Torah Weekly

For the week ending 24 August 2019 / 23 Av 5779

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
Library Library Kaddish

Overview

The Bnei Yisrael carefully observe even those "minor" mitzvoth that are usually "trampled" underfoot, Moshe promises them that they will be the most blessed of the nations on earth. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that they will conquer Eretz Canaan little by little, so that the land will not be overrun by wild animals in the hiatus before Bnei Yisrael are able to organize and settle the whole land. After again warning Bnei Yisrael to burn all carved idols of Canaanite gods, Moshe stresses that the Torah is indivisible and not open to partial observance. Moshe describes the Land of Israel as a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of oil-yielding olives and date-honey. Moshe cautions Bnei Yisrael not to become haughty and think that their success in Eretz Yisrael is a result of their own powers or vigor; rather, it was Hashem who gave them wealth and success. Nor did Hashem drive out the Canaanites because of Bnei Yisrael's righteousness, but rather because of the sins of the Canaanites; for the road from Sinai had been a catalogue of large and small sins and rebellions against Hashem and Moshe. Moshe details the events after Hashem spoke the ten Commandments at Sinai, culminating in his bringing down the second set of Tablets on Yom Kippur. Aharon's passing is recorded as is the elevation of the levi'im to Hashem's ministers. Moshe points out that the 70 souls who went down to Egypt have now become like the stars of heaven in abundance. After specifying the great virtues of the Land of Israel, Moshe speaks the second paragraph of the Shema, conceptualizing the blessings that accompany keeping mitzvot and the curse that results from non-observance.

Insights

Compulsories

“And it will be that if you harken…” (13:17)

Photographer Joe Lipka once observed in LensWork Magazine that all artists start out by imitating their role model. Why else would you want to pick up a brush or a camera or a guitar unless you already saw something that grabbed your imagination and made you feel, “I want to do that!”? The problem is that having achieved a level of competence and duplicating the work of the maestro — what he calls ‘compulsories’ — most people fail to take the next step by stepping outside their comfort zone and replacing necessary plagiarism with art. It’s frightening letting go of the virtuoso’s apron strings, throwing away the training wheels and striking out into the great unknown. But that’s the only way we can really escape the treadmill of reinventing the wheel.

I think there is a lesson here for the spiritual world too. Very often we struggle for competence. Competence in davening, in

learning, in our character traits. And just when we are capable of ‘chidush,’ of contributing something truly unique, we back off and say to ourselves: “Who am I to step out of the crowd? I’m going to stay here where it’s nice and comfortable and where everybody else is.” Truth be known, a Jew is supposed to say, “The world was created for me. I have something unique to contribute, and if I don’t find out what that is, then the main point of my life will have been wasted.”

“And it will be that if you harken…” The word for “if” in Hebrew here is ekev, which means the heel of the foot. The heel is the place of stability in the human frame. To distribute the compressing forces exerted on the heel, especially during the stance phase when the heel contacts the ground, the heel is covered by a layer of subcutaneous connective tissue up to 2 cm thick. This tissue has a system of pressure chambers that acts as a shock absorber and stabilizes the sole. The sole of the foot has one of the densest systems of blood vessels in the human body, and that aids stability further. The heel could be considered one of the most inert, insensitive parts of the human body. But if a person can motivate those forces in him that tend to immobilize and ground him, if he can get even his heel to ‘hear’ what G-d truly wants of him — then he will fulfill his unique mission in life.

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