This past week, I drove my car to the mechanic and a friend followed me so he could drive me back home. On my way, I noticed a small side street that looked like a shortcut, so I took it. Driving down the small block, something didn’t feel quite right. Suddenly, a car pulled up alongside me and the driver rolled down his window and wagged his finger at me. Then it all came together: I was driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction! Of course, all this time my friend was following right behind me the wrong way on this one-way street! I thought to myself, “It’s incredible how people will follow someone they trust implicitly-even when it’s in the wrong direction.”
One of the last Mitzvos in the Torah is in Parshas Re’eh, “You shall follow after G-d… and to Him you shall cleave” (13:5).
Certainly, following after Hashem will only lead us in the right direction. But, how does one follow after Hashem who is infinite and has no physical manifestations? The Gemara (Sotah 14a) explains, you shall follow after Hashem’s qualities – just as Hashem clothed Adam and Chava, so too we should ensure people have clothes to wear. Just as Hashem visited Avraham Avinu when he was sick after his Bris Milah, so too we should visit the sick ….
And how do we “cleave to Hashem?” Interestingly, Rashi uses the above Gemara which talks about mirroring Hashem’s qualities, to explain how to cleave to Hashem!
Why does Rashi use this Gemara to explain this Mitzvah of clinging to Hashem when clearly the Gemara is explaining the mitzvah of following after Hashem? Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l explains that Rashi is giving us an entirely new perspective on compassion and caring for others. “Kirvas Elokim li Tov”- Closeness to G-d is what’s good for me,” (Tehillim) says Dovid Hamelech.
Think about it. Who does not want to get close to Hashem? Yet, how do we do that? Initially, we might think of Tefilla – prayer, or Torah study – which is an excellent start. When it comes to Chesed, we view it as a very important mitzvah, but not as a mitzvah which unites us with Hashem Himself, as Torah and Tefillah help us to do. Yet, from this Rashi, we see that simple acts of caring for others constitute clinging to Hashem… literally. Even the small talk needed to make a person feel important and cared for, not to mention picking up an item at a supermarket for your neighbor, or visiting the sick, or listening to what’s bothering someone .. all these constitute clinging to Hashem Himself, just as much as Torah and Tefillah. This is precisely why Rashi quotes this Gemara on the mitzvah of clinging to Hashem, because by performing the mitzvah of following after Hashem’s ways, we then are clinging to Hashem Himself.
As this Shabbos is Shabbos Mevarchim of the month of Elul, I am reminded of a story which illustrates this point.
It was the eve of Yom Kippur. The whole town was in shul for Kol Nidrei. The Rabbi concluded his impassioned plea for everyone to do teshuva, and the Chazzan was ready to start Kol Nidrei. Unexpectedly, at this momentous time, the Rav turned to a close shul member and said, “Come with me.” They walked out of the shul and kept going until they reached one of the homes at the far end of town. The Rav knocked on the door. A 12-year-old girl answered the door. She looked weak and ill. “How do you feel?” asked the Rav. “I feel weak, “said the girl. “Refuah Shleima. I want to wish you a Gmar Chasima Tova. Tell me… did you get a new dress for Yom Tov?” asked the Rav. “I did, but I feel so weak that I haven’t even been thinking about the dress,” replied the girl. “Can you tell me what your dress looks like?” asked the Rav. “Well, it’s pink and has ribbons on the sleeves … .” The girl continued to describe the dress in great detail. Incredibly, the girl’s spirits seemed to perk up as she was talking and color started coming back to her cheeks. “I can even show it to you,” added the girl. She then ran to get the dress and showed it to the Rav. At this point, the girl looked much healthier. “It’s beautiful… the perfect Yom Tov dress! I want to wish you a sweet year,” said the Rav and with that he went back to shul, having accomplished his goal before Yom Kippur.
Small talk. Showing interest and compassion. Chesed. That is the way Hashem wants us to cleave to Him.
In this week’s parsha the Torah speaks on how the heart is our spiritual center. The Torah is instructing us to cut away the barrier to the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16). The Ramban comments: “Your should know the truth…and you should not err to think that there is any benefit in serving intermediate forces, such as Melachim, Avoda Zara, or the planets.”
After Klal Yisroel experienced the miracle of Yetzias Mitzrayim why would Klal Yisroel give credence to any power other than Hashem, the King of Kings and the Master of the Universe?
In this material world we know that Hashem’s radiance is hidden. Regardless of how clearly Hashem reveals Himself, once the revelation has passed, the Neshema is cast into darkness. The nature of this “blackout” makes it impossible for humans not to err. You see that a person’s heart is vulnerable to all types of temptations and grasps at any force that seems attractive or powerful enough to benefit him.
