Walk-in all His ways and love Him”
Parashat Eikev, which we read a few weeks ago is delivered rapid-fire from the mouth of Moshe to the ears of Israel. “And He will love you and bless you and multiply you”
(Deuteronomy 7:13) is just the beginning of the myriad blessings that Moshe assures Israel G-d will heap upon them if they but stick with G-d and follow His ways. The benefits that Israel will accrue, according to Moshe’s description, are majestic, manifold, and life-giving.
Health, food on our tables, fruits in our orchard and grains in our fields: “You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.” (ibid 7:14) These blessings, enumerated in varying fashion, prove a recurring refrain all throughout our reading of Eikev. All that is required of Israel is to follow G-d’s commandments and Moshe’s instructions, and not to stray.
“And now, O Israel, what does HaShem, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear HaShem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship HaShem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of HaShem and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good.” (ibid 10:12) This is Moshe’s short-hand list which he delivers to Israel toward the end of this week’s reading. Succinct, if not necessarily simple.
Interspersed with the blessings that await Israel, should she adhere to G-d and Torah, Moshe presents the pitfalls that await Israel should she stray from the path set before her. With so clear cut and stark a choice set before them, between peace, prosperity, loving family and community, and endless conflict, poverty, and the breakdown of family and society, should Israel abandon G-d’s way, what on earth could possibly cause Israel to go astray? Why, the good life itself:
“Beware that you do not forget HaShem, your G-d, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day, lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart grows haughty, and you forget HaShem, your G-d, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (ibid 8:11-14)
The blessings that G-d blesses us with can themselves become a snare if we allow our haughtiness to get the best of us. “Do not say to yourself, when HaShem, your G-d, has repelled them from before you, saying, “Because of my righteousness, HaShem has brought me to possess this land.” (ibid 9:4)
Humility and constant awareness of G-d presence and benevolence are the antidotes to the all too human pride which has the uncanny ability to turn a blessing into a curse.
“And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that Hashem, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” (ibid 7:12) The Hebrew word ekev, which is translated above as “because” literally means “heel.” (Think of Jacob – Yaakov – who earned his name because he grasped his brother’s heel.) Our sages understand this curiosity in the following manner: “Treat all of G-d’s commandments with equal respect and gravity. What might seem to us a ‘light’ or ‘insignificant’ commandment, one that we might tend to tread underfoot, or under our heel, is every bit as weighty and significant in G-d’s eyes, as is what we deem the loftiest and most important of Torah’s commandments.” In other words, all commandments are created equal. Each of the 613 commandments received at Sinai must be kept with equal diligence. This is truly the winning formula and recipe for avoiding the calamitous pitfall of pride and haughtiness.
But there is a flip side to this understanding of G-d’s appraisal of His commandments as being all of equal stature. Our heels are the lowest part of our body. It is our heels which hit the ground first when walking. Clearly our heels, despite their “lowly” status, have an essential role to perform in the overall maintenance of our physical well-being. We can take our metaphor one significant step farther: If G-d regards every commandment as requiring equal diligence in their observance, just as every fiber of our physical being requires equal concern for its healthy maintenance, so too, every one of us, from the greatest to the smallest, the highest to the lowest, the deepest to the simplest, are equal in G-d’s eyes.
While faith is beautiful, I don’t believe that you can obtain immediate Divine salvation by barbequing outside the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron on Lag BaOmer, or that a neo-Kabbalist can guess your problems and offer wise, instant solutions after hearing your voice for 30 seconds over the telephone. Amulets and Kabbalistic incantations are not the mainstream routes to living a life of faith.
Religion, stems from the most sophisticated and complicated thinking. It probes the most difficult quandaries of human existence, metaphysical presence and purpose, identity, and spiritual makeup. It seeks to bridge ancient devotions with contemporary sensibilities. It seeks to embrace both the particularistic and humanistic aspects of nationality. It aims to authenticate and guide our creativity and drive for success in all fields of human endeavor. It is more relevant and needed than ever in the modern age.
Also, one must never forget that the other thing that G-d grants us is common sense. While all mitzvahs are important in G-d’s eyes and we must not forget the seemingly minor mitzvahs, one must not forget the common sense G-d gives us.
This complex approach to religious thinking was also taught by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, (19933-2015) who was dean of the multi-faceted and magnificent Har Etzion hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion. Since moving to Israel from America more than forty years ago, Rabbi Lichtenstein taught the highest-level Talmud, halacha, and philosophy to his tens of thousands of students. He did so while simultaneously validating their service in the IDF as a religious obligation and their subsequent pursuits of university education as a natural outgrowth of their religious personalities. Himself a former professor of English literature, he taught that intellectual openness is a hallmark of true Orthodoxy, alongside single-minded devotion to Torah study and adherence to halachic boundaries and values.
Rabbi Lichtenstein taught that critical thinking and humanism characterize the Oved Hashem (the worshipper of G-d), not slavish and blind devotion to self-proclaimed prophets and closed-minded soothsayers. He has taught that full involvement in Israeli society and a passion for social justice are key religious obligations, not the isolationism and jingoism that characterize too much of communities today.
This is the source of G-d’s high expectations from all of us, and this is the source of G-d’s blessings which He bestows equally upon each and every one of us who “walk in all His ways and love Him, and worship HaShem,” our G-d, with all our hearts and all our soul!
So as Rav Lichtenstein taught us, as important as each and every commandment is, don’t forget to hear your daughter crying in the other room as you are studying!
Moishe and Miriam are shopping in their local grocery store. Moishe picks up a carton of fresh baked cookies and puts it in their cart.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asks Miriam.
“They’re on sale, only $8 for 24 cookies,” Moishe replies.
“Put them back, we can’t afford them,” Miriam demands. Moishe complies and they carry on shopping.
A few aisles later, Miriam picks up a $16 jar of face cream and puts it in the basket.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asks Moishe.
“It’s my face cream. It makes me look beautiful,” replies Miriam.
Moishe snorts: “‘So does a carton of 24 cookies, and it’s only half the price.”
On the PA system: “‘Cleanup on aisle 25. We have a husband down.”