used. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The threat implied that the outcome was inevitable. We were going to be bathed, whether we liked it or not. We were going to do that chore whether we liked it or not. The hero was going to either retrieve or disclose that vital information the villain had or needed. The implication, of course, was that resistance was useless and that the subject of the undue attention, be it the child, hero or villain might as well cooperate with the aggressor (or benefactor – depends on one’s perspective).
If the end result was indeed inescapable, it wouldn’t make sense for the victim (or the beneficiary) to fight it, to bring unneeded harm, pain or trauma on themselves. The Chidushei HaRim on Deuteronomy 7:12 comes to the same conclusion when it comes to viewing the prophesized end of days. The verse at the beginning of the Torah reading of Ekev has Moses telling the nation of Israel:
“And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, God your Lord will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers.”
The verse is phrased conditionally. Indeed, we see in several places in the Torah the condition that if we listen to God we will be blessed, but if we don’t, things won’t go so well.
The Chidushei HaRim, however, reads the verse as saying that there is both a conditional as well as an unconditional aspect to the covenant with God. The unconditional aspect of the covenant is that by the end of days, the Jewish people will all follow God faithfully. We will all obey the rules, and we will all benefit from the various promises and blessings of whatever the end of days entails, without negating free will.
What is conditional is what happens on the way to that destination. Those who have behaved themselves on that road will be greater beneficiaries, while those who have behaved poorly will pay the price for those missteps.
The Chidushei HaRim argues that if we are all destined to follow the Torah program, it’s foolish to go against it and needlessly suffer the accompanying downside of disobedience. If ultimately, we will obey God, we might as well get with the program at the earliest convenience and reap the commensurate benefits as soon as possible.
To the memory of Nathan Fitoussi z”l.