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    The second paragraph – Ekev

    shema-e1322485239744This sidra is the source of the passage which we know as the second paragraph of the Shema.

    The three paragraphs combine to teach us three elements of Jewish theology – God’s existence (first paragraph), His reward for obedience and punishment for disobedience (second paragraph) and His gift of the Torah (third paragraph).

    In regard to reward and punishment, let’s ask, “Why depend on incentives for obedience, when really we ought to keep the commandments purely out of love for God?”

    One answer is that if this is the only way to get humans to obey God is to reward or punish them, i.e. to act for an ulterior motive, this is surely better than not obeying at all.

    Another approach is to say that we are not acting virtuously because of the promise of reward or fear of punishment; but out of love for God (“for the sake of Heaven”) – but as a matter of experience the obedience generally brings its own reward anyhow.

    We hope that deeds of righteousness will make the world a better place and believe that in the long run this will be the outcome, making each one of us a mini-Messiah with the power to bring about positive results, but we still do the right thing, irrespective of the result.

    I cannot get out my mind, and indeed I probably often quote in OzTorah, what a bridegroom told me when I urged him to come to shule on the Shabbat before his wedding, “My best day in the market is Saturday. If the Chief Rabbi will promise me a big enough hand-out I will close my stall and come to shule that day”.

    I couldn’t speak on behalf of the Chief Rabbi or even of God, and I could not agree with trying to make a bargain instead of doing the right thing for its own sake.

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