Parshat Eikev: It’s the small things that matter

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. 

By Maharat Rori Picker Neiss

“If you do obey these laws.”  — Deuteronomy 7:12

This line opens our Torah portion this week. But the translation is not quite sufficient. More accurately, the Torah states, “If you eikev obey these rules.” 

Eikev, the namesake of our Torah portion, seems to be extraneous to our sentence, something that the Torah typically tries to avoid. Moreover, it is a somewhat unusual word. Oddly, the root of the word “eikev” comes from the word “heel.” 

Rashi, the famous medieval biblical commentator, interprets this phrase to mean, “If even the lighter commands which a person typically walks upon with one’s heels you will listen to.” Rashi then understands eikev as bringing emphasis that not only must one listen to the commandments, but also — and perhaps especially — the commandments that one would metaphorically walk over.

Eikev is a reminder that we must remain vigilant about those actions that are often the furthest from our minds. The behaviors we take for granted. These are not actions that we think are unimportant. These are actions about which we rarely think at all, tasks that we may walk right over, or, worse yet, trample upon, with our heels. These are the things we do every day without thought. It is how we treat others. How we allow others to be treated. How we regard the world around us. We must remain vigilant not because these actions are the most heinous, but because they are the easiest to forget.

Yet, a heel is not only emblematic of that which we step on. The heel is also that which we stand upon.

Who we are as individuals is not based on the actions to which we place the highest value. We are not defined by our challenges or by our toils. It is not in the moments when we are tested that we find our true selves. Rather, it is in the everyday moments — the ways in which we interact with others as we drive, in the grocery store, at the movies, while walking the dog — that we are measured.

Our eikev, our heel, indeed our very foundation, is established upon our behaviors that are almost automatic.

Yet, when we manifest virtue even in the most mundane of moments, that, in it of itself, becomes the true blessing.