Ekev, The Fear Of The Lord, And Letting My Wife Know That I Am Running Late


The title of this post appears to go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Ekev is a biblical concept connoting acceptance of a reciprocal obligation. When I agree to pay you $3,000 for your used car, ekev is the word used to describe my act of accepting an obligation.

The “Fear of the Lord” is an often misunderstood idea. It means a lot of things. For this piece, I use it to mean awareness of God’s love, His invitation to each of us to enter into a relationship with Him, and our unworthiness to enter into that relationship.

The last item from the title – letting one’s wife know that I am running late – seems to bring us down from the heights of spirituality to the mundane business of being married.

I hope to show that all three ideas are related — that ekev leads us to call our wives which helps us understand and live the Fear of the Lord.

Let’s start with the Fear of the Lord. Rabbi David Ingber tells a story that helps us begin to understand this idea. It goes like this:

A beloved Muslim holy man was nearing the end of his days. His four closest disciples came to him and asked who would succeed him.

The holy man said, ‘So that I will truly know you, I require that you do the following. Go out to the fields and capture a small bird. Then go to a place where you are alone, kill it, and bring it to me as an act of obedience.’

The four disciples went out and eventually returned. The first disciple, then the second, and then the third placed dead birds at the holy man’s feet. The fourth disciple opened his cupped hands to reveal a living bird.

“How dare you disobey me!,” the holy cleric said.

“I did not disobey you, master,” the fourth man said. I went out to the field and captured a bird. Then I looked for a place where I was alone. There was no such place for the bird, dressed by God Himself, was always with me.”

The cleric smiled. “You have spoken well.”

Fear of the Lord in this telling is an awareness of God’s call to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The holy disciple remained aware of God’s presence as made concrete in the bird while the other three disciples did not. That awareness and awareness of what God’s presence implies stayed the holy disciple’s hand.

If that story illustrates Fear of the Lord, this true story illustrates ekev.

One evening several years ago, I found myself at a gathering with Fr. Lee. The talk turned to debating religious legalism and many other topics. It became clear that I was going to get home later than expected. So I called my wife to let her know.

When I came back, Fr. Lee challenged me. “Why did you do that?” “Just because. So she wouldn’t worry. I don’t know.” Fr. Lee then suggested that I did it because it was something that was natural in the context of our relationship. He was right. That is ekev.

Scriptures tell us that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. When we first say “yes!” to God’s invitation and each time we renew that initial “yes,” we enter into a relationship that has a logic of its own. The relationship implies ekev – that which we agree will be done by agreeing to the relationship. The same way my marriage implies a call when running late so too does a relationship with God imply other obligations. Ekev reminds us that those obligations result from our choice, not imposed on us from the outside; it reminds us that a relationship is a the center of our religion.

—–

Rabbi Ingber’s talk can be found at Soundcloud, an iPhone app. I will update this post when I figure out how to link or otherwise cite properly.

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