By Klal Yisroel, because of the special favor that we found in the eyes of Hashem, we have been endowed with the clarity to recognize the worthlessness of the un-Godly forces, despite the deceptive comfort of placing one’s Emunah in planets, Melachim, and the superstars. It is known that Hashem instilled a consciousness within every Jewish Neshema. Each person in Klal Yisroel knows that all these deceptive powers are unconditionally and totally subject to the divine will. Hence, Klal Yisroel has an inner light, a sensitivity that enables everyone in Klal Yisroel to distinguish between the truth and falsehood.
We acknowledge this gift everyday in our morning Davening “Blessed is Hashem…Who separated us from those who stray from the truth.” You see deep inside of each and everyone in Klal Yisroel’s Neshema we know the truth. However, we must open our hearts to connect with this inner awareness.
Therefore, the pasuk instructs to “Cut away the barrier to your heart.” The people of Klal Yisroel must see beyond the smokescreen and reject the false persuasions. Then and only then we will be free to fully embrace the eternal Torah and it everlasting truth. This Dvar Torah is based on Da’as Torah of Yerucham Levovitz.
Did you ever find yourself sitting in the kitchen, hearing someone’s footsteps coming down the stairs and saying, “Oh, I hear my wife (or son) coming down the stairs. I can tell by the footsteps.”
This week’s Parsha – and this Dvar Torah – are all about footsteps we need to be able to recognize. We hear them clearly, but we must train ourselves to recognize and respond to them. What am I talking about?
Our Parsha starts with the words, “V’haya Eikev tishmeun…v’shamar ….” – and if you will listen ….. Hashem will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness. The Chidushei Harim explains the word Eikev is referring to the period of time before the coming of Moshiach, a time the Gemara calls Ikvasa D’Meshicha, the footsteps of Moshiach. What is the connection between the footsteps of Moshiach and our Parsha’s sentence besides the word association?
All the commentators are bothered with the unusual word “Eikev”. The word usually refers to the heel of the foot (as in the root of the name “Yaakov” who held his brother’s heel.) What does it mean and why is it used here? How is it related to a quality of listening? The simple meaning of the term Eikev here means, “If you listen,” in the sense of, “in exchange for listening.” Rashi explains the word allegorically as referring to Mitzvos that we (figuratively) trample under ourheel. We perceive them as insignificant, due to our limited perspective, and assign them lesser importance, while that might not be the case.
Ramban points out that the word Eikev has many different meanings, among them “Acharis“–the end. Indeed, the heel is the end point of the body. Therefore, he interprets the sentence to be saying that the end result for listening to Hashem is Hashem will guard His covenant.
A thought occurred to me as I stood in Shul on Tisha B’Av. On this day of national sadness, we are not allowed to wear leather shoes. Absent leather, our heels are considered to be touching the ground. I thought perhaps that is exactly the point: Tisha B’Av, the day we are most distant from the Beis Hamikdash, is when we most urgently need to get in touch with the Eikev, the heel, so that we will be grounded. Tisha B’Av will then be capable of catapulting us to Moshiach. Indeed, Chazal tell us that Tisha B’Av is the birthday of Moshiach!
If we combine all the explanations together, I believe it’s a core life message. We tend to focus on big goals and ideals. Often, we overlook the little things. Areas we perceive as trivial we might neglect or take for granted. But in doing so, we are making a mistake. Those small nuances in Jewish law do matter; they ground us. That’s how Rashi explained Eikev. If we keep our heels steady on the ground, then we can use our heels to start propelling us forward. That is what we need to focus on at the end of time when we hear the footsteps of Moshiach.
We are in a very difficult era. One hundred years ago, the Chofetz Chaim already said that we are close to the coming of Moshiach. What must we do to shorten the time we must wait for Moshiach? We need to use adverse events occurring in this time to cause us to listen to Hashem, to follow his Mitzvos with the appropriate detail and enthusiasm and focus well on our Torah study. We aren’t as perceptive as our ancestors were, so Hashem is sending messages that are less and less subtle! All the political unrest, anti-semitism, and acts of terror are these messages. These events are the footsteps.
We hear the footsteps…but are we willing to recognize the sound and the significance? It’s time we hear with our hearts and minds; really hear! As the word Shema directs, we must not just listen, but fully understand. By doing that, when we hear the “footsteps” treading near us, we can bring Moshiach into the room! Let’s grab onto the heels of Moshiach by being extremely diligent in our Mitzvos and by applying that “great principle of Torah,” as Rabbi Akiva (whose name also has the root Eikev!) said: “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha,” “Love your friend like you love yourself.” If we can listen carefully to each other’s hearts, we will be more finely attuned to the footsteps of Moshiach. May it be Hashem’s will that we hear those footsteps and respond appropriately, so that the sweetest sound our ears hear are the dancing of our own feet with Moshiach in the Holy City of Yerushalayim.