This week’s Parasha: Ekev. It begins by talking about the different rewards for our adherence to Torah laws. “You will be blessed among all nations…” “He will not visit any of the terrible Egyptian afflictions on you…” And then G-d tries to give us confidence and courage to do what we have to do. “You might say to yourself that these nations are more numerous than we are, how will we be able to drive them out?” But “do not be afraid of them… G-d will uproot these nations little by little… G-d will place these nations in your power…” Amazing promises
And then the Torah lists the dangers of overconfidence, “not by bread alone does man live, but by all the comes out of G-d’s mouth…” “When you eat and are satisfied, you must, therefore, bless G-d…” “Never forget that it was He Who led you through the great and terrifying desert… it was He Who provided you water from a solid cliff…” “He is the One Who gives you the strength to become prosperous…”
These are sacred words that carried Bnei Yisrael from a dream existence into the real world. Think about it, in the desert, they knew very little real world. They lived an insular and elevated existence. They were so so close to G-d. There was little testing the veracity of their faith. Much like in grade school and high school. The complete black and white of the teenage reality. The total unbending, intense sense of justice. In theory, it works, but what about in the real world. Can our faith and our belief withstand the litmus test of reality? When we are asked to sacrifice for it? To give up something for our beliefs? Do we speak as fiercely? Are we as convinced, or convincing? Here Hashem was fortifying them and us, through the ages and through the pages and teaching us the very most important lesson of life. It is all like a narrow bridge, walk the tightrope of life. Don’ be scared but don’t be overconfident. Believe in yourselves but more, believe in Him. Don’t worship idolatry, but don’t worship yourself! Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t ever forget who you are! You are about to enter a beautiful land, but it is a demanding land… Love the land but do not be tempted by it, don’t let it lead you astray…
Well, friends that was more or less an overview. Most commentaries though never really get past the first few words of the parasha. Because they are fascinating. Hashem tells us “That it will be when you listen to these laws…” A strange word is used for listen, Ekev. And Rashi comments, a very famous commentary, that when we pay attention to those mitzvot that people usually trample on with their heels…” Which means, we are actually being urged to pay attention to all the mitzvot because no one really knows the value of a mitzva. Which is more important and which less. Which to concentrate on and which can we not. As it says in Pirkei Avot: Be careful with an easy mitzva as with a challenging one, because no one really knows their value in the World To Come…”
This whole idea became really apropos this week when I had a discussion with my son Moishie. We were actually talking about seat belts. Sounds really simple. But he had no idea what an easy mitzva he was giving up. Mitzvah, you say? Absolutely. There is a mitzva in the Torah of “Venishmartem meod…” be very vigilant of your body, the repository of your soul! Health is not only for the enlightened and the new agers. Every committed Jew must take care of his health. Yes, his food intake, his weight, his stress levels, his alcohol intake, his substance consumption, how much sleep he (or she!) gets. This all figures in. Jews should not smoke. And it’s a mitzva to not smoke!! How easy is it to click on your seatbelt? Law or not, it is a G-dly thing to do! And that means that you get brownie points for it up in Heaven!!
And then we went a step further. Most mitzvot and their rewards are proportional to our eagerness to do them. The better we do a mitzva, the more complete that mitzva is. Every mitzva we do, creates an angel! Angels that watch over us and guard us. But sometimes we only do a mitzvah half way or half-heartedly. We don’t see it through to completion, we start it off on the left foot, we falter along the way. It is very very difficult to create a complete mitzva. And if our mitzva is incomplete, then so is our angel. More often than not, we have a whole team of handicapped angels. One missing a hand, a leg, a heart… But if we do a complete mitzva, we have a complete angel. Click on your seatbelt and there you have a beautiful, squeaky clean, complete angel. I don’t work for traffic control but you get the picture. It is one of endless examples. And that is perhaps why we should pay attention to those mitzvot that we don’t usually pay attention to. Because chances are we do those more completely!!
Another example, and one that has needed reinforcement in our home, is netilat yadayim, ritually cleansing our hand in the morning when we wake up. You wash your hands anyways. And if you do it with a cup, then you get everlasting eternal reward for it!! So easy. How good G-d is with us!
What about putting on your right shoe before your left? You do it anyway, but if you do it with the proper intention, you create angels. Right sleeve before the left sleeve. No big deal. It is so nothing and you get eternal reward for them.
A penny in a tzedaka box. One has no idea how far it will go. Talk about getting the most return for your dollar… Do you have any idea at all how much G-d loves and watches over his children who put a smile on the face of one of His sons???
Needless to say, a smile is another perfect example! What does it cost you? It takes more muscles to frown than to smile! And no one needs a smile more than he who has none to give! And think of the domino effect of a smile, a kind word, a hug, an endearing, encouraging statement. The value of a pep talk!!!!!!!! Need we say more? You have people sprouting wings and becoming motivated and productive and oh the wonder of it!
There is a saying that G-d loves us very much and wanted to help us earn merits, therefore He gave us lots and lots of Mitzvot.” Hold on, wait a second. What? You love me so you give me a lot of instructions. that doesn’t make sense. What kind of love is that? There are many beautiful answers but the above is one of them. Many of them are things you would do anyways. Or should. And you become spiritually elevated by them!! It can only be Divine!
Our Sages tell us that there are those who can earn their Olam Haba in one moment. So we all think that in that moment, he did something huge like save the world or negotiate world peace or solve the problem of famine in third world countries. But while that would be nice, that particular lucky fellow, that Ben Olam Haba, may not have had to do anything so strenuous. He may have just kept his mouth closed in an argument, he may have had one pure, unadulterated thought of Torah, he may have done a single act of kindness with no ulterior motive or no thought of repayment!! That’s it! But in the Godly accounting department that is a lot! A whole lot!
The ironic part of all this is one that I should caution you about. Because after reading this one would think that one would be more inclined and enthusiastic about doing things in a way that would earn them a mitzva. But that is where the yetzer hara arrives on the scene. It will become now so much more difficult to put your right shoe on first, or to use your seat belt. You will find that little inner voice telling you even more persistently that “it is only around the corner,” or “that there are no police around,” or “I’m not really going far at all…” All kinds of excuses. Because now a mitzva is at stake ant the yetzer hara doesn’t give them away so easily…
But I still think it was very worth our while having this discussion!
All the very best, always!
Shabat Shalom dear friends!