This is a difficult time for Israel. All of us our glued to our news sources searching to find any new development on the war in Israel. Unfortunately the news has not been good. Here in Jerusalem you can find posters on the walls of the city announcing the funerals of young men and women that have given their lives to defend and live in the Holy Land. There are threats on Tel Aviv and all the highways of air travel.
We see pictures of the wounded and the devastation of the rockets. Today there are thousands of Jews in Jerusalem from Northern Israel scrambling in search of a place to spend Shabbat, a week or whatever it takes. People are opening their homes, Yeshivot and seminary dormitories, caravans and tents are full of people that can’t go home.
Congregations and organizations in the USA are coming together to pray, raise money and do what they can to help the Jews of Israel. And in all this, yesterday a Nefesh B’Nefesh 747 El Al plane landed full of Americans that have made Aliyah! “Who is like Your people, Israel?!”
There is a spiritual danger for those of us that are safe. As the reports come in we get used to the pictures, the funerals and to the homeless. The news is painful so we naturally try to callous ourselves from the pain. What’s a Jew to do?
However, at this historic time as important as it is to help it is just as important to feel. When we feel we emerge as the strongest force in the Universe. If we stop feeling we stop being Jews. Israel will survive! We, however, must pass the test of our Jewishness to be able to feel for other Jews in trouble.
I have often mentioned the insight I once heard in the name of the Sfas Emes. When Moshe Rabeinu approached the burning bush he heard G-d speak to him. “Take off your shoes!” G-d commanded. “You are standing on Holy ground.” Why did G-d command Moshe to take off his shoes and not to cover his head or prepare his heart? The Sfas Emes explains that there is a great difference between walking with shoes or without them. With shoes one can walk over stones, glass, water, even fire and not feel a thing. Without shoes, even in the comfort of ones own home one can feel everything. Step on the slightest protrusion, even a little Lego and the pain climbs right up the spine.
Hashem told Moshe that if you want to hear the word of G-d, if you’re going to be a leader of the people you must take off your shoes. You must remove the insulation that you wear to protect yourself from the environment. It will hurt but you must be able to feel every bump, every pebble and crack; you must be able to feel the pain.
It is only the individual who can be endowed with Prophecy and holiness.
This Parsha begins with Eikev and goes on to describe the most wonderful blessings possible on this Earth. Rashi teaches that “Eikev” which actually means heel, talks of the “small” mitzvahs, mitzvos that are easy to ignore; mitzvos that we step on with our heel. The major blessings of life, it seems, depend on the small insignificant mitzvos of the Torah.
Yet when we leaf through the Parsha we don’t find any small Mitzvos.
1. Remember that G-d was the one who took you out of Egypt.
2. Don’t forget G-d.
3. Thank G-d for your food.
4. Fear G-d.
5. Pray to G-d.
6. Love the stranger because you were a stranger.
These sound like heavy duty Mitzvos to me. Why Eikev? What makes these Mitzvos small?
The answer is that although these mitzvos are not small they are easy to ignore. They are mitzvos that require deep thought and high sensitivity. It is very easy for us to do all the big mitzvos while we insulate ourselves completely from showing gratitude, love and feeling the pain of the stranger. To this the Torah says take off your shoes. The heel is one of the most sensitive parts of our body. Take off your shoes and feel where you came from, your surroundings and where you are going. The Mitzvah of Eikev is to exercise our sensitivity and keep our feelings healthy. Try to imagine what it feels like to be hungry and then feed the poor. Imagine what it feels like to be alone, and then make a shiduch. Think about what it would feel like to be disabled and than go visit the sick. Eikev Tishmiun, if you can listen and feel, than G-d too will feel our pain “veshamar habris vehachesed shenishba liavosecha.”
Before Moshe approached holy ground he took off his shoes. Before the Kohein walks into the Holy of Holies he takes off his shoes. On Yom Kipur and Tisha B’Av we take off our shoes. Before we walk into marriage, parenting or a life of mitzvos we too must take off our shoes and then be blessed with the blessings of the Torah “I will Love you, multiply your offspring and sustain you forever”.