Eikev - “The Power to Heel is Ours!”
I just received an email from a good friend who shared that he unfortunately cannot come to Shul this Shabbos because ironically, on this very week of Parashat “Ekev”, he twisted his heel and cannot make the walk. After I blessed him that he should wholly heel, I indeed noted that the Hebrew word “Ekev” as meaning “heel” is commented on by Rashi on these opening words of our Parasha:
“And it shall be that IF you listen to these laws, and keep them and do them, that Hashem your G-d will keep with you the covenant and the mercy that He swore to your fathers,” [ the Torah then goes on to describe in detail the multitude of blessings we will enjoy if we keep those laws]. Rashi, noting that the word IF (as in “IF you listen”) also means heel in Hebrew, cites the Medrash Tanchuma which provides this, more descriptive reading of the verse: “If you (even) keep those simple Mitzvos that people “tread on with their heels”-then you get the blessings…
In other words, this is a special and new covenant/promise: “If you don’t follow the path of the masses who fixate mainly on the “big” and “serious” commandments, if you go the extra mile to adhere to the smallest of commandments, the ones that are not valued by everyone, the ones that are discarded and kicked aside by so many, then you guarantee yourself a life of special blessing”.
But I always wondered, what are those “small and easy” Mitzvos that Rashi refers to? Can we really judge the importance of a Mitzva? In “Ethics of Our Fathers we are told to stay away from “weighing” commandments precisely because: who are we to really know what the impact of any deed is ? Doesn’t the weight of Mitzvah depend on the who, what, where, when, how and why behind it? are there indeed any Mitzvot that we can or should understand to be less significant than others? I have never heard a Rabbi or teacher yet say: “Don’t worry about that Mitzva-it’s not so important”!
I then decided to take a different look at the verse, a homiletical read, which, while perhaps not perfectly grammatical, is close enough for the Rabbis of Medrash to see in it a Remez, a hint to a powerful idea, which I believe they found in the Torah’s choice of the word “Ekev” to convey the promise our Parsha heads off with. My “Drush” interprets the verse as follows:
“Vhaya EKEV Tishmeun”— “If your HEEL listens to my commandments…”.
In other words, stop thinking so much before you decide to follow my words. When you let your ears, which are literally and figuratively sandwiching your brain be the tools for hearing the Mitzvos, way before the commandments make their way to your legs, which can run to do them, they pass through the “head”, the “mind”. And guess what happens then? We start “differentiating between Mitzvos. The ones we “like” become “important”. The ones we are “not so happy about” become the ones we feel are no longer relevant today. We then indeed start to weigh the Mitzvot. Our brilliance shines: we display our refined human ability to rationalize, justify and explain our way right OUT of doing what our heart knows we should be doing. “Charity is great-but family comes first”. “Jewish education is important-but the cost of a Jewish education won’t let me maintain an expensive kosher kitchen”. “Lashon Hara and gossip is terrible, but the public has a right to know” The list goes on-we all can complete it. The “Terutz” -the excuse or explanation -is what we Jews have always excelled at.
Comes the Torah in Parshas Eikev and says: “Let your heels, your legs do the listening. Let your feet “hear” a Mitzva and run with it before you let your mind talk you out of it-and out of the glorious benefit the Mitzva will bring to you. There will be plenty time to question, analyze, understand and explain later. But let’s not allow our supreme human intelligence rob us of our destiny as a result of over-analysis, super-rationalization and refined justification.
So let’s rest our minds this Shabbos, and let our body heel!