When man was created, he was placed in the Garden of Eden and he walked with G-d. Adam had a complete awareness of G-d. Consider the text that says, And they heard the sound of Hashem God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” the commentaries indicate this was a natural and frequent occurrence.
In one of the saddest stories in Genesis, the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Hashem God among the trees of the garden. In spite of their sin, Hashem was still walking with them; Adam and Chavah, on the other hand, were the ones trying to hide from Hashem. They were the ones who were cutting the relationship. The rest of the Torah is designed to return us to this state, a state of an awareness of G-d.
Parshah Ekev provides a short list of blessings for obedience. For the longest time, I used to think of the tochachah and blessings in Torah as divine “Reward and Punishment,” and these curses and blessings are geared specifically to the community as a unit, and not to the individual.
As I was growing up, my mother and my stepfather were antithetical. My mother, for the most part, was gracious and understanding, while my stepfather was quite the authoritarian; his patience was short and his mercy shorter. Therefore, when I read in Torah the blessings of obedience, I saw a G-d who formed my mother from a fragment of His chen. On the other hand, when I read the tochachah in Scripture, I saw a G-d who formed the mold into which my stepfather fit.
But, this week as I was reading Ekev, I began to realize my understanding of Torah and the blessing and curses has been skewed, and my relationship with my stepfather was partially at fault. These are not Rewards and Punishments, per se. They serve a different purpose.
The whole of Torah is an attempt to create in us an awareness of G-d. As we descended into a state of utter tumah in Egypt, Hashem provided a messianic figure to bring us out of Egypt, and that figure was Moshe Rabbeinu. As the events of the Exodus unfolded, Hashem was making Himself known; 13 times the narrative mentions that the events were occurring so the people (Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and/or the Israelites) would know that He is Hashem.
Once we left, further miracles occurred that caused awe and fear in us. The parting of the Red Sea, turning bitter water into sweet, the constant miracle of the manna, up to the revelation of Hashem at Sinai. This was all designed to give us an awareness of G-d, but the manna was a primary source of awareness because for 40 years, we needed to look to Heaven, for this was not a food that originated on Earth.
In the lists of blessings, we have what we normally deem rewards for obedience. However, if we look to the Garden of Eden, we see an idyllic life shared by Adam and Chavah in the garden that involved little work. All they needed to do was pick whatever they desired to eat and to praise Hashem for the food. No real work is implied in the text; and they walked with G-d.
Once they sinned, the presence of G-d was still in their midst; it was they who hid from G-d. As the Genesis-Exodus narrative progresses, the people in the Genesis and Exodus narrative work harder and harder in direct correlation to the decrease in their awareness of Hashem. In like manner, as we sin, our paths plummet away from Hashem and we, too, hide from his presence.
Since we have a proclivity to do what’s right in our own eyes, we were given the commands of Torah as a method by which we can once again draw near to Hashem. As we failed to uphold this standard of kedushah, Hashem gave additional commands in order to provide us more opportunities to sanctify ourselves, which will allow us to dwell in the presence of Hashem. This is why it’s laughable when people are dismissive of any of the commands; it’s as if they believe their lives are so perfect that sanctification is unnecessary.
As we obey the commands, we are given blessings, and these blessings involve the reduction of work and stress. I am not implying that if you work hard or you have stress, you are less obedient than someone who has no stress or no job. It’s simply an observation of the text. The amount of stress one person can handle will not be the same as someone else’s work or stress threshold, but each person who increases his or her obedience, will in fact, sense a decrease in their workload and their stress, and these extra opportunities can be used to further bless Hashem. As we increase our obedience, our awareness of Hashem is heightened. For an extreme example, Moshe was on the mountain for two separate 40-day periods and he neither drank nor ate and never suffered a loss of his G-d Consciousness; in fact, his face shown after dwelling in the Shechinah, which ties us back to the Garden of Eden narrative.
As we abandon the ways of G-d, the opposite begins to occur. We hide more and more from the presence of Hashem. This further separation from Hashem manifests itself as decreased protection from base spiritual and physical forces, and these are easily viewed as curses. However, these negative effects [while rightly are seen as punishment] should more accurately be viewed as opportunities for us to take stock of our lives. We are supposed to see that life is beginning to suck, and we should remember and return to Hashem. As we further hide from G-d, the negative effects designed to create teshuvah strengthen [or worsen] and widen, until [at the very worst] death occurs, which returns the soul to our Creator.
When I was younger, I was a fighter. I had something to prove to the world and to myself. However, I discovered I was not well liked. One day while attending middle school in Castle Rock, CO, I realized I was becoming my stepfather, and that floored me. It scared me because I did not want my kids feeling about me the way I felt about him. That day, I made the conscious effort to change, to treat people with love and respect, and that’s when I began to sense His presence.
There are many verses that portray a life of happiness and blessing for those who possess an awareness of G-d’s presence. Here’s a very small sampling:
- Joyful are people of integrity who follow the instructions of Hashem. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.
- Yeshua replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”
- If you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says, and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
Rather than inquire why Hashem allows a nation to have bad leaders, spiraling debt, violence, and anxiety, we should ask what we did that allowed such an occurrence. Chances are, the cure we need is to raise our awareness of G-d.
 Heb. ruach
 Genesis 3:8
 Genesis 3:8
 Exodus 6:7, 7:5, 7:17, 8:10, 8:22, 9:14, 9:29, 10:2, 11:7, 14:4, 14:18, 16:6, 16:12
 Heb. le’ovdah uleshomrah, which means to work [or worship] and to guard or watch
 This principle is seen in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Chavah are given one [negative] command.
 The Rabbis say Adam and Chavah shown as the sun because they dwelled in the presence of Hashem
 a return to Hashem
 Psalm 119:1–8
 Luke 11:28
 James 1:22–25