by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
With Parshas Eikev we continue our journey of solace, our ascension up the rungs of the shiva denechemta. In Moshe Rabbeniu’s final lesson to his people, he incorporates all they had learned during the previous forty years into Mishneh Torah.
Last week in parshas Va’eschanon, we encountered chapters about s’char ve’onesh – reward and punishment. We absorbed the severity of “pen tisa einecha… vehishtachavisa lohem” (Devorim 4:19), mistaking the celestial bodies for masters in their own right. “Hishomru,” we are warned. Take heed lest you forget the covenant formed with Hashem, “Ki Hashem Elokecha aish ochlah hu - Hashem is a fire that consumes.”
The timeless and enduring relevance of the Aseres Hadibros resound through the ages. They are the basis of all that is right and wrong, the defining line of truth and falsehood.
Though it is the haftoros of these weeks that give the appellation of nechomah to the current seven week period, the parshiyos carry founts of comfort as well. By studying the parsha and Moshe Rabbeinu’s directives therein, we are menucham. There is nothing more empowering than the reminder that if we follow Hashem’s word, we will be blessed.
The vast personal motivation industry revolves around psychologists’ discovery that the greatest catalyst for personal joy and meaning is the realization that one makes a difference. The colorful titles straining the shelves of the self-help section at the bookstore scream empowerment: You make a difference. You are important. Your actions are relevant.
As we read the pesukim we feel that sense of empowerment; that our every action yields results. Rav Chaim Volozhiner authored his classic Nefesh Hachaim to invest man with the realization of how significant his every move is. The cosmos literally hinge on our behavior.
The Torah and its precepts provide us with that sense of worth. The Imrei Emes of Ger says that the roshei teivos of the words Torah tzivah lonu Moshe form the word “tzelem.” The Torah gives man dimensions of greatness, transforming a mere human into a tzelem Elokim capable of influencing his own destiny and world events.
We continue with Parshas Eikev, which earns its name from the word in the first posuk. “Vehayah eikev tishme’un - And it will be in exchange for your listening that you will be rewarded.” The word eikev, in this context, essentially is used in the place of the word “if.”
We shall explore why the Torah did not explicitly use the simpler and more literally correct term and write that if, or when, you observe the mitzvos, Hashem will honor his promises to the avos and bless you. Instead, the Torah states, “Vehayah eikev tishme’un eis hamishpotim ha’eileh,” speaking in multi-layered hints.
Every meforash, it seems, has a different interpretation of the word eikev. Perceiving the depths of the Torah and its messages should provide chizuk and nechomah to us as we are buffeted about in a turbulent world, where apparently senseless acts take place on a regular basis. We take comfort in the knowledge that there is a deeper meaning behind the surface of everything that transpires and nothing happens by itself or without purpose. Just as there is nothing random in the Torah, nothing in the world is without a p’shat. There are layers of explanation and understanding in every word and every occurrence. That itself serves as a major source of comfort.
Rashi explains that the Torah uses the word eikev to teach us that Hashem desires that we observe not only the “heavy” mitzvos, but also the “small” ones – the ones that we think are minor. If we observe the mitzvos that are commonly squashed under people’s heels, we will be richly rewarded.
The Ramban finds Rashi’s edification deficient and offers differing explanations from the Ibn Ezra and Targum Onkeles. Eikev means at the end. When will the promised reward be dispensed? Eikev, at the end of time.
The Baal Haturim states that the gematriah of the word eikev is 172, which is the number of letters that appear in the first version of the Aseres Hadibros. Incidentally, Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin adds that the second version of the Aseres Hadibros, which we lained last week, contains 17 more words than the first. 17 is the value of the word tov, which means good.
The Baal Haturim also writes that the word eikev hints to our obligation to make Torah keva, a permanent part of our lives, not something haphazard and temporary. He also derives another hint from the word: the obligation to be humble, as the heel represents humility.
An especially fascinating insight and a lesson which can resonate with us in our time is offered by the Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aharon Hakohein, in his biur al haTorah. He writes that the yeitzer hora knows that his work will be completed at the time of the geulah.
The novi Yechezkel (31:26-27) tells us that Hashem promised when that time comes, “venosati lochem lev chodosh veruach chadoshah etein bekirbechem…” The novi Yoel (2:20) delivered a similar message: “Ve’es hatzfoni archik mei’aleichem.” Both of these prophecies foretell that at the time of Moshiach, the forces of tumah will be destroyed and removed from the world.
Therefore, in the times leading up to arrival of Moshiach, the yeitzer hora and the forces of tumah will ramp up their efforts to entrap the Jewish people in sin. They will do everything in their power to call us to sin, so that we will not merit redemption. At the same time, the yeitzer hatov and the forces of good will do everything in their power to cause the Bnei Yisroel to act properly and be meritorious of geulah. There will be an awful battle between the two yetzorim and we have to ensure that we do what we can to empower the forces of good and ensure their victory.
