“It shall come to pass when…”
Before we read any further, let’s stop and examine the opening words of this week’s Parsha. Another way to translate that would be to say, “It will come into existence as a result of.” Based on the sentence structure so far we can expect that what is about to follow would be a conditional clause, like an if/then situation. But does that fit with our perception of who HaShem is? Is He a God of conditions or one of absolute love? Can He be both?
“And it shall be, because you hear these right-rulings, and shall guard and do them, that Adonai your Elohim shall guard with you the covenant and the loving-commitment which He swore to your fathers, and shall love you and bless you and increase you, and shall bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.”Deuteronomy 7:12-13
That’s what it seems like. Especially in this instance, Elohim has put the ball in our court and asked us to initiate the blessings by hearing the commandments and then responding by protecting and doing them. But once again, the Hebrew gives more insight into the larger picture if we add the next word. V’haya eikev tishme’un. That last word is a derivative of sh’ma, which we know means to not only hear, but to hear intelligently. The Hebrew audience knows that hearing goes beyond an audible sound in the ear. It has the implication that the hearer is provoked to action because he or she understands what is being said to them. This is why we often see, what seems to be a rhetorical phrase, to hear and do. Think back to when your parents would scold you and ask, “Do you hear what I’m saying?”
There is another hidden treasure within the first two words. The word eikev (עקב) can also be translated as “heel” or “the last of” something. Remember that Jacob (יעקב) was given his name because he was holding on to his brother Esau’s heel during birth. His name, quite literally, means “heel catcher.” Note the similarities between these two words. Why is the duel meaning of eikev so important, particularly in this Parsha? The sages say that the word alludes to the commandments that some would regard as unimportant or of the least concern. In their disregard they may “tread on them with their heels” so Moses begins his exhortation by tying two thoughts together. He’s reminding Israel that in order to receive the full measure of blessing, one must be diligent to consider even the seemingly insignificant mitzvot. What we can expect to get out of it all is predicated by the effort we put forward.
It needs to be said that this is not a way of earning salvation. I am not advocating that your works equate redemption. What Moses is telling them is that what sets them apart from other nations is their reaction to being rescued. Are they content with living life in the same manner as before or have they been called to a greater purpose? We must take great care to demonstrate that what matters most to us is doing what HaShem asks of us and not the evaluation of what commands deserve our time and attention. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that in doing the “lesser” commands it enables Elohim to bestow His kindness on us beyond the strict dictates of what we have actually earned.
We should know that we are all undeserving of the endless kindness and gratitude that He pours out on us. But this should cause us to apply that “less than” feeling to, not the commandments, but ourselves. It should be our motivation to do bigger and better things for His glory. If we haven’t already arrived at that conclusion, just continue reading this week’s Torah portion. Moses goes through great lengths to profess the love that Elohim has for His people. He reminds them of all of the times their God picked them up when they fell, fed them when they were hungry and gave them water when they were thirsty. This love encompassed them in the midst of the barren wastelands and guided them to where they stood today.
So how should they respond? Maybe our life hasn’t been as perilous as a 40 year trek through the scorching, dangerous deserts of the Middle East, but it’s been an adventure. Maybe yours has seemed sheltered in comparison. You’re here, now, for a reason. What’s your response?