The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Av 16, 5771/August 16, 2011

"Heed these ordinances and keep them"
(Deuteronomy 7:12)

"And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that HaShem, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers." (Deuteronomy 7:12) The Hebrew word used in this verse which is commonly translated as "heed" literally means "heel," as in the bottom of the foot. It is pronounced eikev, and the great sage Rashi explains its usage in this verse in the following manner: "If you keep the "lighter" commandments, that is, those which may get trampled beneath one's foot, as you do the the "heavier" commandments..." In other words, as Rashi reveals to us, the verse is exhorting Israel to perform each of the 613 Torah commandments with the same diligence, regardless of whether one particular commandment may seem to us more consequential than another. Do not be casual when keeping the commandments. Don't tread on a commandment: don't disregard or perceive any commandment from G-d as negligible.

Eikev, or heel, is a wonderful choice of imagery as it is used in this context. It is the lowest part of the body, perhaps the most taken for granted, yet utterly essential for us to walk and stand upon. Our heels support our entire weight and maintain our balance. They are inevitably a symbol of humility. The name of our father Jacob - Ya'akov - is a verb form of the same word, eikev, because he grabbed onto the heel of his brother Esau when following him ("closely on his heels") out of their mother's womb. Ya'akov, the "heeler" would become the father of the twelve tribes and the foundation of the nation of Israel. How fitting that when Ya'akov received his prophetic vision at Beit El, (in the form of a dream), he was lying prone on the ground. It was as if his entire being had assumed the aspect of the heel, being grounded even while dreaming, providing a solid unshakable foundation and a platform from which future generations could ever strive heavenwards. Little wonder also that his dream was of the Holy Temple, itself a heel of sorts, grounding heaven in earth, but also allowing our corporal selves to work toward raising our spiritual beings heavenward.

A heel is by nature a follower. It goes where the toes lead it. The first tablets received by Israel at Sinai were written by "etzba Elokim" - the finger of G-d. (Exodus 31:18) In the Hebrew language both fingers and toes are designated by the word etzba, which also form the root of the word which means to "point" or to "cast a vote." In English we use the expression, "From G-d's mouth to your ear." The opening verse of this week's Torah reading, quoted above, (Deuteronomy 7:12) seems to be implying, "From G-d's finger to our heels." G-d, through His Torah points the way for us to go. Our heels must diligently follow. The way in which our sages throughout the millennia determine how we actually perform and fulfill the Torah commandments is known as halacha, a word which appropriately means walking. The path, (in Hebrew, derech), that G-d intends for us to walk along is Torah. But G-d, in His infinite wisdom, has indeed imbued mankind with free will: the freedom to decide just which path he will choose. Hence, our toes, our "pointers" are truly the final arbiters of which way we will go. My mind may be filled with big ideas, my heart with lofty dreams; I may intend to write a great novel or compose a brilliant symphony; but if my toes park my heels in front of my TV set, my fate is sealed.

Our toes point the way, but it is our heels which face the consequences. Whatever squalor our toes venture into, it is our heels which bear the burden. On the contrary, when our toes lead us along the right path it is our heels which provide for us the stability and support by which we can best perform G-d's will. Living according to halacha, proceeding in life according to the path G-d has prescribed for us is not a tightrope walk: fortunately we have been formed by G-d with two heels not one. Whatever step one foot makes the second follows and the balance is preserved. Our sages teach us that the performance of one commandment will lead to the performance of another, and that one transgression will also lead to another. Just like footsteps. This is why, as our verse implores us, we must treat each commandment with equal import.

We are all unique individuals and we all have our own ways of walking. Even from a great distance we can often recognize an acquaintance by the way they walk. Our feet are different sizes and different shapes and face different challenges in supporting and properly propelling our bodies. Hence shoes come in all lengths and widths and shapes and styles, and everybody has his own aches and pains and shoes that work and shoes that don't work. We do not risk loosing of our individuality when walking the path of Torah. Each step we take is an expression of our free will. But where we are at, and who we really are at any particular moment is determined by where our heels are resting. They are the bottom line. If we stay true to this most humble expression of our selves, the Torah promises us, "G-d will keep for [us] the covenant and the kindness that He swore to [our] forefathers." (ibid)

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven talk about the passage of time and the changing seasons as the heartbreak of the 9th of Av is superseded by the renewed love of the 15th of Av; death in the desert is superseded by life in the holy land of Israel; and the wood offering takes its yearly pause, so that no rotten wood will be found in the Holy Temple.

Complete Show