Friday, August 07, 2015
Eikev 5631 First Ma'amar
“וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה .../And it will be, because you will heed these laws …” (Devarim 7:12) The word, eikev/because appears awkward. The pasuk could have said simply, “If you will heed these laws …” as it says in other places. Rashi, addressing this question, quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that the word eikev/because, which also means heel, refers to “light” mitzvos that people tread on with their heel, so to speak. If we keep even those mitzvos that people tend to neglect, then surely God will keep His promise to our forefathers.
The Sfas Emes expounds on these “light” mitzvos. Which mitzvos are Chazal referring to? According to the Sfas Emes these mitzvos are all our daily activities which are not necessarily mitzvos at all until we realize that we can direct all of our daily activities toward the service of God thus transforming everything we do into a mitzvah. Chazal call them “light” or easy mitzvos not because they are easy to do, but rather because it is easy to ignore them as mitzvos. The Godliness in our daily activities, because they are commonplace, is hidden.
The Sfas Emes learns this from the first Midrash Tanchuma on the parsha that Rashi quoted. Relating to the word eikev/because, at the beginning of the parsha, the Tanchuma quotes a pasuk in Tehillim (49:6), “... בְּשָמְרָם עֵקֶב רָב/… in keeping them there is great reward.” Although literally, eikev in this pasuk means “reward”, the Tanchuma understands it as an allusion to the light mitzvos. David HaMelech is telling us that there is great reward for keeping the light mitzvos. As noted earlier, eikev/because, also means “heel.” The heel is that part of the body which is farthest from the head. It thus is a metaphor for the most mundane activities, those which are seemingly furthest away from anything to do with holiness. The Tanchuma is teaching us, according to the Sfas Emes, that all our mundane daily activities have the potential for holiness. The holiness is hidden, though, as the Tanchuma continues with another pasuk from Tehillim (31:20), “מָה רַב־טוּבְךָ אֲשֶׁר־צָפַנְתָּ .../How abundant is your goodness that you have hidden.” This pasuk refers to all the commonplace activities we do every day that have latent holiness.
David HaMelech is teaching us that God wants us to draw out the holiness inherent in our daily activities by contemplating serving Him before every action we take. In this way, the whole of Creation becomes a unified tool for revealing God. We build, so to speak, the Creation into what it is supposed to be. In fact, as the Sfas Emes noted in parshas Tetzaveh the word mitzvah – מצוה – has the same root as the Aramaic word for joining - צִוְתָּא. Our mitzvos cause the entire Creation to be joined together in a unified whole.
For this reason the first Midrash on the parsha starts with the prohibition against constructing a candelabrum made from separate parts on Shabbos. Chazal consider it building, one of the thirty-nine categories of work that is prohibited on Shabbos. What has this halacha to do with our parsha?
The Sfas Emes explains that in the context of unifying the disparate parts of the Creation towards the common goal of serving God the candelabrum is a metaphor for the Creation. Each individual component of the candelabrum is meaningless by itself. It is only when they are put together that they form a tool. Each part of the candelabrum, when it performs its individual task assures that the candelabrum as a whole, works. Each part of the Creation as well has a specific task. Man has the ability (and the responsibility) to unite the entire world in the service of God. As we’ve said man can complete the Creation turning it into a tool for revealing God. The mechanism for doing this is the performance of the mitzvos. The Torah stresses the “light” mitzvos (i.e. all our commonplace activities) because they are easy to overlook.
How does this work? Every creation and action has a Godly spiritual force in it that gives it its existence. When we direct our activities in the service of God we draw out the spiritual light latent in those actions. This is certainly the case regarding mitzvos in which the Godly force is more apparent. Obviously, donning tefillin, for example, is a holy act. The Sfas Emes explains, though, that this is the case regarding all our mundane activities. When we dedicate our activities to the service of God we transform them into mitzvos as well. We thus reveal the spiritual light inherent even in our most banal activities.
A person who realizes that there is a Godly force in everything he does and that he is able to reveal that force through correct intentions thereby transforming every action into a mitzvah, is well on his way towards yiras shamayim/awe of Heaven. He sees God in everything. In this week’s parsha we find, “... מָה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי אִם-לְיִרְאָה אֶת-ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ ... וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ .../… What does God your Lord ask of you if not to fear Him … and to love Him …” (Devarim 10:12) The pasuk makes it sound easy. All we need to do is have fear of Heaven. Chazal ask the question, “Is fear of Heaven a small thing?!” Chazal answer that for Moshe Rabbeinu it was a small thing. But Moshe Rabbeinu is talking to the nation. According to Chazal, Moshe Rabbeinu is telling the nation that fear of God is not difficult and presents himself as an example! What does this mean?
The meaning of this Chazal lies in the reason fear of Heaven was easy for Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal themselves give a clue. Chazal compare it to asking a person to borrow a big tool. If the person has the tool he does not consider it big but if he does not have it he considers it big. The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe Rabbeinu already had the attribute of fear of Heaven so for him it was a small thing. The Sfas Emes relates this to each of us.
Fear of Heaven, the Sfas Emes teaches can be a small thing for each of us just as it is for Moshe Rabbeinu, if a person desires it. Our desire to fear God brings us to a low level of awe. Then, step by step we attain higher and higher levels of awe of God. Each step in itself is a small thing. As Chazal said regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, since he already had it, for him it was a small thing. The exact same logic applies to each of us.
This concept explains another teaching that Chazal learn from this pasuk – everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven. Why do Chazal say only fear of Heaven? After all, the pasuk goes on to list other things that God requests of us as well. We are required to love Him, to walk in His ways and to serve Him with all our hearts and souls.
The Sfas Emes explains that certainly fear of Heaven is the main thing since it is listed first. However, in terms of service to God, it is listed first, as well, because it is the basis, the prerequisite, the preparation, for all the other requirements that follow in the pasuk. Everything else in the pasuk builds on it. In order to truly love God, we must first learn to be in awe of Him. By mentioning only fear of Heaven, Chazal are not excluding the other attributes listed in the pasuk. They are stressing fear of Heaven because in the context of our lifelong dedication toward serving God it is the first level that we must attain.
The word ma/what in this pasuk alludes to awe of God as well. Chazal learn through a play on the word ma/what, which is similar to me’ah/one hundred, that we are required to say one hundred blessings each day. What compelled Chazal to learn me’ah/one hundred blessings from ma/what of this pasuk specifically? The Sfas Emes explains that the main aspect of awe of God is understanding that our very lives are in His hands exactly like an ax in the hand of a woodchopper. Ma/What connotes humility as in Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to the nation’s complaints, “וְנַחְנוּ מָה כִּי תַלִּינוּ עָלֵינוּ/what are we that you complain to us?” (Shmos 16:7) Seeing God’s power behind everything leads us to bless Him for everything we take from this world. This compelled Chazal to learn the requirement to say blessings from the word, ma/what, in this pasuk.
We can serve God in everything we do. We merely need to preface all of our activities with this thought. May we merit seeing God in everything, attaining awe of Heaven which is the first step in serving God and revealing the latent holiness in all our actions.