The Dust Beneath My Feet
This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, literally means Heel – as in the heel of a foot. However, the opening words are usually translated, “As a result of…” and refer to God’s promises of good if the Jewish people listen to His mitzvot. So the parsha begins, “Eikev – This will be the result of listening to God’s commandments…”
Rashi draws meaning behind the odd choice of word and he comments that it means 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 will give us.
I would suggest that there is another reason why the name of the parsha references Heel, which addresses a theme mentioned in this week’s Torah reading.
We are in the midst of Moshe’s lengthy speech to the Israelites before he is about to pass on. In this week’s part of the discourse, there is much emphasis and warning that the Israelites shouldn’t be too full of themselves. Moshe foretells them that they will be very successful but that they shouldn’t allow that success to go to their heads and forget that is was God who took them from slavery. They must not have the attitude of, “My strength and power made me all this wealth and status!” (Deut. 8:17)
And it’s not just financial success that they are warned about, but moral success as well. Moshe cautions them not to think of themselves as so holy and righteous, and that this is the reason that God is overpowering their enemies when they go to Canaan to conquer it. They shouldn’t proclaim, “Because of my righteousness God allowed me to posses this land.” (Deut. 9:4)
No, that is clearly not the case for the Torah goes on to state that God does it primarily 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.” (Deut. 9:5,6) So the truth is that He gives the Israelites the land despite their shortcomings of being an obstinate people.
To illustrate the difficult nature and personality of the Jewish people, Moshe recounts in detail the whole sad episode of the Golden Calf and how he had to beg, plead and beseech God not to wipe them out and to reinstate His relationship with them.
In truth, the name of the parsha takes on a greater and more general meaning beyond that generation Moshe was addressing. It’s 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, to forget our lowly beginnings and to let success go to our head.
We all know how hard this is because, more often than not, we see successful or wealthy people exhibit arrogant and haughty behavior. In fact, it is few and far between those who 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. And let’s be honest, we see this in ourselves as well when we achieve something significant that creates status in the eyes of others.
Granted that success is closely related to the amount of effort and hard work we put in to achieve it, be it financial or otherwise. But let’s face it, every successful person has something going for them that they had absolutely nothing to do with, but that was still a crucial factor in their accomplishment. It might be the family they were born into, the natural talents they were born with, the wonderful choices 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 outside factor that was critical to the achievement and which was a complete gift that 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. So give it a rest, don’t get all puffy-chested and stop walking around like a peacock proclaiming, “My strength and power made me all this wealth and status!”
This is why Moshe emphasizes that the Jewish people must always remember their humble beginnings. Indeed at every holiday and constantly in Jewish practice we recite, Zecher LeYetziat Mitzrayim – 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 each have our own personal Zecher LeYetziat Mitzrayim – our personal Exodus story. Every one of us has a humble beginning where someone came to our aid and pulled us through. It might have been a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a friend. But someone reached out and pulled us from the depths when we were rock bottom at some point or another. None of us are “self-made” in the pure sense of the word.
Never forget that. Always remember that – no matter what we have or 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