By 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, (and vice versa.) 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,"--
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
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 Medrash with which
we started -- about the menora that could be assembled from its
components? You will soon see.
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 disparate 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
unify 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 ). Parsha's 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. (The phrase 'hear the radiance'
evokes matan Torah, where Bnei Yisroel 'saw the sounds.')
The 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 well
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 now refers to yir'a as a "mitzvo kahla." Why?
Because yir'as HaShem is, as he 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 reward. 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.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.