Haftarah Parshat Ekev
July 27, 2002
In the second verse of the haftarah, God reassured the people of Israel that He wiould not forget them: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands (al capayim), your walls are ever before Me” (Isaiah 49:16) Rashi explains that this metaphor implies that God will not forget His people for it is as though they are engraved on the palms of His hands, a place that He is constantly aware of, so that He will be unable to forget them.
In the following midrash, the sages learn from this verse a valuable human lesson related to God’s promise: Rabbi Eibo said: …The people of Israel pleaded with God in an improper way. The people of Israel said: ‘Set me as a seal on your heart, like a seal upon your arm’ (Song of Songs 8:6) The prophets responded: “You asked God in an inappropriate way since the heart is sometimes revealed and sometimes covered. You should have asked this way – ‘[It should be] a crown of beauty in the hands of the Lord and a royal diadem in the hand of your God’ (Isaiah 42:3) [since both a crown and a diadem are always noticeable to a king.]
Rabbi Shimon ben Kuzit [raised an objection] in the name of Rabbi Levi: The Holy One Blessed be He said to the people of Israel: ‘Neither you nor your prophet have asked me in the proper way’ This can be compared to a king of flesh and blood whose crown and cape fell off while he was on a journey [implying that a crown and a cape can also be forgotten]. How should they have phrased their plea: ‘Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands (verse 16)… Others may forget [their children], but I [God] will never forget you’ (verse 14) (adapted from Song of Songs Rabbah 8,6,4)
There is good practical advice to be learned from Rabbi Levi. He suggests that when we pray before God we do it with proper preparation and wisdom. Nothing can replace these qualities. That is why the sages urged that we learn how to pray so that our prayers will be familiar to us and our message before God will be clear. This advice also has a more general application: No matter what we do, preparedness and discernment will ultimately be rewarded.