Friday, August 22, 2008

Parshat Ekev - פרשת עקב

והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אותם
And "Ekev" you hearken to these commandments, and guard and do them.

The word that gives us the title to this parsha, עקב, is an intriguing one. It is an unusual word, for in this context, the word אם would normally be used. "עקב," however, when literally translated means "heel," much like a command to a dog to walk at its master’s feet. How does this fit in?

Why is a different word used, what does it offer that the regular "אם," does not? There must be a particular message that lies within the use of "עקב" in the context of the Parsha. The most familiar explanation is that of Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, who lived in France in the 11th Century). Rashi teaches that "עקב" stresses obedience to those commandments that a person is inclined to treat lightly. He says that The frame of reference here seems to be those Mitzvot that usually don't get the coverage they deserve because they are viewed as less important, or less pressing in the eyes of the people. His wording references the dual meaning of the word "עקב" as both "because," indicating the end result of Divine service, and "heel" indicating the lightest or lowest level of Mitzvot. These two words share the same spelling, but different pronunciation.

Rashi teaches us a very significant lesson; we may feel that some Mitzvot are less important; for example, most religious Jews would never dream of breaking Shabbat or eating non-Kosher food. But are the same people who are extremely fussy as to where they buy their meat concerned to the same degree about the basic things, things that we do every day? We are in no position to judge which Mitzvot are "ranked" higher and lower! In Parshat Beha’alotcha we learn that Aharon had renewed love for lighting the Menorah every single day. We too must realise that never should we do a mitzvah in a mundane manner, much less neglect doing it at all.

Thus, Rashi explained the verse homiletically, "If you will observe Mitzvot that are ordinarily trampled on by the heel of your foot," then the blessings of Hashem shall follow. It may be that Rashi is not expostulating. He is telling us the secret of spiritual survival. He is relating the formula that may be the secret to the Jew's existence and continuity. It's the small things that merit the blessings. It's the Mitzvot we tend to forget. Those we trample with our heel.

There are certain Mitzvot that anyone who prides himself as a Jew would not forgo. Yom Kippur and Passover are high on the list. Mezuzah and Kosher rank quite high, too. But there are too many others that get trampled. Rashi explains the verse by stating that if the little Mitzvot are ignored, it will not take long before the major Mitzvot join the little ones on their trek to oblivion. The Torah promises us the bounty of its blessing if we observe the Mitzvot. But Rashi gives us a lesson in assuring continuity. Rashi is telling us the Pashut P'shat (the simple meaning)! Don't tread on the little Mitzvot. Watch the Mitzvot that everyone tends to forget. If those heel commandments will be considered important, then all the Mitzvot will ultimately be observed. That's not allegorical discourse. That's the fact!
So may we be worthy of fulfilling our portion, and seeing the Moshiach in our time.

We can take this one step further. "עקב's" message to the Jewish nation might also be that we are not to take anything for granted, nothing should be viewed lightly, that nothing should be trampled on: "And it shall ‘עקב' come to pass, because you harken to these ordinances and observe and keep them, that God will keep his covenant with you." In other words, if you hear the music in the rustle of the trees, if you do not ignore the simple beauty in everyday life, then you will find true fulfilment.

In the realm of Mitzvot as well as in our outlook on life, nothing can be seen as insignificant. And God exhorts us to pay attention to the ordinary, the regular and the commonplace. Living a life in the fast lane (as many lead today), it’s so easy to run over and trample on simple beauty and everyday blessings. The Torah, then, in today’s Parsha, warns us against taking too great a leap in our quest for beauty and bounty. For in the midst of our search and climb, we often miss the first step.

Shabbat Shalom!


  1. Well said--when did being an Orthodox Jew become defined by Shomer Shabbat and Kashrut? As far as I recall, there are 613 Mitzvot. And we are commanded to keep ALL of them.

  2. Thanks for the feedback!

    Exactly, Yehuda. Isn't it interesting when you hear people say that they are Shomer Negiah or whatever?

    Well, since when was there any option? I can just imagine the logic; "I'm a good Jew, but this particular mitzvah doesn't agree with me, and isn't logical, so I won't do it. But Hashem forgives, so it's all ok!"

    Keep on kidding yourself...