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08/04/2017 06:10:27 PM


Rabbi Yaakov Feitman

Ouch! How significant is a small bang or bump? Our Parshah teaches us that it can be very important to us in the very long run. The Sedra begins and receives its name from the words “Vehaya ekev tishme’un – This shall be the reward when you hearken.” The Medrash Tanchumah here refers us to the posuk “Why should I be fearful in days of evil, when the injunctions akeivai that I trod upon will surround me?” (Tehillim 49:6). The name of the Parshah – Ekev – appears in this posuk as akeivai meaning my two heels. But what is the Medrash teaching us in this seemingly vague connection? Rav Yehoshua Buxbaum (Nachal Yehoshua) suggests that this juxtaposition teaches us a perspective on life. If we take note of each little ache or pain which befalls us, accepting it as well-deserved punishment for something we did, or as a reminder to be better, then we actually receive atonement for even the tiniest blow. Our parents taught us this by often saying “zol zein a kaparah – may this bring atonement.” In other words, sometimes we can “get away” with the minimum penalty on the Great Day of Judgment when we have “paid in” throughout our lives with various aches, pains and suffering. This is the meaning of ekev tishme’un – if we have listened to the instruction of our little punishments and taken them seriously, then we will arrive after in heaven pristine and pure for an eternity of happiness and bliss.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitch, the revered Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva (Sichos Mussar, 5732, No. 14, page 48) adds another dimension to this thought. The Gemara (Eruchin 16b) asks what is the minimum amount of pain which may be considered yesurim – suffering? One of the answers (to slightly modernize the example) is that even if one put his hand in his pocket to pull out a quarter for the meter and pulled out a nickel instead, that is sufficient. Rav Shmulevitz explains how this can possibly rise to the level of something we would call anguish. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to refer to this as an irritation? How can this be placed in the same category as agony or torment? He answers with something extremely uplifting and endlessly useful in life. “Man is so grand a creature,” he explains, “that nothing should ever go wrong. Every one of his actions should be significant and meaningful. Every time he is forced to do something apparently unnecessary, especially if there is some physical or mental pain associated with the event, it is a sign to him that he must make amends for something. Thus even what seems to be a moment of weakness or failure is a mark of our lofty status. Nothing happens for nothing.

This is the message of Ekev. Rashi speaks of mitzvos which we take for granted and even step on because we don’t realize how important they are. But another level is the divine reminder when we stub our toe or nick a finger (Chulin 7b). It is not only wrong to ignore these “dings” because we think they are unimportant. It is counterproductive for us because their cumulative effect can reduce or even wipe out our debt on the ultimate Yom Hadin. Not only are the small things important, but they loom ever larger in the true world ahead. It is not enough to just say zol zein a kaparah. We must mean it, by reacting positively and contritely to our message from above. The key word is tishme’un. If we are truly listening when Hashem is “speaking” to us, our lives will be so much better in the long run.


Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784