This week’s parsha, Aikev, continues with Moshe’s exhortations to Klal Yisroel to adhere to the Torah and to maintain that special relationship with Hashem. “V’hayah aikev tishm’un (7:12)”. The Targum explains ‘aikev’ to mean in exchange. In exchange for your observing the laws, Hashem will fulfill the covenant made with the Avos.
Rashi, however, offers a different explanation. ‘Aikev’ can also mean a heel. If those light/easy mitzvos that a person tramples with his heel will be observed…
Which tread upon mitzvos is Rashi referring to? The Kli Yakar understands it to mean the ‘chukim’. Those mitzvos whose understanding was never revealed to us. The nations scorn our observance of these seemingly irrational mitzvos and that causes us to treat them lightly and to trample upon them.
Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, explains differently. Our day-to-day encounters offer many opportunities for mitzvos that are often trampled underfoot in our pursuit of the ‘big things’ in life. No matter how we personally define the ‘big things’, be it spiritual pursuits or materialistic pursuits, simple kindness and manners are often overlooked. As a pole vaulter who, while focusing on the high bar, overlooks the stone which, by tripping him, never allows him to reach that bar.
He writes that it is actually these seemingly insignificant encounters which ultimately define who this person truly is. Chazal teach us that two of our greatest leaders, Moshe and Dovid HaMelech, were tested as shepherds! If one tends sheep with diligence, concern and honesty, one will also tend a nation in such a fashion. Furthermore, the habits and foundations that one lays down in the ‘light’ matters carry through to the ‘heavier’ matters. We recently witnessed how, a person who had never learned self control in his youth, could ruin his future and lose tens of millions of dollars by taking an uninvited bite from an ear!
The small things that we tread upon… A friend of mine once asked his parents for the key to their successful marriage. “We always say please and thank you to each other.” We are so careful to be polite with strangers and acquaintances but how are we with our parents/spouses/children? Are we willing to jump to help someone else, but a bit slow to finally take out the garbage? Would a Jew’s tears inspire us to do whatever we can to help, while we kvetch about bringing a drink to a child in the middle of the night? Isn’t that also an opportunity to help a person in distress?
The small things that we tread upon… The gemara (Berachos) discusses stealing from a poor person. What can one actually steal from one who has nothing? Not greeting him with a hello! That’s all he has and you took it away from him! How much pain do we unknowingly cause?
The Mishna in Avos asks “what is the path that a person should cling to?” One of the answers is shachein tov- be a good neighbor! The quest was for a path to bring one close to his Creator, to allow him to fulfill the purpose of being sent to this physical world. The answer is to be a good neighbor, Statefarm!?!? Yes!!! A high percentage of our dealings involve our neighbors. If we are careful, helpful and considerate with our neighbors, we train ourselves to be people who are all of the above and in control of ourselves.
That is the path that a person should choose in order to accomplish his lofty purpose in this world. “Aikev!”, Moshe warns Bnei Yisroel. Don’t trample on the seemingly insignificant, because your relationship with Hashem is based on that!
Moshe continues and warns of the dangers of wealth. “Be careful… you’ll build nice houses… have much gold and silver… you’ll forget Hashem… and you’ll say in your heart, ‘my strength and the power of my hand has accumulated all of this prosperity’ (8:11-17).”
Rav Dessler zt”l writes that this powerful conviction of our abilities being the prime movers in our lives is both absolutely true and absolutely false. “All is in the hands of heaven besides the fear of heaven.” In the spiritual realm, we, and only we, determine who we are and who we will be. In the realm of the physical and the materialistic, it is not our strength that actually accomplishes anything. We are obligated to make the effort, but ultimate success or failure is out of our hands.
It’s amazing how common thinking goes completely opposite to this. To spend a year in Yeshiva/Seminary before beginning college is standard. Two years is a bit extreme but still within the bounds of acceptable. After that point, it’s time to get back to the real world. You know… the real world. The world of honesty (“read my lips, no new taxes”), the world of morality (anybody turn on the TV recently?), the world of hard work and discipline (how much did Tyson get for the fight?), you know.. the real world!
We devote between 6 and 10 years of our life preparing for that which we don’t actually influence. More than two years spent preparing for our eternity is considered far too extreme.
The Ra”n adds on a very interesting point. We’ve all met people with impressive abilities whom we predict will be successful in life. It seems clear to us that these people are successful because of these very evident capabilities. Does this contradict these pasukim which taught that we don’t affect the outcome in this world?
He writes that there are people who correctly say that my strength, my wisdom, my innovation have accumulated these possessions for me. The next pasuk addresses them. “Remember Hashem, because He is the One who gave you the ability…(8:18)” The Targum explains that He gave you the counsel and advice to amass that wealth. It is interesting to note that the Yiddish word for an idea is an ‘einfall’. The idea fell in!
We then must take this a step further and realize why Hashem gave us this ability. All of our strengths and abilities must be harnessed to the spiritual. A person blessed with a charismatic personality must use it to influence and draw others to Hashem. Whether it is done in a professional capacity, at his work-place or as a good neighbor, he must recognize where this gift came from and use it suitably. A person blessed with a knack to pick the right stocks must use the fruits of this ability to help others. Realizing that this is why he was given that talent. Remember, it is He who gave you the ability!
May we actualize the myriad opportunities of growth that surround us, taking care not to trample on them and the people around us. Recognizing where we can make a true difference in this world and where we can’t.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).
Baltimore, MD 21215