Parshas Eikev – The Lightest Mitzvoth

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This week’s Parsha begins with the Pasuk, “And it shall come to pass, since you listen to these laws, and guard and do them, that HaShem your God shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers”. The word ‘since ’is written as Eikev; which also means a heel. This is the only Parsha which is called by a part of the body. But the heel is the lowest part. What can we learn from that?

Rashi begins the Parsha[1] with the following explanation from the Tanchuma. “If you will heed the lighter commandments which one usually tramples with their heel, then HaShem will keep His promise to you.” Rashi uses the literal meaning of the word ‘Eikev’, to read the Pasuk that it is referring to those Mitzvoth which are treated like the heel. This is referring to the Mitzvoth which one would trample on, because of their lightness. It is easy to keep the heavy Mitzvoth, because they seem so important. But here we are being exhorted to even keep the lighter Mitzvoth that do not seem so crucial. Specifically, by keeping those we will merit that HaShem will keep his promises to us.

The Sfas Emes points out[2] that the Pasuk is discussing the Mishpotim, the laws which are judgements. This category is usually referring to the laws that are the fabric of society; stealing, damages, and the like. Why are those considered the ‘light’ laws?

We find this phrase used in various places. One is in connection with Sukkoth. The Gemarra describes[3] how in the future the non-Jews will come and also want reward for their actions in this world, that can be seen retroactively as Mitzvoth. HaShem will challenge them to keep one ‘light’ Mitzvah, that of Sukkah, to show that they desire to keep Mitzvoth. HaShem will then remove the protective covering from the sun, the heat will intensify, and they will leave the Sukkah. It will then be clear that they do not deserve reward. The Gemarra there calls Sukkah a ‘light’ Mitzvah since it does not require any outlay of money.

The phrase is also used in describing the procedure of conversion[4]. When someone comes to convert the Bais Din informs him of some of the difficult and light Mitzvoth, and the potential convert has to accept them. The Semag[5]  explains the phrase, that we are warning the potential convert that there are Mitzvoth that even though their outlay is only a fraction of a Perutah, still the obligation is as great as the more difficult Mitzvoth.

What is this concept of light Mitzvoth?

The Sfas Emes here explains a basic principle of Mitzvoth. A mitzvah is a connection to HaShem. Therefore, every Mitzvah has its source in the highest levels of spirituality, and really they should all be performed in a completely spiritual way. But since we are in this world, as it says “Today to do them”, we can bring spiritualty even into actions in this physical world. It is a gift from Hashem that by performing physical actions we can create a spiritual effect. That is why by sitting in a small booth, we can be sitting with HaShem.

But based on this, it is difficult to understand how there can be different levels of Mitzvoth? Don’t they all connect to HaShem? The answer is that actually there are not different levels. That is why the Mishnah says[6], “Be as careful by a light Mitzvah as a difficult one, since you do not know the reward of the Mitzvoth.” The sources that call Mitzvoth ‘light’, are only our perception, not the reality. The reality is that the performance of any Mitzvah is connected to the spiritual source of the world, and through that tremendous power we can illuminate the world with Kedusha even down to the lowest levels of the world.

So the idea of a ‘light’ Mitzvah is actually a misnomer, and really there is no such thing. In this week’s Parsha the Torah is warning us, “Do not treat the Mishpotim as lightweight Mitzvoth.” Even though such laws seem something that every society has, in the Torah they are also part of the connection to HaShem. So that is why they seem light, they seem to not be spiritual as other Mitzvoth. But still we need to understand why Chazal use this metaphor in specific places.

One way of grasping the spiritual structure of the world is through the metaphor of a person[7]. Since HaShem created the world for man to serve Him through it, the structure of the entire spiritual world also resembles its purpose, a human. Therefore, if the lowest part of a person is the heel; parallel to that, in the spiritual world the lowest level is also described as the heel. But since we are discussing the spiritual structure, even that is a place of tremendous spirituality. As the Midrash says[8], before the sin Adam’s heel overshadowed the light of the sun.

