From Feat to Feet
This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, literally means heel, as in the heel of a foot. The opening words are, “Eikev – As a result of…” and refers to God’s promises of good if the Jewish people listen to His mitzvot. So the Torah begins this week by saying, “Eikev – This will be the result of listening to God’s commandments…” Rashi draws meaning behind the odd choice of word to denote that one must pay close attention to the small and seemingly unimportant mitzvot – the ones people usually ignore and trample upon with their heels – to fully realize the blessings that God has to offer us. But I would suggest there is another reason to the name of the parsha that applies to a main theme throughout.
The Torah portion is a continuation of Moshe’s lengthy pep talk he gives the Israelites before he is about to die. In this week’s discourse, there is a lot of emphasis and warning that the Israelites should not be too full of themselves. Moshe foretells the Jewish people that they will be very successful but that they should not allow it to go to their heads; forget God who took them from slavery and instead proclaim “my strength and vigor has got me all this power and wealth!”
And not just financial success does God warn them about, but moral success as well. Moshe cautions them not to think of themselves so holy and righteous and that this is source and reason that God is overpowering their enemies when they go to Israel. They should not proclaim, “Because of my righteousness God allowed me to posses this land.” No, that is clearly not the case for the Torah goes on to state that God does it mostly because of the wickedness of the other nations who inhabited Canaan at the time, plus the promises that he made to the forefathers. “You should know that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God gives you this land, because in fact you are a stiff-necked people.” So the truth is that He gives the Israelites the land despite their behavior.
To illustrate the difficult nature and personality of the Jewish people, Moshe goes on to describe in gory detail the whole sad episode of the Golden Calf and how Moshe had to beg, plead and beseech God not to wipe them out and to reinstate His relationship with them.
And so the name of the parsha takes on a greater and more general meaning. It is teaching that we need to regard ourselves as a heel – as the lowest part of the body – and not the highest. One should never lose sight of being humble, forget their lowly beginnings and not to let success go to our heads.
We all know how difficult this is because more often than not we see successful or wealthy people exhibit arrogant and haughty behavior. And let’s be honest, we see it in ourselves as well when we achieve something significant, meaningful and of status in the eyes of others. In fact, it is few and far between those have achieved much – who are affluent and powerful – and can still retain their humility; their sense that they are no better than anyone else and that all are deserving of inherent dignity that comes with being created in God’s image.
Granted that success is related to the amount of effort we put in to achieve it, be it financial or otherwise. But let’s face it, every successful person had something going for them that they had nothing to do with, but that was crucial to their accomplishment. It might be the family they were born into, the natural talents they were born with, the wonderful decision others such as parents made that gave them a head start, or the simple fact that they were in the right place at the right time. There is always a significant factor that was critical to the achievement which, at the same time, was a complete gift and had nothing to do with the effort.
Any success – financial, professional, family, children, physical strength – all could just as easily not have been had there not been some gift that paved the path to getting there.
This is why Moshe emphasizes that the Jewish people must always remember their humble beginnings and that they aren’t so special after all. Indeed at every holiday and constantly in Jewish practice we recite, Zecher LeYetziat Mitzraim – a remembrance of our exodus from Egypt. We never lose sight of those early days when we had nothing going for us, when we were slaves to another people and that, but for the grace of God, would have remained that way had He not redeemed us. We did nothing to achieve it – God did it all. And if that would not have happened, then the simple fact is that we would have nothing.
We each have our own personal Zacher LeYetziat Mitzraim – our personal exodus story. Every one of us has a humble beginning where someone else came to our aid and pulled us through. None of us are “self-made” in a pure sense. Never forget that. Always remember that no matter what we have and how great we have become, at some point early on it was all just some dust beneath our heels.
Is there someone I can believe in
Is there something I can do
Take me out of the straits I’m in
Let me show myself to you
Somebody to whom I can belong
Take my hand, I’ve been set free
Give me some wings I can glide upon
Come and show yourself to me