Faith-HeelerBy Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"If you will (aikev) listen to these judgments and observe and do them" (Devarim 7:12)
The word "aikev" is not an unusual word, except in this context. The
simplest definition of the word is "heel," as in the heel of one's foot,
which is what prompts Rashi to proffer his explanation of the usage of this
word in this context:
"If you will listen to the 'easy' mitzvos that people tend to trample on
with their heels (i.e., not take seriously)Š" (Rashi)
The Ba'al HaTurim is interested in the word for its gematria, which is 172
(ayin-kuf-bais) -- the number of words found on the first set of Tablets
that Moshe Rabbeinu brought down from Mt. Sinai, and subsequently broke.
This, explains the Pri Tzaddik, is one way the Torah keeps the connection
between us and the First Tablets alive, among other lessons.
However, the word "aikev" itself may be an allusion to "Acharis Yomim," the
"End-of-Days" -- the last part of Jewish history, as we will now explain.
Kabbalah's view of history is different from the Western world's. From the
Western point of view, though cause-and-effect have played a role in the
way history and mankind have evolved, there is very little spiritual basis
for any of it. Western man has yet to really sort out any real rhyme or
reason for how we arrived at to where we are today, other than the fact
that, well, we just did.
Torah says no: The rhyme and reason for history is both elegant and
exceedingly deep, and, quite understandable, if you know the premises and
axioms that run it. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the
"body" of history and the body of man, as follows:
0 - 1000 ---- Right Arm (Chesed)
1000 - 2000 ---- Left Arm (Gevurah)
2000 - 3000 ---- Torso (Tifferes)
3000 - 4000 ---- Right Leg (Netzach)
4000 - 5000 ---- Left Leg (Hod)
Now, though the Sixth Millennium also corresponds to a body part with
respect to the Sefiros (something that is beyond the scope of "Perceptions"
to explain), it is already sufficient clear that moving through history is
like moving from the top part of a person's body to the lower part. And, if
the year 6000 is the last year of history as we know it (Sanhedrin 97a),
then, sometime close to that year should correspond to, well, the "heels"
of history, and what is referred to as, the "Heels of Moshiach."
Hence, our connection between "aikev" of this parshah and the "aikev" of
history, or, as it is better known: Acharis Yomim, when adhering to
mitzvos, especially with the right intentions will be very hard to do.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that "aikev" refers to the end of the time of
mitzvah-performance (which, for all intents-and-purposes is Yemos
HaMoshiach), the true time for simchah. "It will not be right for the
person, who will stand before the Great King in embarrassment, to be in joy
Š" the Ohr HaChaim warns. Mitzvah-observance NOW means ultimate joy THEN.
"Acharis Yomim" has another name: Ais Ziknah -- the time of our old age.
The Jewish people have been around for over three thousand years now, and,
it has been far from an easy journey through time. Quite the contrary! we
have been a battered nation, and still taking our licks to this very day.
We are old and weary -- even the young among us -- and ready to "retire"
from Torah-observance, G-d forbid!
The Torah, in this week's parshah is pleading with us, "Don't give up! Stay
with it until the very end." In Selichos, we plead to G-d not to abandon us
in our time of old age. Here, the Torah pleads with the Jewish people,
"Don't abandon me in your old age!" and reminds us of all the wonderful
blessings that follow for such loyalty: fulfillment of the covenant made
with our Forefathers, increased blessing family-wise and living-wise, and
freedom from all the illnesses of the world.
Given the present predicament of the Jewish people, it would be worthwhile
to apply this parshah to our generations as well.
The graven images of their gods you must burn with fire. Do not desire the
sil-ver or gold that is on them, nor take it, in case it snares you; it is
disgusting to G-d, your G-d. You must never bring an offensive thing into
your house, otherwise you will be come like it. Avoid it; it is taboo. (Devarim 7:25-26)
These possukim represent two negative mitzvos, namely, to not derive any
benefit from any decoration or ornament from an idol, and, to not derive
any benefit from an idol, its offerings, its attendants, or anything done
for it. And, unlike other mitzvos in the Torah, here, on the spot, the
reasoning is provided: You will become like it.
This point underscores the remarkable relationship that exists between what
we own and what we become. It is absolutely remarkable -- and frightening
-- how influential the inanimate world is on our lives:
"All financial acquisitions have relevance to the root of a person's soul,
and they can cause a person to sin; when a person sacrificed them on the
altar, the fire of the altar burned them up and purified the person's
soul." (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 493)
We are not so aware of how our physical actions impact our spiritual
reality, though, as we see here, there is a direct cause-and-effect
relationship between the two. People think that they can be exposed to
negative influences, especially only for a short duration, and walk away
spiritually unscathed. They think that they can purchase something that is
spiritually defective, and somehow maintain enough spiritual distance from
it to hold their moral ground. They are wrong -- dead wrong.