That could be why the Bais Din informs the prospective convert of the various types of Mitzvoth. It is to inform him that even Mitzvoth which do not require a large outlay or seem to be very easy to perform, are actually at the same high levels of spirituality, as what seem to be the more religious Mitzvoth. That is the concept we telling him, “In Judaism there is nothing light, be careful with every action.”

The first time the heel is mentioned in the Torah is when HaShem describes the ongoing battle between man and his Yetzer HaRa. Hashem tells the snake[9], “Man will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” The place where the Yetzer HaRa can attack a person is in the heel. Based on what we are saying, the Yetzer HaRa claims that there is no spirituality in the heel. There is palace in the world devoid of HaShem, and there you can do what you want. For the snake this is the head, the highest part. But man needs to crush that idea, and overcome the lack of spirituality by using his heel to overcome it. (This is only after the sin, since before that even the heel was illuminated, and it was clear there was no place devoid of HaShem.)

That is also the place of battle between Yakov and Eisav. When they are born, Yakov is grasping at the heel of Eisav. It is brought down that the word “Eikev”, is the main letters of Akiva. Yakov was trying to extract from Eisav the soul of Rabbi Akiva, who was descended from converts. The idea is that even in the heel of Eisav, lies a potential for tremendous Kedusha. That is what Yakov is trying to extract. And that could be why every potential convert is told about the light Mitzvoth, that are in the heel. You are to try to be like Rabbi Akiva.

That is also why in the Gemarra about the Sukkah, the non-Jewish nations kick the Sukkah on the way out. To kick something is say it is not deserving of any honor; it can be trampled upon. They treat it as a light Mitzvah and denigrate it. But the Jews do not kick it. They leave because it is too hot to stay in the Sukkah. The Gemarra there describes the source of the heat, because the sun’s protective cover is removed. This is a metaphor for the complete revelation of HaShem.

In the Midrash there is a discussion between Rabbi Akiva and the Roman governor. The governor asks to see HaShem. Rabbi Akiva tells him to look at the sun. The Roman responds that this is impossible. Obviously this is an impossibility, so what did Rabbi Akiva mean? What he was trying to say, is that you cannot see HaShem without any veils. The sun always has a veil to make sure we are not damaged by the strength of its rays. But on that Sukkoth in the future, the veils will be removed. The Jewish people who all these years realized that even in the most distant part of the physical world there is HaShem, will be merit to see Him. If we always tried to see Him, HaShem will not allow us to be damaged by the revelation. But those who did not try to see HaShem in the entire world, will be unable to take the heat. They will kick and leave.

This Parsha has a tremendous message. Of course we can find HaShem in our world. But to find HaShem even in the heel, that is beloved before Hashem. When even in the lowest aspect of the world we are careful to find HaShem, then no matter where we are HaShem will find us[10]. And the reward will be, to be able to see HaShem in the opposite circumstance. Even when it seems to be too bright, even then we will be able to see Him.

[1] רש”י דברים פרק ז פסוק יב (יב) והיה עקב תשמעון – אם המצות קלות שאדם דש בעקביו תשמעון:-  ושמר ה’ אלהיך לך את הברית וגו’ – ישמור לך הבטחתו:

[2] שפת אמת ליקוטים – פרשת עקב – בפסוק והי’ עקב תשמעון פירש רש”י מצות קלות שאדם דש בעקביו, והרי הפסוק מסיים את המשפטים האלה, …אכן נראה לבאר הענין כי באמת שורש המצות למעלה למעלה ואין להם חקר, אבל כתיב היום לעשותם כי זה נמסר לבני ישראל להביא הארת המצות בעשי’ גשמיית, ובזה הם נבחרים יותר ממלאכי השרת משרתיו עושי רצונו אך בני ישראל מאירין גם בעשי’ ובעקב בסוף המדרגות הארה ממשפטים האלה וזה חביב לפניו ית”ש יותר,

