And when you will listen to these laws and you will guard and perform them, then HaShem, Your G-d, will safeguard for you this covenant and this kindness…
So begins this week’s Torah portion, employing a most unusual form of the word “when:” eikev – literally, heel.
Rashi offers this now-famous explanation: when you will observe even the insignificant commandments, those that a person will [be inclined to] trample under his heel…
Which commandments are insignificant? Obviously: none. And not so obviously: all.
Every one of us finds certain rules and conventions and laws against which our natural sensitivities rebel. For whatever individual reasons, we rationalize our rejection of the edicts of authority by dismissing these precepts as irrational, unnecessary, or overly burdensome – in short, insignificant. These are different for each of us.
And it is precisely these commandments that are the most important for us to keep: it is here that the loyal servant of the Almighty demonstrates his awareness that his own intellect, however bright or clever he may be, in no way qualifies him to pass judgment on the word of G-d.
The sages teach that when Moshe (Moses) went out to battle the giant Og, that Moshe’s staff could reach no higher than Og’s heel. In fact, the battle between Moshe and Og was not one of physical prowess but one of merit. As a remnant of the giants who walked the earth before the Great Flood, Og was a perfect physical specimen — independent, self-sufficient, and recognizing no authority higher than himself. To him, the idea that he should subjugate his own reasoning to any external code of conduct was not only inconceivable but reprehensible.
Thus, in his confrontation with the leader of the Jewish people, the point of Og’s vulnerability was his “heel.” In contrast, it was the humility of the leader of the Jews – the great prophet who, despite his greatness, nevertheless subjugated his own will to the Divine Will – that earned his nation the merit to defeat this most formidable enemy.*
Indeed, this quality is part of our very nature, for it defines our patriarch Jacob – Yaakov, whose name derives from eikev, meaning heel. It is our willingness to commit ourselves to uphold the word of the Almighty, even as we struggle to understand its wisdom, that sets us apart from our enemies and will ultimately enable us to prevail over them.
* Heard from Rav Uziel Milevsky zt”l