Parshas Eikev: Doing a Mitzvah on Someone's Cheshbon
This first verse of this Parsha discusses an unusual idea.
:דברים פרק ז פסוק יב
וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה
The commentaries ask what the word עקב is doing in this verse. The structure can be simplified as in the last Parsha of the book of ויקרא. It says there "אם בחוקתי תלכו" meaning if you (the Jewish nation) follow the precepts of the Torah you will be rewarded greatly. Here also the verse can be read simply אם תשמעון את המשפטים if we will hearken to Hashem's laws!
רש"י explains it according to the מדרש תנחומא that here the reference is to a heel, mitzvahs that people tread upon them with their heels. These are mitzvahs people neglect to do. They do not take them as seriously as other commandments. The Torah tells us that Hashem will reward us greatly for not neglecting those mitzvahs. According to the אור החיים our sense of spiritual accomplishment rides on our ability to fulfill all of Hashem's commandments not to pick and choose on the basis of what we believe to be more important. This concept is reflected in the words of the Ethics of our Fathers
אל תהיה מצוה קלה בעיניך שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרה של מצות
No מצוה should be taken lightly. We do not know the reward for מצות.
There is a fundamental question that each of us should be asking. The Zohar makes it clear that the blueprint of this world was the Torah. Hashem looked into the Torah and designed this world. This means that to truly understand this world is impossible without the interpretation of the Torah. How could it be that Hashem waited twenty six generations before giving the Torah! Actually the גמרא asks this question and answers דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה. There is actually something that precedes Torah.
There are so many categories of דרך ארץ that it is truly difficult to translate. However, the idea is that the mind is a well spring of knowledge. When Hashem created man קהלת saysאלוקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבונות רבים He created man straight but they sought many intrigues. Had Hashem given the Torah immediately, man would have relied on it solely for his moral direction without struggling on his own to reveal the truth. Even now that we have the Torah the great Mussar work, the חובת הלבבות, the Duties of the Heart, emphasizes that the Torah is a guide line. Yet there are an endless amount of mitzvahs of the mind that we need to reveal.
Principles of good behavior are one of those מצות. If one senses that he is behaving incorrectly can he ignore this just because he cannot pinpoint exactly in the Torah where such behavior is forbidden. In Yiddish there is an expression זאל זיין א מנטש: be a decent person. It seems that this is an area of mitzvahs neglected. So many people wonder: can religious people behave this way. Sometimes, probably more than not irreligious Jews or gentiles use this as a scapegoat for the inconsistencies in their spiritual life but what about the times when they are correct! Can we allow ourselves the luxury as frum Jews turning off people that might reconsider their present lifestyle! This is an incredible חילול הד', a desecration of Hashem's name. We cannot afford to trample on these מצות. Common decency such as walking in the street early in the morning to go to the mikveh or to pray early and not wake up others still sleeping. רב ישראל סלאנטר says if one steals money he can at least make restitution. How does one make restitution for stealing somebody's sleep! If one is driving in the wrong lane and needs to cross over can we as religious Jews be so stubborn and not allow him in. If we are getting on the subway or the רכבת ירושלים the Jerusalem tram or a bus are we so much in a hurry that we cannot let those leaving to get out first! There are so many of these mitzvahs that we neglect to think about. They are so easy to fulfill. Of all the mitzvahs King David feared most retribution עון עקבי יסובבני were the sins of his heels.
We are approaching יום הדין. We have the thirty days of Elul to prepare. We need to ask ourselves as דוד המלך asked himself with what sins do we need to concern ourselves. This week's Parsha opens to us a whole new area of exploration. It is not only about the most severe transgressions. Of course those need improvement. However many of those require lots of understanding to change. How about the easier ones, those that we neglect because they are easy to change!