This week’s Parsha, Parshat Ekev, contains one of the more difficult verses in the Torah. The verse is not difficult to translate, but it is exceedingly difficult to make sense of.
After recounting the sin of the Golden Calf and his efforts to gain forgiveness on behalf of the people, Moshe declares: “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? But to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways and to love him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). While this seems like a nice summary of what is to be expected of one committed to a religious life, the Gemara is troubled by the simplicity with which Moshe presents this to the Jewish people.
The Gemara (Berachot 33b) asks, “Is the fear of heaven such a little thing?” Moshe may have presented as something that is easily achievable, but the Gemara knows that in reality achieving proper fear of heaven is no small task. The Gemara concludes by explaining having fear of heaven really was a relatively minor thing for Moshe, but for the rest of us it is indeed quite difficult to achieve.
Perhaps troubled by this rather difficult challenge presented by Moshe, a different passage in the Gemara offers a seemingly radically different reading of our verse. In Menachot 43b, Rabbi Meir sees our verse as the source that a person must recite a minimum of 100 blessings daily. Rather than reading the word “what” as in “what [does the Lord your God require of you],” which in Hebrew is mah, Rabbi Meir says that we should vocalize it as meah, which means 100. Thus, according to Rabbi Meir, Moshe informs the Jewish people that God requires 100 [blessings] of them.
While Rabbi Meir’s reading seems far-fetched from the Torah’s original meaning, it is possible that his creative read helps ease the level of difficulty in Moshe’s original admonishment. Perhaps Rabbi Meir means to say that he recognizes the difficulty with which one achieves fear of God as Moshe describes it. But rather than despair, he tells us that nurturing a proper relationship with God is not so difficult if we take it one small step at a time.
Each blessing in itself is not such a big deal. But by ensuring that we recite a minimum of 100 blessings in the course of our daily routines — when we eat, witness wondrous phenomena in nature, use the bathroom, etc. — we help to nurture an awareness of God. Such an awareness allows us to appreciate God’s greatness and achieve the seemingly difficult challenge issued by Moshe.
Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz is spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom.