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Home » Free Choice

Ekev: Doing for G-d

Submitted by on August 10, 2014 – 12:57 amNo Comment | 4,483 views

A Curious Word

Ours, is a religion of deed. The deed is more important to us than our mindset while doing it. Yet, the way we perform the deed tells us much about our creed. If we do it for ourselves, we pick and choose the deeds we like. If we are doing for G-d, we do them all with equal enthusiasm. Here is what I mean.

The name of the Parsha is Ekev, a word that has two meanings. It means because and it means heel, literally the heel of one’s foot. When a word has two meanings they are usually associated. At first blush we struggle to connect these two meanings, but upon reflection a joint theme emerges.

In the Parsha, the word ekev appears in the following context. “And it will be, ekev you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform them, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”[1] The Torah then proceeds to list the many blessings in store for us.

In his commentary, Rashi focuses on the dual meaning of the word ekev and writes, “Ekev, literally heel; If you heed the minor commandments which one [usually] tramples with his heels [i.e., which a person treats as being of minor importance]”.

The connection between the two meanings now emerges. “And it will be, ekev [because] you will heed the ordinancesthat others trample with their heel.” In other words, because you will keep the ordinances that others usually dismiss, you will be rewarded with suffusive blessing.

Value Judgments

In truth, no ordinance is minor. All of G-d’s commandments are equally important. The more we study the Torah, the more aware we become of this truth. However, as it is often said, a little knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge. When we know a little about the commandments, we assume we know enough to determine that some are more important than others.

For example, those who were raised to attend Synagogue on Shabbat, but never went during the week, might assume that Shabbat services are more important than weekday services and thus neglect their prayers during the week. But when we think about it, we realize that this can’t be. We aren’t less in need of G-d’s blessings during the week nor is G-d less interested in our prayers during the week than on Shabbat.

The real reason for neglecting weekday prayers is our need to rush off to work or some other such commitment. This doesn’t mean that weekday prayers are less important, it means that we value other commitments above prayer. In other words, we pray when we have nothing more important to do. When we gain a little more knowledge we realize that this approach is faulty and should be changed.

The message that emerges from this verse is to realize that no ordinance is minor; they are all equally important. It is only we, humankind, who make such distinctions, and more often than not, our distinctions are based on personal convenience rather than objective truth.

Doing for Self

When it comes right down to it, there are two ways to approach our observance of ritual. The first is that we observe them to fulfill ourselves and our spiritual yearnings because rituals are conduits of holiness and meaning. The other approach is that we do them for G-d.

When we take the first approach, we are likely to make value judgments that prioritize some rituals over others. We naturally gravitate to the rituals that fulfill us and satisfy our spiritual yearnings. The rituals that we remember from our youth, hold special resonance for us. Rituals that we perform with family and friends hold special meaning for us. The rituals with which we make a personal connection are more inspiring. In short, the more we learn about a ritual, the more we plumb its spiritual depths, the more interest it holds for us and the more we invest in it.

Doing for G-d

However, when we take the approach that rituals are performed for G-d, the entire priority scheme falls away. We recognize that G-d wants us to perform all ritual equally and that from His point of view there are no differences from one to the next. On the contrary, the more difficult the commandment, the more precious its performance is to G-d. The greater our sacrifice, the more meaningful it is to G-d.

When we take this approach we realize that any transgression is a violation of G-d’s will and a rebellion against His sovereignty. G-d’s commandment connotes that He is sovereign, vested with the authority to command us. Our transgression declares that He is not sovereign and we are not bound by His rules. We will of course perform those ordinances with which we agree, but we are not bound by the ordinances with which we don’t agree.

This means of course that even the ordinances that we do observe, we do for ourselves, because we agree with them, rather than for G-d. Such observance doesn’t constitute worship of G-d. If I may be so bold to suggest, it is a form of self-worship.

Attitudinal Change

We now understand why the Torah places such emphasis on the observance of what we might call minor commandments that others trample with their heel. This isn’t just about observing the little commandments or sweat the minor details. This is about attitude. It’s about recognizing that when we perform our commandments for G-d, there is no such thing as a little commandment.

This attitudinal change spells the entire difference in our relationship with G-d. It brings us closer to G-d rather than pull us away. It is such an important detail that it is commonly overlooked. It is often the case that the most important details are overlooked. Take for example the oxygen that we breathe. We can’t live five minutes without it, yet we barely think of it. On the other hand, we can go days without food, yet we pay it much more heed than oxygen. What is most important, garners the least attention.

We can go an entire lifetime thinking that our observant lifestyle is bringing us closer to G-d and never pay attention to the fact that it is moving us away. This must change. Each year, as we read this Torah portion, it is incumbent on us to reflect on this point and work to effect an attitudinal change.



[1] Deuteronomy 7:12. This essay is based on commentary of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ad.loc.

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