This is hinted to in the first posuk of the parsha. “Vehayah eikev tishme’un” is to be understood as follows:
It will be in the period of “ikvesa deMeshicha.” If you follow the chukim and mishpotim that Hashem commanded, Hashem will adhere to the covenant He forged with your forefathers and He will love and bless you and cause you to flourish. If, during the period prior to Moshiach’s arrival, you are able to resist the temptations offered by the yeitzer hora, you will be doubly blessed, as Klal Yisroel will be able to finally realize its full potential.
Chassidim relate that the Rizhiner Rebbe once went into a trance, visualizing something beyond the confines of his room. When he returned to himself, he told his chassidim that there will come a time just before Moshiach arrives when the bilbul, the confusion and turmoil, will be so strong that it will take extraordinary strength to remain an ehrliche Yid. People at that time will have to climb the bare walls and hold on with their fingernails to remain true to the Torah, said the rebbe.
Here we are, living in the period about which tzaddikim foretold, the era that our posuk is speaking of. We see the yeitzer hora’s attempts to sink the world to unprecedented levels of tumah. We experience the temptations he throws our way, desiring to entrap us in sin. We see the powers of tumah on the march around the world. We see them fighting Torah and doing what they can to challenge the lives of shomrei Torah umitzvos. We see our way of life mocked and seemingly constantly under attack. We see people speaking in our names, proclaiming themselves as our spokesmen, causing much damage for us and our values.
But with the unprecedented resistance comes unprecedented growth, boruch Hashem. We also see flourishing Torah institutions. We see people giving tzedokah with amazing generosity. We see ehrliche people assuming leadership roles and devoting their energies to benefit the klal. We see people in various cities and towns expanding and strengthening the boundaries of kedushah. We see Torah being studied with intensity, diligence and focus. And we see that as Israeli government support for lomdei and mekomos Torah is denied, donors from around the world have been galvanized to attempt to fill the vacuum.
The glass is half empty, and we are constantly reminded of that sad fact, but it is also half full. We must begin to concentrate on the good among us and seek to bolster and support those who are filling the cup until it runneth over.
We must not become depressed as we are deluged with negative messages and vibes. We should not concentrate on all that is wrong. We must recognize that we are living in a period of war. Sirens are constantly ringing, warning us to take shelter. In order to win that war, we must build the shelters, man and expand them, and work to ensure their success. We must effectively increase the power of good in our world, looking for and availing ourselves of the many prevalent opportunities for chizuk.
That is achieved by being confident in ourselves and our abilities to shape our own destiny and that of the world. We accomplish this by learning parshas Eikev and reinforcing in our hearts and beings, from the rosh to the eikev, our obligations in this world. We study them and teach them to our children, instilling in their souls the beauty of Torah through messages of support and encouragement. We love every person and treat them with care, as the Torah commands.
It is an era of ikvesa deMeshicha. Rav Chaim Volozhiner quotes a Medrash which states that the eikev, heel, is the most callous and unfeeling part of the body, capable of absorbing pain. Our hearts are like that heel, the eikev of the generations, coarse and less sensitive to kedushah than our fathers and their fathers. And yet we persevere, fighting to achieve, struggling for each small gain.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l would learn every Friday afternoon with one of his grandchildren. One Erev Shabbos, the young man was late. He explained to his grandfather that he had recently become bar mitzvah and had gone to the seforim store to exchange the seforim he had received double and triples of in order to get other seforim.
Rav Shach asked him which seforim he had returned.
“I had three Rav Akiva Eigers and two copies of Ketzos Hachoshen, so I traded the extras,” he responded.
The elderly rosh yeshiva sighed deeply. “Ah Ketzos toisht mehn nisht. A Rebbi Akiva Eiger gibt men nisht avek. One doesn’t part with these seforim,” he said.
“But zaide,” the boy said, confused, “I have them already. I just gave away the extras.”
“Oy, mein kint,” Rav Shach said, “let me explain. Those people who suffered through the hunger and privation of the concentration camps cannot bear to see someone leaving over a crust of bread. They react with horror if a piece of apple gets thrown in the garbage. It doesn’t make a difference how much food is still on the table.
“Why? Because they saw a world where there was nothing to eat. They don’t take anything for granted. They view each morsel of food as life itself. When you’ll get older, you’ll appreciate what a Ketzos is, what a Rebbi Akiva Eiger is, and you’ll realize that if you have one, you guard and treasure it. You don’t give it back to a store…”
Each mitzvah we fight for in our times becomes that much more valuable. The opportunities afforded us by ikvesa deMeshicha are tremendous. They are chances to grab mitzvos in a world of apathy and disinterest. The few, the proud, the she’airis Yisroel who still cling to mitzvos, are worth so much in Heaven.
And so, we have a parsha that offers us so many chances to earn eternal good. We learn that we have the ability, through performing mitzvos, to elevate the world around us and to ultimately triumph over koach hora.
It’s a comforting thought that charges us with hard work and a mandate to keep moving.
Perhaps we can now understand the parsha’s first posuk. Vehoyah is always a lashon of simcha. There is nothing more hopeful - “Vehoyah eikev” - than the moments of ikvesa deMeshicha, when we live in a state of expectation, doing all we can to repair the world and purify it, preparing it for the arrival of Moshiach. Our people have endured centuries of suffering and deprivation, yet they persevered as they waited for the epoch of Moshiach. We are there now.
Just days before Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l was killed by the Nazis, efforts were still ongoing to secure visas to save the Baranovitcher rosh yeshiva and his talmidim.
A talmid who survived was present when an askan arrived to report to Rav Elchonon, “Rosh yeshiva, we hope that the visas will work out.”
Rav Elchonon looked at him and said, “If you’re already hoping,” he remarked, “why not hope for Moshiach?”
All our hopes and anticipation are really just for that great moment. If we’re already hoping - and who isn’t - why not hope for the greatest day of all?
The day is so close that we can feel it. There are so many situations here, in Eretz Yisroel and around the globe to which only Moshiach can provide the solution. There are so many battles being fought on so many fronts, where we see the powers of evil fighting mightily, and we wonder why this is so. To understand that these wars portend the arrival of the great day we have been longing for is a source of tremendous nechomah. However it is nothing close, of course, to how we will feel when the ikvesa gives way to the as’chalta and Moshiach ben Yosef arrives to notify us that “Ohr chodosh al Tzion mei’ir.”
Some things that transpire in life and in our world are so bizarre, they defy explanation. A man is elected president of the United States based on a promise of a new bipartisan era in which politics would take a back seat to the needs of the people. His administration would be transparently open and honest. A new world will dawn with his election, the economy will improve, world respect for the country will increase, and everyone will just get along. We’d restore hope and change the way things are headed.
Leadership isn’t earned through ambition or careful preparation. Leadership requires the readiness to face real issues and confront them, head-on, intelligently, forthrightly and honestly. That is true in the general world and in our world as well. There are groups that seek to undermine us, our institutions, customs and way of life. We must not permit them to continue; to succeed in their missions. We cannot afford to ignore our enemies.
Barack Obama came out of nowhere and quickly leapfrogged to the top of the heap, because people thought that he was different. They projected upon his blank slate their dreams and those of their fathers. People are desperate for leadership, thirsting for a savior and looking for a way out of their sadness. They are prepared to hitch their wagons onto any charming salesman who comes by. They don’t ask too many questions, for fear that their bubble of salvation will burst. They get taken in by sweet talk, pleasant accents, and charisma. They don’t examine beneath the thin veneer. They satisfy themselves with superficial gloss.
They end up with people like Obama leading them. He lied repeatedly about his signature health insurance plan. Through political tricks, the plan was forced onto an unwilling populace by the president and his party. The liberal’s dream plan became law. When he campaigned, he promised the people that if they liked their health insurance, they’d be able to keep it, even after his plan went into effect. An examination of the law would have made obvious its failings.
When millions lost their coverage, he sort of said he was sorry, but not really. Then, a week later, he said that they could keep their old plans for a year. But it’s not that simple, and they probably have no plan to go back to.
He told Israel that he would defend them against Iran and then negotiated a deal with the country dedicated to the destruction of America and Israel, enabling it to continue its march to nuclear power.
Israel was forced into yet another war a little over a month ago to protect its southern flank, as well as the entire homeland, from barbarous terrorists bent on the destruction of the nascent Jewish state. The world couldn’t care less about the Jews and their problems. Thousands demonstrate around the world against Israel. The media complains about the proportionality of the destruction caused by Israel in its war of good against evil. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry do their best to snatch victory from the grip of Israel and permit Hamas to live to regroup and fight another day.
Obama ran for election on a platform of ending American involvement in Iraq and actually fulfilled that promise. By doing so, he created a vacuum that is now being filled by ISIS, the embodiment of evil, who are gaining large swaths of land and establishing a radical Islamic terror state they will use as a base to wage war against America, Israel and others they view as infidels.
We live in troubled times. Problems abound and there is no shortage of threats. Every week brings new, seemingly insurmountable issues. What are we to do? How are we to maintain our optimism and drive? Only by recognizing that we can ensure that the sitra achra is fighting his last battles. If we follow the precepts laid out in this week’s parsha, we will be blessed that we ourselves - with the good we generate - will help overthrow evil and lead the world to the state of perfection we all pray and wait for. As the novi Yeshayahu (49) foretells in this week’s haftorah, “Ki nicham Hashem Tzion, nicham kol chorvoseha, vayosem midbarah ke’eiden ve’arvosah kegan Hashem, sason vesimcha yimotzei bah todah vekol zimrah."