HEEL AND TOE – “Eykev” – Deut. 7:12-11:25, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
The name of this week’s reading is EYKEV – meaning a result. “Eykev tishm’oon” it says – As a result of listening to the commandments and following them, you can expect to accomplish good things in your life. And if we don’t listen, and we don’t carry out the Divine will, we will suffer the consequences. Cause and effect. Interestingly enough, EYKEV also means Heel. The imagery is unique: just as surely as the heel follows the toe, so follow the results of our actions.
This is the message Moses gives the people during his farewell speeches at the end of his life. Every year we read it. And every year we wonder if it makes any impression.
Of course Moses was not the only leader who gave the people such messages. Just a few weeks ago we read in the Haftorah of Balak a message from the prophet Micah: “higid l’kha adam ma tov – He told you, man, what is good and what is required of you: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your G-d.”
Down through the ages, lawgiver, prophet and sage keep trying to teach us basic values. Personally, this Shabos is very special for me, since I observe my father’s 57th Yortzite this week. My father z”l was a rabbi and a teacher of rabbis. The last sermon I ever heard him deliver was based on both of these texts. In fact, he contrasted them. Here, in effect, was his message:
Micah stresses three ideals: justice, mercy, humility. These make the character of a religious human being.
Moses also stresses three ideals. In Chapter 10 verse 12, he asks: “Now, Israel, what does G-d expect from you? To fear the L-rd your G-d, to love Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.”
The parallels are not hard to draw. The Biblical concept of “fear of G-d” implies reverence. Not fright, but supreme respect. If we truly revere G-d we want to pattern our lives after the qualities we associate with Him. And justice is one primary attribute of Divinity, the MIDAS haDIN, the “quality of justice” that we recall with such drama on Yom Kippur. So, reverence for G-d – Moses’ first ideal – leads to doing justice – Micah’s first ideal.
“Love of G-d” is actualized by love of our fellow creatures. We believe that we all carry the Divine image in us. That image includes the MIDAS haRAKHAMIM, the quality of mercy. Even Shakespeare said it is “not strained.” Judaism teaches us to treat each other with kindness, to carry over some of the respect we feel for G-d into a mutual respect in dealing with people. Micah’s second ideal – loving mercy – is the clear result.
And serving G-d with total respect implies a type of attitude and a type of conduct: AVODAH is one of those Hebrew words that has two meanings – Work, and Worship. To worship G-d with sincerity requires an attitude of humility. You can’t pray honestly unless you feel a good deal less important than the Divinity you pray to. And you can’t strive to do better and better work unless you realize that you yourself are less than perfect. Unless you have some humility. When Micah said “walk humbly with G-d” he meant exactly that.
So Moses and Micah struck three parallel alerts.
Then my father went on to point out the difference between these two prophetic messages.
The difference comes in the very next sentence. Here Moses says “Lishmor es mitzvos HaShem – Keep G-d’s commandments!” That is the tool he gave us at Mount Sinai – the tool to carry out and accomplish these ideals.
Micah said nothing about Mitzvos. For a very good reason too. Micah was addressing the whole human race: Adam – Mankind. Moses was addressing Yisroel – The Jewish people. For us, Mitzva is the key that unlocks the door of a better life.
All this, of course, is on the individual level. EYKEV covers the national level too. Moses reminds them of the chosenness of Israel: “Rak ba-avosekha — Only your ancestors did G-d desire to be His beloved people” – and then he follows this section with a discussion of the land they are about to enter, and tells them that HaShem watches the land of Israel all year round.
Today we see our people in Israel dealing with attacks both violent and verbal. We pray for their survival, their success, their safety. We hear controversy about whether Mitzva-observant Jews should leave yeshiva training to serve in the army, and we also hear about military arrangements developed to facilitate that service. And we recall Moses’ promise to the IDF of his day, that they will triumph “Im shomor tishm’roon – If indeed you will guard the Mitzvos” by learning and doing them, and guard again by reviewing them to prevent forgetting.
Does this mean that only observant Jews should fight for their country? Hardly. Certainly they are not the only ones who live there. So, try this basic interpretation. The policies of a nation produce some logical results. If Israel is a Jewish nation, we should expect it to follow Torah values, and indeed it does even in warfare, always striving to avoid civilian casualties, fighting clean. Essentially Israel follows the vision of EYKEV for Eretz Yisrael. We need to implement it for Klal Yisrael– for global Jewry. We have the tools to achieve it: Lishmor es haMitzvos – Keep the Mitzvos, as Rashi points out “Lo l’khinnom ella l’tov lokh – Not for nothing, but for your own good.”
Micah gave a message to humanity. Moses gave a message to the Jews. We ignore both at our peril. We can accept both for our own good. It follows as the heel follows the toe.