Parashat Ekev is the forty-sixth weekly portion in the Torah and the third in the Book of Deuteronomy (7:12-11:25). While in Parashat Devarim, Moses describes the journey from Mount Horeb to the Jordan; and in Parashat Va’etchanan, he explores the most significant event at Horeb, the Giving of the Ten Commandments; in Parashat Ekev, he turns his attention to the most tragic event at Horeb, the Sin of the Golden Calf.
Why would Moses bring up such a painful, shameful episode forty years in the past? Moses clearly understands that for the people to move past the trauma of the Golden Calf, they must confront the incident.
Thus, Moses begins (7:12-9:6) by talking about the power of memory. The Promised Land is a pagan culture, and the Israelites must prepare themselves to confront the idolatrous society of Canaan. To do this they must always remember that God is the source of their strength, and never forget that it is by His grace that they come to inherit the land. Moses is brutally honest: “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
The tale of the Golden Calf (9:7-10:11) is one we are familiar with, but here we gain insight into Moses’ perspective, his deep disappointment and frustration with the Israelites even as he makes the case to God to save them. We know that the Generation of the Exodus never makes it to the Promised Land, but by presenting the Sin of the Spies first and out of chronological order, Moses reinforces the idea of sin being a cycle which the people can only break out of if they reform their “stiff-necked” nature by being mindful, by always remembering God.
Finally (10:12-11:25), Moses reassures the people that they do indeed have the ability to improve themselves: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” By constantly remembering God and emulating His ways, they may become compassionate, loving, just — and victorious.
The portion from the Prophets is the second entry in the Seven of Consolation, Isaiah 49:14-51:3. Its opening echoes a major theme of the Torah portion: “Zion has said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me,’ but can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” In addition, as in the Torah portion, the Prophet speaks of God’s love for Israel, not only as a parent but as a spouse; he also invokes the merits of the nation’s forebears: “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth.”