“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill.” (Deuteronomy 8:7)
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972; one of the leading Jewish philosophers and theologians of the 20th century) is famous for his statement following the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” Heschel likely had Parashat Eikev in mind.
Parashat Eikev’s opening phrase,” V’haya eikev tishm’un…” is usually translated, ”When you hearken [to these ordinances]…,” (Deut. 7:12) and sets up the classic reward and punishment relationship described later in the parasha (portion). But the Tsene Rene (~1590s; a Yiddish-language anthology of rabbinic interpretations of the weekly Torah portion, written for women) reads eikev to mean the heel or foot (remember Yaakov’s birth back in Genesis, holding onto Esau’s heel?). The opening phrase now becomes a different call to action, focusing on the mitzvot, or commandments, performed with the feet: visiting the sick, escorting the dead, comforting a mourner, going to synagogue, etc. The message is clear: showing up matters.
The Tsene Rene takes the interpretation another step by also using eikev to allude to commandments considered unimportant and which get “stepped upon” by people’s heels. Not only are the Israelites to “vote with their feet”, but they are to remember every step (or action), large and small alike, counts.
The word eikev also carries a warning: don’t let your steps lead to excessive pride. The Tsena Rena invokes Bruriah (one of several women quoted as a sage in the Talmud), who admitted, “I have sinned because I was proud in my walk.” (Rashi on Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zara 18b) It’s not about you, it’s about the steps you take and who you take them for.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom