Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with an allusion to the parsha's first
Medrash Rabba. In the time of Chazal, a new type of menora (lamp) was
invented. What was new about this menora was the following feature. The
menora was made of components which could be assembled or disassembled.
Thus, the parts could be joined to make a whole lamp. In this context, the
Medrash raised a halachic question. While in use, the menora might fall;
and because of its unique design, might come apart. The menora's owner
might then reassemble it. Reassembling the menora, however, would involve a
melacha (an activity forbidden on Shabbos) -- the melacha of boneh
(construction). Hence, Medrash Rabba asks: To avoid such a potential
outcome, have Chazal instituted a protective law that would prohibit moving
such a menora on Shabbos in the first place?
The Sfas Emes extracts from this discussion one thought that is pertinent
to his discourse, namely, the possibility that a person can construct a
complete keili (instrument; vessel) by assembling its components. As we
will see below, he is able to view this halachic issue as, at one level, a
metaphor. Now the Sfas Emes calls up a series of pesukim that come to (his,
and thence, to our) mind by association. These references may seem to
totally unrelated to the menora that we might construct by joining its
parts. But trust the Sfas Emes to put it all together.
The Sfas Emes cites the parsha's first Rashi, quoting the Medrash Tanchuma.
To understand what is coming, bear in mind the following. Our parsha begins
"Vehaya eikev tish'me'un es ha'mishpatim ... " ("It will come to pass as a
result of your observing the commandments ..."). As you see, the word
"eikev" has the sense of "as a result of" or "in exchange for." It so
happens that there is another word in Hebrew with the exact same spelling (
in Hebrew ): "ahkeiv" the heel of the foot. The pesukim with which the Sfas
Emes works start from this basic 'remez' -- 'eikev' as an allusion to the
heel of a person's foot.
In that perspective, the Sfas Emes (and Rashi) refer us to a pasuk in
Tehillim (49:6). That pasuk sees Dovid Hamelech as saying (in colloquial
mode): "I'll tell you what really scares me as I contemplate my Yom Hadin
(Day of Judgment). I'm not worried about the severe mitzvos ("hechamuros").
I am worried about the mitzvos "kahlos," i.e., those that I, like most
people, take lightly." In figurative terms, we might refer to these as
mitzvos on which people tread with their heels. Hence, Dovid Hamelech's
reference (in the pasuk just cited) to "ahvon ahkeivai," that is, "the
aveiros that I have done with the heels of my feet."
(What might be examples -- in our lives -- of such mitzvos that too often,
we treat lightly? One such case might be talking about divrei chol (weekday
matters) on Shabbos. Another example might be: saying the tefila that
concludes virtually each davening, -- "Aleinu Le'shabei'ach" -- without
Another text that the word "eikev" brings to mind is Tehillim (19:13): "
... beshomrom eikev rav." (ArtScroll: " ... in observing them [the
mitzvos], there is great reward."). Finally, by association with the word
"rav," the Sfas Emes introduces still another pasuk from Tehillim (31:20):
"Mah rav tuvcha asher tza'fanta liyerei'echa!" ("How wonderful are the good
things that you are keeping hidden for the people who have yir'as Shamayim!")
A fair question at this point is: this chain of 'eikev' allusions is all
well and good. But what does this have to do with the menora that could be
assembled from its components? You will soon see. All things come to he
The Sfas Emes observes that HaShem made the world such that all things
created should be brought together to be close to Him. (We now see why the
Sfas Emes started this ma'amar with the metaphor of constructing the menora
by assembling its components.) This task -- linking people and nature
together in a great chain of being connected to HaShem -- may seem remote
from our life and our concerns. But note: What is the word that describes
the condition of a world in which people are not linked -- not to each
other, not to nature and not to HaShem? The word is "alienation". And
'alienation' is often used to characterize the sicknesses of the society in
which we live.
Who has the responsibility for bringing together the many different
components of creation? The Sfas Emes tells us that HaShem has given this
assignment to Klal Yisroel -- to bring all creation together for the glory
of HaShem. Continuing, the Sfas Emes explains how to go about accomplishing
this mission. He observes that radiance (he'ara) of HaShem is present in
all creation. Our job, explains the Sfas Emes, is to live our lives in
constant awareness of that glow: HaShem's Presence in all things. By so
doing, we connect all things to HaShem.
Achieving that goal requires us to bring our desire to do HaShem's ratzon
(will) even in everyday, routine matters. This is the reason for the
Torah's reference to "eikev" -- the heel of the foot, the limb farthest
from the head. There, in mundane, everyday matters, HaShem's Presence is
most hidden, and therefore hardest to discern.
Perceiving the whole world aglow with the Presence of HaShem helps us see
as one, and bring together all that we encounter. Continuing in this vein,
the Sfas Emes recalls the intimacy we achieved with HaShem at matan Torah
(Revelation at Sinai). Today's parsha, Eikev, begins: "tishme'un eis
ha'mish'patim" ("You shall hear the ordinances"). This means, explains the
Sfas Emes, that we can (and should) be aware of and hear the radiance of
HaShem that is present in all creation. Note: The phrase 'hear the
radiance' evokes matan Torah (Shemos, 20:15) , where Bnei Yisroel 'saw the
The Sfas Emes continues with the question of how do we unite all creation
in honor of HaShem. He observes that mitzvos encompass all aspects of our
lives. Thus, by performing mitzvos, we can constantly be aware of HaShem's
Presence, if only we try. The Sfas Emes has already told us that mitzvos
can be our modality for assembling life's disparate components in homage to
HaShem. He sharpens this point by his reading of the word "mitzva". He
reads this key word as a derivative of the word "tzavta" -- a linking, a
grouping ( Note: the word in modern Hebrew for a pliers -i.e., a tool for
holding things together -- is 'tzevat'.) This reading makes it easier to
see the link between doing mitzvos and recognizing HaShem's Omnipresence.
This all sounds beautiful. But one would appreciate some form of a
'take-home lesson' -- practical advice on implementing these ideas in
everyday life. If that is what you seek, you have come to the right
address. For, as you may recall, the Sfas Emes also had the job of being
the Gerrer Rebbe. As such, he had much experience with the religious life,
and unique wisdom on how to live it. He concludes with two thoughts that
can serve as a take-home lesson.
First, the Sfas Emes tells us that, to succeed in our awesome assignment,
we must start with yir'as HaShem -- awe of HaShem. From yir'a, a person can
progress to ahava (love) of HaShem. But it all begins with yir'a. Second,
the Sfas Emes refers to yir'a as a "mitzvo kahla" (an easy mitzva) Why?
Because yir'as HaShem is, as the Sfas Emes phrases it, ' kefi retzon
ha'ahdam'. That is, in reality an attitude of yir'as HaShem -- awe of
HaShem -- depends on a person's will. In matters of yir'a, volition sweeps all.
Careful readers will have noted an important omission in the Sfas Emes's
presentation. The parsha's first pasuk -- and the one which the Sfas Emes
uses to launch the ma'amar -- focuses on the reward that a person who son .
The Sfas Emes evidently agrees on the centrality of this theme, For, as we
saw, he cites two pesukim in Tehilim which say important things about
reward. But if we scrutinize the ma'amar in search of the Sfas Emes's own
thoughts on the subject, we come up empty-handed!
I suggest a simple explanation for the Sfas Emes's failure to discuss
reward. A simile will help. Consider the case of a star athlete -say, a
basketball player -- who is asked to present a talk on the sport to a group
of novices. For this athlete, basketball is his life. As a star, he is paid
an astronomical salary. But as an enthusiast, he would be willing to play
without that high reward. In his talk to the novices, he will have to
mention the word 'salary'; but for the most part, he will discuss what
matters to him in the sport-namely, playing the game.
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Project Genesis, Inc.