May 21, 2024
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There are a number of puzzling things in Parshat Eikev, including the name itself. The parsha begins: “וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, And it will be if you observe the laws….” Why use the word eikev for “if”? The word eikev derives from the word heel. Rashi says: “If you will heed the minor commandments which one [usually] tramples with his heels,” Hashem will reward you. It still seems an odd choice of words.

Another noteworthy aspect is that the parsha seems to highlight Moshe’s multiple trips up Har Sinai in connection with obtaining for us both the shnei luchot and forgiveness. We also find multiple references in the parsha to bread, clothing and being led in the wilderness. Indeed, we find in close proximity two almost identical statements concerning the mann. There is a statement in the first aliyah (8:3) and then an almost identical statement 13 pasukim later in the second aliyah (8:16). In both instances it is pointed out that preceding generations had no knowledge of mann. These two aliyahs are themselves intriguing. At first blush, the second aliyah seems redundant of the last portion of the first aliyah.

There are, of course, differences between the first and second aliyahs. The first aliyah mentions coming into and possessing the land, not so the second aliyah. Nor does the second aliyah mention exile as a consequence of disobeying Hashem. Rather, the text of the second aliyah warns of attributing success to your own power. It warns that if you go after other gods you will perish like the other nations which Hashem caused to perish. What does it mean that we will suffer the same fate he inflicts on other nations?

To answer the foregoing question, take note of the first aliyah’s warning concerning the danger of forgetting Hashem in the midst of prosperity. It cautions: “lest you eat and are satisfied and build good houses and settle and then grow haughty and forget Hashem. (8:12). That phrasing “eat and are satisfied and build good houses and settle” is strikingly close to words used by Yirmeyahu. Addressing the exiles in Babylon, Yirmeyahu informs them that they are experiencing the foretold exile and it will last many years. As such, the exiles should “build houses, dwell in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit.” (Yirmeyahu 29:5). The second aliyah has no mention of land or a threat of exile because this aliyah concerns the nation already in exile.

The second aliyah describes a situation of Hashem showing His exiled people mercy and giving them respite. The people, however, grow arrogant. They think their success in exile is their own doing and not that of Hashem. They get too comfortable in the exile and want to fit into the larger society. They willfully and negligently forget Hashem. They assimilate. That is the meaning of, “If you go after other gods you will perish like other nations that Hashem caused to perish.” Hashem will not destroy you, you will destroy yourselves. If you give up your special character and blend in with the nation in which you live then you will fade away with them. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, all passed away, yet the nation of Israel remains. That is the warning of the second aliyah.

Should you think the task of holding out against the tide of prevailing culture is too difficult, the parsha gives us a veiled reassurance. The parsha repeatedly references bread, clothing and being led on a journey. These things harken back to the first book of the Torah. Indeed, the very name of this week’s parsha serves as a guidepost. The word eikev comes from the same root as does the name Yaakov. While fleeing his parental home, Yaakov has a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. Upon awakening from the vision, Yaakov vows that if Hashem will be with him and guard him on his way, give him bread to eat and a garment to wear, and if Yaakov returns in peace to his father’s house, then he will dedicate that spot as a house to Hashem. (VaYetze 28:20-22). The name of the parsha, the references to bread, to clothing and to being led on a journey, are to remind us of Yaakov. Yaakov resisted assimilation into a foreign culture, the culture of Lavan. Yaakov gained wealth but did not forget Hashem. In the fullness of time Yaakov returned home and became Israel. If Yaakov can do it, so can we.

Some will say we are not Yaakov. We do not see angels climbing up and down from heaven. So how can we defend ourselves against the onslaughts of daily life? The answer is that we have something that their forefathers never possessed and did not know. It is the product of Moshe’s multiple trips up Har Sinai. We have the Torah. Our parsha points out that mann was given to teach us that “Man does not live by bread alone but by whatever comes from the mouth of Hashem.” What our forefathers did not know was not just mann but Torah. Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, the Midrash tells us, may have known of the mitzvot and tried to keep them but they were not bound by them. Witness that Yaakov married sisters, something the Torah forbids. The Torah was not binding on them, but it is binding on us and binds us to Hashem and to eternity. Preserve the Torah and you preserve yourself and your future.

Why does the parsha begin with the word “heel?” We must always keep the proper perspective. No matter how much we accomplish we owe it all to Hashem. The heel is at the lowliest part of the anatomy. We must be humble and lowly like the heel. We must bless Hashem for all we have and stay true to his Torah. Among the mitzvot in this week’s parsha is the commandment to bless Hashem after eating, to make Birkat Hamazon. In addition to blessing Hashem for the food He gives, we must bless him for everything else, including the benefit of having this Shabbos of Parshat Eikev.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a bachelors of arts in Religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a board member and officer of several orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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