I am going to say something controversial, though I try hard not to do that
in "Perceptions" (I save THAT for "An Even Bigger Picture"). However, in
this context, it is difficult not to.
There is a lot of lack of belief in G-d today, and even less fear of
angering Him, including among the Jewish people. Why? So, many people
believe it is because science and archeology have given us enough evidence
to place belief in G-d in the doubtful category, meaning that it is
intellectually difficult to believe in G-d.
However, that has never been true, and today, even more so is that not the
case. In fact, I recently saw a video produced by the BBC about the
"anthropomorphic principle," which makes it intellectually difficult NOT to
believe in G-d. Not only that, but, the scientists interviewed, some of the
top in the world who have accepted this fact, said, that any of their
colleagues who refuse to accept the fact of a "Designer" of creation have
simply stuck their heads in the intellectual sand!
But, that is where they have stuck them, and, seemingly, that is where they
choose to leave them. Why?
Because, no matter how bright a person is, no matter how great a genius he
has become, he still has a soul within his body. And, G-d has set up
creation in such a way as to make everything count, and therefore, to have
consequence. "You are what you eat" and you are what you buy because we
have free-will to either accept or reject that which is good for us and
that which is bad for us. That's the test of life.
The Torah is warning here: Know that you entire perspective on life will be
colored by your choices. If you choose good, then you will see good, and
you will pursue G-d. If you choose spiritual depravity, then, you will see
a G-dless world, and, be a victim of your own blindness. What you will
"buy" from that world is more than just "idols" and "ornaments" -- it is an
entire philosophy that you will absorb through spiritual osmosis.
This was part of the purging process inherent in offering sacrifices. By
purchasing an animal as a Sin-Offering, a person was spiritually
transferring the spiritual impurity he had previously picked up, which led
him to sin. Burning the animal on the holy altar was a way to spiritually
sever the person's connection to the impurity, at the root of his soul itself.
Today, we don't have the altar, and there is very little to replace it,
short of doing teshuvah. Self-sacrifice for Torah does help tremendously,
but, if a person does very little in the way of either, then, he or she
just gets swept up in their materialistic world, becoming more fuzzy about
G-d and truth. And, from where they stand, they just can't see why anyone
would believe in something so spiritual as G-d, and something so archaic as
Unfortunately, it will take a spiritual shopping spree and a change of
intellectual perception before they will be able to answer these questions
Food and Jews seem to go together, at least in modern times. I remember
how, when I first moved to Eretz Yisroel, Meah Shearim barely had one fast
food shop. Now, almost every other store is a falafel store, or pizza shop,
or something to do with food.
And, Shabbos, and simchas Š what spreads! Food like never before. It is
amazing how central a role food plays today in making simchas "work" (as I
drink my coffee and enjoy my piece of cake Š). It is almost as if we are
rebounding from all the decades of poverty and starvation that we suffered
in more difficult times. Acceptance among the non-Jews and affluence has
made eating and eating well an easy part of being Jewish.
As a result of this, and other more materialistic issues, the concept of
dieting has become quite integrated in the Jewish mind today, on all levels
of observance. As a teacher of just-about-to-begin-dating young women, and,
even younger girls than that, it is rather distressing how much emphasis is
being placed on becoming VERY thin, and remaining so. From many
discussions, it seems that the reasoning has little to do with health,
especially since it often results in erratic and even dangerous eating habits.
The Rambam would not have approved.
There is no question that so much of Judaism lends itself to eating. As a
young yeshivah student, I first began to gain weight (after so many years
of never gaining a pound) attending so many simchas back-to-back. I didn't
always want to eat, well, at least THAT much, but, it was a "mitzvah." And,
since making after blessings requires consumption of at least an
"egg's-worth" of food -- often cakes or cookies -- I ate just that (and
more, just to be safe).
Sometimes, the bris took place straight after the morning service, when, we
had yet to have breakfast and were quite hungry. We were sitting ducks;
self-control under such conditions was almost non-existent. I gained the
rest of my weight eating leftovers from Shabbos I didn't want to throw out,
after serving more food to the guests than they could have ever eaten. And,
we're modest compared to other homes. At one home, I was "forced" (I had to
be a polite guest Š) to eat so much at the Friday night meal that I had to
go to sleep sitting up!
The Rambam would definitely not have approved.
I think we have paid too much attention to the first part of the posuk:
Š man does not live by bread alone Š
-- when it is the second part of the posuk that holds the most meaning:
Š but by whatever G-d says should exist does man live.
