The Torah portion of Eikev is named for the word “eikev” in the portion’s first verse: “Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them.” 1 Eikev also means “heel.” This gives rise to a number of commentaries by our Sages. Among them:
(a) Eikev refers to those mitzvos that people treat lightly and “tread upon with their heels,”2 or “toss under their heels.”3 The verse thus implies that those commandments, too, shall be obeyed.
(b) Eikev alludes to the time just before the coming of Mashiach: “on the heels of Mashiach.” The verse is thus telling us that close to Mashiach’s coming Jews will surely obey G‑d’s commands. This confirms the Torah’s assurance4 that prior to Mashiach’s coming, the Jews will return to G‑d.5
When there are several commentaries on the same verse in the Torah, and especially on the same word, the explanations are interrelated.6 What, then, is the relationship between the two above-mentioned comments on Eikev?
Immediately following the words “Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them,” the Torah goes on to state: “G‑d your L‑rd will [therefore] keep his covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers.”
Divine beneficence may come about in one of two manners:
(a) It may be engendered as a result of a person’s good actions (i.e., he earns it), or it may be purely an act of G‑d’s kindness, whereby He showers goodness even upon the unworthy.
(b) G‑d acts in a beneficent manner towards the Jewish people because of his covenant with our forefathers, for which reason Jews must receive all manner of good, even if they are — Heaven forfend — unworthy, and even if G‑d is not “feeling” particularly well-disposed towards them.
It would seem that in this instance G‑d has no choice, as it were, in the matter; He must provide the Jewish people with all manner of good because of the “covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers.”
This being so, how is it that the verse makes G‑d’s “covenant and kindness” dependent on the Jews’ good behavior — “because you listen”? After all, the whole point of the covenant is that He will act kindly toward the Jews even when their behavior is wanting.
Conversely, when Jews do indeed “listen to these laws,” performing even those mitzvos that may be taken lightly, then it follows that they will earn G‑d’s beneficence. At such times it becomes unnecessary for G‑d to provide His benevolence because of His “covenant, kindness, and oath.”7
Man enjoys that which he works for. Present a person with a gift that is wholly unearned and the recipient will accept it with a sense of shame, aware that he has done nothing to make himself worthy of the gift. Since G‑d desires to provide the Jewish people with complete goodness, He therefore established that all Divine beneficence should come as a “reward” for service.
For this reason, even that goodness which every Jew receives as a result of the “covenant and kindness that He swore” must also be engendered by spiritual toil. Furthermore, when a person does indeed “listen to these laws,” he receives Divine beneficence that is truly limitless — in keeping with G‑d’s infinite “kindness that He swore,” rather than a reward commensurate with the person’s limited service.
The merit of service is particularly felt at the conclusion of the Exile, when Jews are “on the heels of the Mashiach.” For then the darkness of exile is particularly intense and the Jews’ spiritual might is waning; at that time, Jews perform mitzvos not out of any sense of personal delight, but out of self-sacrifice to G‑d.
This quality found at a time when Jews are “on the heels of the Mashiach” also finds expression in the performance of those commands that a person tends to take lightly.
When a person performs mitzvos out of a sense of self, he will naturally differentiate between those that he deems more important—the level of “head” — and those that he deems of lesser importance — at the level of “heel.” When, however, mitzvos are performed solely because G‑d has so commanded, then “head” mitzvos and “heel” mitzvos will be performed with equal intensity. (Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, pp. 71–74.)
Heels Over Head
When the Midrash Tanchuma9 explains that “these laws” refers to mitzvos that seemingly lack significance, so that people tend to “ignore them and cast them under their heels,” it would, at first glance, seem that the Midrash is implying that these seemingly unimportant commandments are treated so lightly by some individuals that they do not observe them at all.
However, if this were indeed so, what is the connection between their non-performance and their being “cast under the heel” — if they are not performed at all, then they are “cast out entirely,” not merely “cast under the heel.”
Truly, the Midrash is not referring to people who maintain that these “insignificant” mitzvos need not be performed, and surely it does not allude to those individuals who defile them by casting them under their heels.
Rather, the Midrash is making reference to those persons who recognize that all mitzvos are to be performed, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, only that these individuals prioritize the order of their performance, delaying the performance of mitzvos that they treat lightly — they cast their performance “under their heels.”
These persons maintain that they will first see to it that the “head,” i.e., the most important and stringent matters, will be performed properly. Afterward they will see to those mitzvos that are in close proximity to the head — mitzvos that are slightly less major. Only at the very last will they think about observing “heel mitzvos,” and surely going above and beyond the letter of the law through the beautification and enhancement of these mitzvos will be put off to the very end.
Such individuals contend that one cannot possibly begin with the “heel”; order dictates that one must first do those things that are of greatest import and only then can one begin to think about deeper piety, enhanced performance, beautification of mitzvos, etc.
Although such thinking has a certain validity,10 it is absolutely vital that Divine service begin with faith and acceptance of G‑d’s yoke, not with the dictates of logic. And the Jewish faith exhorts the individual to be as scrupulously observant of the seemingly minor mitzvos as the major ones.
For the quintessential aspect of all mitzvos is that they unite the individual with G‑d.11 This applies to all the mitzvos, without the slightest difference between “major” and “minor” mitzvos, “head mitzvos” or “heel mitzvos.” It is therefore out of place to think about a sequential order to the performance of mitzvos.12
Thus we also observe that the condition which enabled the Jewish people to receive the Torah and become a nation was their prefacing “We shall do” to “We shall hear” — a totally illogical sequence.13
For a Jew’s spiritual beginning, similar to the beginning of the Jewish nation as a whole, must be with faith and acceptance of the Divine yoke and not with intellect; even those matters that are readily understandable must be performed out of a sense of faith and G‑dly submission.
So too, children, people at the beginning of their lives, should know not only about the natural, i.e., logical, events that transpired with the Jewish people, but the miraculous, i.e., faith and belief, as well. This instills a firm foundation of faith in G‑d.
This manner of conduct is especially important in times of exile, when the Jewish people are “like a sheep surrounded by 70 wolves”:14 When we transcend our self-imposed order and are equally fervent in our performance of all commandments, then G‑d too forgoes the “order” of natural events, and the “Great Shepherd protects His sheep,”15 and abundantly provides them with children, health, and sustenance. (Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 89–93.)
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l; adapted by R’ Sholom B. Wineberg. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.
- Devarim 7:12.
- Rashi, ibid.
- Tanchuma, ibid.
- Devarim 30:2. See also Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5.
- Or HaTorah beginning of Eikev; ibid., p. 491; ibid., p. 504.
- See Likkutei Sichos III, p. 782.
- See Klei Yakar, Devarim 7:12.
- Devarim 7:12.
- See Mo’ed Kattan 9a.
- Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 45c; Rebbe Omer 5700, conclusion of ch. 1 and onward.
- See Kuntres U’Mayon, p. 22.
- See Shabbos 88a.
- Tanchuma, Toldos; Esther Rabbah 10:11; Pesikta Rabosi ch. 9.
- Tanchuma, Toldos; Esther Rabbah, ibid.