Sometimes, when faced with enormous challenges, we raise our hands to the sky and proclaim: “It’s impossible!” Sometimes, when faced with seemingly unbeatable odds, we shrug our shoulders and mumble: “It can’t be done!”
Sometimes, when faced with what we believe are insurmountable obstacles, we shake our heads as if to say – “No way!”
Sometimes, when we think about what we think we can and cannot do, we internalize a negative posture: “Nope, it ain’t gonna happen!” However, this week’s portion, Ekev, attempts to shatter this negative stance. It shows us that, in Sammy Davis Jr’s immortal words: “Yes, I can!”
If you have been following our Torah readings for the past few weeks, you know that, at this point in the narrative, Moses is saying goodbye to the Children of Israel. They have been traveling together throughout the Wilderness of Sinai, and are about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. Alas, Moses will not be able to join them and so, as his parting gift, he recalls the past 39 or so years,
And what he recalls are all the events that would have been thought impossible, had they not been performed by God. Their liberation from the centuries-long slavery in Egypt, their miraculous trek through the Red Sea, their very survival in the wilderness, their victories over enemies who were mightier and more numerous. (By the way, this also sounds like the story of modern Israel!) Moses brings to mind the engraving of the Ten Commandments with God’s words of fire; and manna from heaven; and a pillar of cloud to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire to lead them at night. So far, we would all agree that these events “seem” impossible, or at least improbable. Yet, they were all executed, in full view of all the men, women and children who were there.
Then, as if to really emphasize how God makes the impossible possible, he reminds them of a time when a most unusual, unpredictable and mysterious incident took place. The people were thirsty, and lo and behold, Moses, with God’s help for sure, was able to get water to come gushing out of a rock! I remember living in a small settlement in Israel when we could barely get water out of faucet, never mind out of a rock!
Moses seems to be saying that we, ourselves, also have the power to make possible what may at first appear impossible. And how do we do that? Well, the Torah offers us a clue. Several times, Moses describes the actions of God as accomplished by a “Yad Chazaka, Uzroa Netuya,” That is, by a strong hand and an outstretched arm. So, the lesson might be this: in order for us to face challenges and meet goals that give the impression of being unattainable, we need two things – a Yad Chazaka – a strong hand, a strong will, a strong motivator, a strong desire to achieve. Then, once we have those necessary tools, we can perform the second part – Uzroa Netuya – stretching our arm and reaching for whatever it is we are striving for. In a way, we need to talk the talk AND walk the walk. We need to make ourselves strong, and then go forth and do it!
Whatever our desires, whatever mountains we wish to climb, with a Yad Chzaka and a Zroa Netuya (and a good dose of faith), we can all make water flow from a rock!
ETHAN ADLER is rabbi of Congregation Beth David in Narragansett.