Parashat Eikev

Rabbi Boaz Tomsky

      Eight years! I can't believe it's been eight years since my wedding. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was standing at my ufruf, getting pelted with rock hard candies. My friends were clearly aiming for my Borsalino hat, as it nearly flew off my head more than once.

      It was later that day when I turned to my parents and marveled over their commitment to one another for so many years. I stared in amazement, wondering, how exactly did they do it? What steps should I take in my upcoming marriage, to reach their amazing milestones and accomplishments?

      To answer these questions, I needed to look no further than this week's Parsha. Moshe turned to the Jewish nation and said, "What does HaShem ask of you but to fear Him!" This seems to imply that fearing G-d is an easy task to accomplish. The Talmud responds (Brachot 33B) that for Moshe, this indeed was a simple thing. The Gemara proceeded to cite a parable. A person with a large vessel envisions it as though it were small. Another individual who lacks a vessel considers even the smallest vessel as enormous.

      Rav Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Adels (1555-1632), better known as the Maharsha, questions the logic of this Talmudic piece. The difficulty with the Gemara's answer, as cited by the Maharsha, is that Moshe was speaking to the B'nei Yisroel. Although fearing G-d may be easy for Moshe, it remains incredibly difficult for everyone else! Furthermore, why does the Talmud feel compelled to cite a parable? What is this coming to add?

      Furthermore, we derive from the aforementioned verse, Hakol Biday Shamayim Chutz MiYirat Shamayim. Many things in our lives are already predetermined but whether one is righteous or wicked, that is totally up to the individual and their freewill. This concept is a very significant element of our faith. Why then, is this fundamental principle not introduced beforehand in the Torah? What is its connection to the message of Parshat Ekev?

      A distant relative of mine provided an answer, which indirectly addressed all of these difficulties. Some of you may have heard of him. His name is Richard Simmons. During a recent interview, he was asked, "How is it possible to instill hope and encouragement for someone who needs to lose hundreds of pounds? What's your secret?" He answered, "Don't tell them to lose hundreds of pounds. Instead, make smaller, more realistic goals. Focus on one meal at a time, one day at a time. Then before you know it, days become weeks, weeks become months and months become years."

      This is certainly an effective way to accomplish huge, seemingly unobtainable goals. I take this advice every time I am riding my bicycle and approach a steep hill. I don't look up. Instead I look down at my front tire. This is the message. Focus on the moment, not just the big picture. Otherwise, it could become too overwhelming and appear out of reach.

      Harold B. Melchart once said, "Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point. Climb slowly, steadily, enjoying each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax for the journey."

      This is what Moshe is teaching about fear of HaShem. He isn't talking about himself. He is addressing the nation. Of course it is difficult. Fearing G-d is no simple feat. But how does one begin to approach Yirat HaShem? One needs to view its small parts and aspects, to be capable of overcoming these obstacles. Take small steps in the right direction. You can't do it all right away. You have to learn to crawl first.

      The parable is addressing this very point. To acquire a large vessel, we need to view it as if it were small. Look at the pieces of the puzzle and put them together, one at a time. How about the individual with no vessel? Where did he go wrong? His mistake was that he viewed everything as too big and too difficult to accomplish. Such people give up right away. Their lens focuses only on the big picture and not on the process and steps to reach their goals.

      This message is deliberately taught here, in Parshat Ekev. The portion opens with the instructions to adhere to the small mitzvoth that one would trample upon with their eikev, heel. The message of our Parsha is to do the small things and when you turn around you'll realize that you've climbed a mountain.

First Published August 7, 2004  for National Council of Young Israel Weekly Divrei Torah