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Parashat Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to God for the good land which God has given you (Deut. 8:10) Moses spends a lot of time in Parashat Eikev reminding the Israelites of the things they did wrong during the wandering in the desert. And then, as if to rub it in even more, Moses tells them not once, but twice, that the reason they get to settle in Canaan is because of the merit of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, rather than their own goodness (Deut. 9:5, 27). That doesn’t seem likely to inspire the people to greater levels of obedience. Z’chut Avot (Hebrew for merit of the fathers; nowadays, many people automatically add “v’imahot,” (and the mothers) to this phrase) is an important concept and it teaches an important lesson about God’s basic nature. The God of justice rewards and punishes people as they deserve. The God of mercy, on the other hand, finds a way to give people better than they deserve. Generally, whenever there is a conflict between the two, the God of mercy always wins out. Hence, z’chut avot; God is merciful because of our ancestors. We all use a variant of Z’chut Avot when we extend ourselves for a colleague’s child, or a friend of a friend. That is, we assume the best of these people we do not know because of the esteem we have for the connecting person we do know. In fact, this principle is enshrined in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, as, “…Judge each person on the positive side of the scale.” (Avot 1:6) The lesson of z’chut avot in this week’s parasha (portion) is to be generous when judging others. If there’s a way to say yes, find it.


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