To heel and to heel

Shimon Garbuz • 2008

The Parsha opens with words that require interpretation, words that may lead us to different ways of connecting to Hashem and his commandments.

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And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.

Rashi‘s commentary: ‘Ekev’, literally meaning heel. If you will heed the minor commandments which one [usually] tramples with his heels [i.e., which a person treats as being of minor importance], than Hashem will keep His promise to you.

The Aramaic translation by Unkelus interprets the word ‘Ekev’ in the context of the verse as ‘because’.

It  seams these are two fundamentally different interpretations - according to Rashi, the word ‘Ekev‘ emphasizes the practical side of the commandments - the actual performance, whereas according to the translation there is no special significance to the usage of the word heel, and it is merely a description meaning ‘because you will heed - god will keep’.

These two ways of interpreting the verse can be seen as two approaches to worshipping God. In Chasidut there are two classic models for ones approach to the fulfillment of god’s will. The models are ‘Itkafya‘ meaning “by force”, and ‘Ithapcha‘ meaning “by converting”, or “by reversing”.

Rashi‘s commentary is the way of ‘Itkafya‘, the forcing of oneself. By nature, we are not attentive to detail, to the passing moment, to people around us, and now we are required to perform an act, to ‘heed’ - but the intention here is not to acquire something new, rather a rediscovery of what is already there. The Midrash notes two particular aspects of the word ‘Ekev‘. The anagram for ‘Ekev‘ is ‘Keva‘ - meaning permanence and recurrence. The other meaning is the humility of the heel as a body-part, always behind and always following. Both points call for a reinforcement or refinement of ones existing qualities in worshipping God.

The second approach as brought by the Targum, is the way of Yaakov, who symbolizes truth. But Yaakov utilizes the qualities of Esav, he is forever holding on to his ‘heel’. This is the meaning of ‘Ithapcha‘ - converting qualities that come from Esav’s world and using them to perform God’s will.

One can either be more persistent with the resources he has, or search elsewhere for outside inspiration. The important part is that either way, it leads you to a point where we “keep them and perform”.

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