Have you ever heard of a Jewish sole? Not a Jewish soul, a Jewish sole. No, I am not talking about a fish, nor am I not talking about a sole individual. I am talking about the undersurface of a Jew’s foot.
On two occasions, the Torah tells us that G-d loved Abraham, ekev—because he obeyed G-d. There are multiple words in Hebrew for because, ekev is an unusual one. Our sages inferred that it refers to obeying even the minor sins that we often thrash with our soles.
Allow me to share a unique insight into the message of ekev: When G-d spoke, Abraham’s entire body responded spontaneously—he was completely attuned to G-d, from his Jewish head to his Jewish sole.
We Can Too
The fact that Abraham is known as avinu—our father, implies that this is a trait we all inherit from him. We might not all have activated this trait, but we have it in us. And there are Jews that have successfully activated it. They became so attuned to G-d that their bodies naturally responded to G-d’s wishes. They fulfilled the mitzvot spontaneously. Let me share several examples:
- Rabbi Matanya, an Israeli Talmudic sage, related that when his mind fixated on his studies, he couldn’t focus on his prayers. His prayer would flow from his lips while his mind focused on his studies. He once said, “I am grateful to my head for when I reach modim, it bows by itself.” He was so attuned to G-d that when it came time to bow, he didn’t need to be reminded.
- Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, the great student of the Baal Shem Tov, was once asleep. His brother Reb Zushe of Anipoli, overheard some people mocking the rebbe for his lengthy rest. Reb Zushe invited them to the door of his brother’s bedroom and placed his hand upon the Mezuzah on the doorpost. Rabbi Elimelech instantly awoke. Rabbi Zushe explained: G-d must be before us at all times. Even when we are asleep and lose consciousness, the name of G-d on the Mezuzah fulfills this function. My brother is so attuned to this Divine energy, that the moment I covered the Mezuzah, he awoke.
- Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, shared a personal vignette with his son. Shortly after his Bar Mitzvah, he resolved to labor meticulously until his body became spontaneously responsive to G-d’s every wish.
- Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair, a veteran Israeli sage, was on his way to perform a Mitzvah. He overnighted at an inn, but his donkey refused to eat the feed placed before it. Rabbi Pinchas asked if they had tithed the food properly and was told that they had not. Rabbi Pinchas replied, this donkey is on its way to perform a Mitzvah and you expect it to eat improper food? Our sages deduced that if the animal of a righteous person spontaneously avoids transgression, a fortiori the righteous themselves.
These anecdotes were shared with us to serve as an example. If these people could reach a point of spontaneous responsiveness, so can we.
Yet, look around and ask yourself how many Jews today are holistically in tune with G-d? How many can say that even their Jewish sole is saturated with love for G-d? It is not merely a question for us. Even the Talmudic sages proclaimed: “If our predecessors were like angels, we are like people. If they were like people, we are like donkeys. And not like Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair’s donkey, but like regular donkeys.”
If this was true for the great sages of the Talmud, what hope is there for us?
In 1977, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, experienced a massive heart attack during the dancing on Simchat Torah. Despite his terrific pain he insisted on completing the seven circuits around the bimah before retiring to his study. Over the next few days, he astonished his doctors with his insistence on fulfilling every ritual requirement of the festival.
Several weeks later, the Rebbe asked the very question we posed earlier. How does one reach a point when, like Abraham, our bodies become spontaneously responsive to G-d’s wishes?
The Rebbe explained that every year on Simchat Torah, when we dance with the Torah, pushing off the floor with the soles of our feet, our entire body fills with excitement. Even the cerebral head, feels the joy. As your Jewish sole twirls, and leaps, your Jewish soul permeates every fiber—down to your Jewish sole. This gives you the spiritual stamina and fortitude to accomplish a shade of what Abraham accomplished. A glimmer of what the Jewish greats described above were able to do. To feel G-d in your Jewish sole.
Is there a way to translate this energy into the rest of the year?
Resurrection of the Jewish Sole
The Rebbe answered this question in novel fashion. He pointed to a Talmudic teaching that equates the sole with the absence of life. The Angel of Death, taught our sages, accesses our bodies through the sole. As a snake attacks and sinks its venom into the sole, so does death.
We each have certain aspects of Judaism that feel onerous and difficult—lifeless per se. Our task, said the Rebbe, is to permeate that facet of Judaism with passion and irradiate it with life. To take what was heretofore like a lifeless sole and transform it into a passionate soul.
Figure why you find this Mitzvah boring. Contemplate ways in which you can build enthusiasm and infuse passion into this practice. Make it exciting, fill it with life, and make it as enjoyable as dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.
In this symbolic sense, our Jewish sole becomes responsive to G-d. Perhaps not the physical sole—the undersurface of our feet, but our proverbial sole—the aspects of our Judaism for which we lack passion.
In this way, we can activate the ability we inherited from our forefather Abraham. We might not achieve the same degree of success as Abraham, but we can each achieve success on our own level.