My Grammy, Muriel, was one heck of a shopper. She loved nothing more than finding an incredible deal on almost anything. She always knew the best time to go shopping for a deal on clothes, so an entirely new wardrobe could be purchased for a third of the actual price. But she was truly in her element at the flea market. Grammy could haggle like the best of them. I have vivid memories of visiting her in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she would winter, and going to the flea market with her. I’d fall in love with a ring or a trinket, and there was no way Grammy would let me pay the asking price. She’d haggle, walk away, and then somehow get it for a lower price.
As helpful a tactic as bargaining can be in a flea market, it doesn’t work in all facets of life. Maybe you’ve had a loved one who fell ill, and you begged a doctor to do something perhaps beyond human capability. Maybe you’ve missed an important deadline and can’t get yourself or your kid into a program you were counting on or complete a project by a deadline. Bargaining doesn’t usually work in these more abstract cases, and that includes bargaining with God. Have you ever tried to bargain with God? “Just let me pass this test, and I’ll study for the next one.” “Let my loved one heal, and I’ll do a mitzvah.” Has it worked?
Parshat Eikev, which we read this week, explores the notion that God might or might not respond to bargains. We learn of the blessing and reward you receive if you keep the laws of the Torah and of the consequences for those who don’t follow those laws. The Torah recaps the lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moshe’s prayer for the people. We finally receive the second section of the Shema, followed by a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments.
In the midst of these lessons we read in chapter 10, verse 17 that God “is supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe.” In essence, God is God, and unyielding when it comes to our desired outcomes in the world, whatever they may be. No matter how much we may want to change reality, bribing God won’t cut it. It is upon us to do the work. If only life were like a flea market and we could bargain our way in or out of any situation. But Eikev reminds us God is not that kind of creator.