[3] עבודה זרה דף ג/א – אמרו לפניו רבונו של עולם תנה לנו מראש ונעשנה אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא …אלא אף על פי כן מצוה קלה יש לי וסוכה שמה לכו ועשו אותה…אמאי קרי ליה מצוה קלה משום דלית ביה חסרון כיס מיד כל אחד [ואחד] נוטל והולך ועושה סוכה בראש גגו והקדוש ברוך הוא מקדיר עליהם חמה בתקופת תמוז וכל אחד ואחד מבעט בסוכתו ויוצא … מיד הקדוש ברוך הוא יושב ומשחק עליהן שנאמר יושב בשמים ישחק וגו’

[4] יבמות דף מז/ב – ומלין אותו שניה נתרפא מטבילין אותו מיד ושני ת”ח עומדים על גביו ומודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות טבל ועלה הרי הוא כישראל לכל דבריו אשה נשים מושיבות אותה במים עד צוארה ושני ת”ח עומדים לה מבחוץ ומודיעין אותה מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות

[5] סמ”ג – חלק מצות לא תעשה – מצוה קיו – ומודיעין אותו מקצ’ מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות ומודיעין אותו עון לקט שכחה ופיאה ומעשר עני פיר’ שמא יחזור בו מלהתגייר לפי שמקפידין על פחות משוה פרוטה

[6] פרק ב – (א) רַבִּי אוֹמֵר, …וֶהֱוֵי זָהִיר בְּמִצְוָה קַלָּה כְּבַחֲמוּרָה, שֶׁאֵין אַתָּה יוֹדֵעַ מַתַּן שְׂכָרָן שֶׁל מִצְוֹת.

[7] ספר פתחי שערים נתיב עיגולים ויושר – פתח א – והענין בזה שכבר ידוע שהאדם הוא תכלית הבריאה, ואליו היה – כוונת המאציל ית”ש, שלכך ניתנה לו התורה והעבודה וכל הבנין תלוי בו, שלכן נקרא האדם עולם קטן בפי כל החכמים, שכולל וחיבק בתוכו כל הנמצאים וכמ”ש בזוה”ק …(תרגום – שהקב”ה סידר באדם כל הצורות של הסודות העליונים של העולם העליון, וכל הצורות של הסודות התחתונים של העולם התחתון. כולם נחקקים באדם שהוא עומד בצלם אלהי”ם וכו’): וכוונת המאמר שהאדם כמו שהוא כולל בתוכו ב’ דברים – א’. שציור אבריו ופרטי חלקיו וכחותיו רומזים למציאות כל העולם בכלל, בכל פרטיו ומדרגותיו כמו שכבר האריכו בזה המחברים.

[8] מדרש רבה ויקרא – פרשה כ פסקה ב –  ריש לקיש בשם ר’ שמעון בן מנסיא אמר תפוח עקיבו של אדם הראשון היה מכהה גלגל חמה

[9] בראשית פרק ג – (טו) וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב:

[10] שפת אמת ליקוטים – פרשת עקב – גם יש להבין מה שנקראו מצות קלות עקב על שם שאדם דש בעקביו והלא אין זה סברא שהפסוק יקרא השם בעבור אנשים קלים שאין נזהרין במצות, ויתכן לפרש כי המצות הם מכוונים לכל קומת האדם ויש מצות התלוין בראש ובלב ובעקב, והאדם צריך להיות שלם בכולם ונמצא מצות שהם בעקב והם עיקרים גדולים כדמצינו בטריפות יש מקום שחותכה וחי’ ויש שחותכה ומתה ולכן בצומת הגידין נטרפה הבהמה, ויתכן לפרש כי מצות צדקה היא התלוי בעקב והרמז היקום אשר ברגליהם דרשו חז”ל הממון שמעמיד האדם על רגליו, וכן כתוב צדק לפניו יהלך כו’ לדרך פעמיו וכן הוא גם כן בדורות אחרונים שסוף התיקון עתיד להיות על ידיהם:

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