It is as my Rosh HaYeshivah used to ask us: Are you eating to live, or,
living to eat? Or, as the Nefesh HaChaim asked long ago: Do you make your
brochah in order to be able to eat, or, do you eat in order to be able to
make your brochah? When you eat to live, and you eat to make a blessing,
then, you are clearly in This World to serve G-d, and to bring creation to
its holy completion. Eating, for such people, is a mundane means to a holy
end, even when they thoroughly enjoy what they are eating.
However, when we do just the opposite, not only do we complicate our health
situation and spend money unnecessarily on something we don't need, but, in
the words of one rav, we eat our way out of the World-to-Come. For,
physical pleasure in This World, though perfectly permissible when enjoyed
in the correct halachic context, is meant only as a lovely by-product of
serving G-d. When it becomes an end unto itself, it becomes OUR end unto
Lest we forget, the sin that started us off on the wrong track, way back at
the beginning of history, back in the Garden of Eden, involved eating. And,
seeing how, as of 1990, we entered a period of history that corresponds to
the hour on Day Six that Adam ate from the Tree, we would do well to
consider, and re-consider our eating habits -- be they physical OR
Sing joyfully, O righteous, because of G-d; for the upright, praise is
fitting. (Tehillim 33:1)
This is the last official tehillah unique to the Shabbos Pesukei d'Zimra --
Shabbos Introductory Psalms.
According to the Malbim, there is a progression in this verse, from
righteous people to upright people. What is the difference? The difference,
as we have seen in various places, is that righteousness can be a relative
concept. Next to his generation, Noach was righteous. However, as many
commentators teach, next to Avraham, his level of righteousness wouldn't
have appeared so great.
However, uprightness is a fixed value. As the Talmud teaches, everything
they do is perfect and everlasting (Sotah 9a). The Talmud asks,
Why is it (Bereishis) called "The Book of the Upright"? Because, it is
about Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, who are called "upright." (Avodah
These were certainly people whose deeds are eternal, people who will known
unfathomable joy at the "End of Days."
The word for fitting is "na'avah." However, the Talmud wants to read the
word without its "aleph," which transforms the word into "naveh," which
means "abode," as in, Heavenly Abode. This is to teach that upright people
build holy things in this world, which the enemy is never able to
desecrate. This is why, even though Nebuchadnetzar was able to destroy the
Temple, the gates, which were a tribute to Dovid HaMelech, sank into the
ground prior to the enemies' conquest.
Thank G-d with the Kinor, with the Neivel Ossur sing to Him. (2)
Musical instruments are remarkable things, and represent such a positive
manipulation of the physical world by man. This is how man sanctifies the
world to make it "holy to G-d," by causing it to "sing" praise to G-d as well.
Sing Him a new song Š (3)
Never stop being inspired. Creation, on an ongoing basis, is one miracle
after another, and every conscious moment must be spent in appreciation, by
making the most of life. When our actions express this appreciation, then,
by their very nature, they become "shirah," holy song to G-d!
Š play well with anguished cries Š
In This World, while things can still go wrong and suffering can still
occur, the upright find a way to turn adversity into praise of G-d as well.
Nothing makes G-d sadder than to watch His people suffer, and nothing pains
Him more than to allow mankind destroy good -- temporarily -- in order to
maintain the mandate of creation: free-will.
However, as we have seen throughout our long history, through the likes of
the Ten Martyrs who died horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans,
loyalty to G-d to the very last moment also is a form of praise. And, lest
you think that such uprightness is reserved only for people of such
Biblical proportion, there are countless stories of such self-sacrifice
during the pogroms and the Holocaust (Rachmanah Litzlan).
Some people see them only as "sheep led to the slaughter." However, the
Nazis (yemach shemum!) were forced to witness the undying Jewish spirit as
they walked to their deaths singing songs like, "You have chosen from among
the nations Š"
What follows are many words of praise which speak of G-d's kindness, His
charity, His justice, and how He created the entire world with a single
breath. The psalmist speaks of G-d's greatness by showing how easily He
formed that which we hold in awe, or, at least ought to. But, these lines
sum it up:
Happy is the nation who G-d is Hashem, the nation He chose for His own
inheritance (12) Š Behold, the eye of G-d is on those who fear Him, upon
those who wait for His kindness (18) ... For in Him will our hearts be
glad, for in His Holy Name we trusted (21) Š
I recall a story once told to me by a Ba'al Teshuvah, many years after
changing the course of his life by 180 degrees. Having been raised a reform
Jew, he had been leading a pretty intense secular life, until he dared to
intellectually challenge a friend of his, who had made a similar change
years earlier. He recounted:
"If I had known at the time where the conversation would end up, I wouldn't
have started it. If someone had told me then that I would find more
pleasure in G-d than all the things I was doing at the time, I would have
shown them a concerned look and questioned their sanity. But it's true!
And, how grateful am I that G-d had enough patience to wait for me, without
which I would still only be experiencing the mundane pleasures of secular
Have a great Shabbos,