Parshat Eikev marks the second parsha of the seven-week period of solace leading up to the chaggim, as indicated at the beginning of last week's Haftorah: "'Nachamu, nachamu ami,' yomar Elokeichem." ("'Comfort, comfort my people,' says your G-d." (Yeshaya, 40:1) As Tisha B'Av 5764 came and went, an air of "Nachamu, nachamu ami" can be felt, despite all of the travails to come facing B'nai Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.

With all of the political machinations of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - from the day he first hatched his Gaza "disengagement plan" (or rather, the plan of expulsion of Jews from parts of Eretz Yisrael) through the giant Yom Hatsma'ut rally, through the pasting Sharon took in the Likud referendum vote, the tragic deaths that day, his "cabinet vote about taking a vote", his fruitless efforts to form a so-called "unity" government in order to ramrod and foist abandonment and expulsion of Jews upon Am Yisrael against their will - our daily prayers say, "Many designs are in man's heart, but the counsel of Hashem -- only it will prevail. The counsel of Hashem will endure forever, the designs of his heart throughout the generations." By Shabbos Nachamu, and over the subsequent weeks during the run-up to the chaggim, we have a source of comfort.

Yet, on various other levels, I don't feel comforted.

In our parshat hashavua, Eikev, we understand that the word "eikev" can mean "heel". The significance of this meaning of "eikev" seems to be the recognition of the "lesser mitzvot" - "commandments of minor importance that one tramples with his heels, i.e., treats lightly." (Rashi, Eikev, Perek 7, posukim 12-13) Why, when we reach our parsha, does the picture constantly appear in my mind's eye of the guy who casts his spent cigarette butt to the ground -- Eretz HaKodesh -- stomps on it with his heel, and walks on nonchalantly?

Torah conveys this message: eikev, be diligent and careful with the small mitzvot that one tends to tread on, to disregard. And you know what the man (former American NFL Green Bay Packer football coach Vince Lombardi) said: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. Well, "your mitzvot aren't everything, they're the only thing."

Shem Mishmuel discusses a posuk near the end of the parsha: "For if you will surely keep all of this mitzvah that I command you to do it, to love the Lord your G-d, to go in all of his ways, and to cleave to Him, Hashem will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will drive out greater and mightier nations than yourselves...." (parshat Eikev, Perek 11, posukim 22-23)

Shem Mishmuel provides a discussion as to whether this statement is referring to, as Rabbi Levi says, the recitation of Shema as "the mitzvah" or whether the statement is, as the rabbis hold, "Shabbat, which is equal to all of the mitzvot in the Torah." (Devarim Rabbah 4:4)

The primary function of reciting the Shema is to accept upon ourselves the "'yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven", to affirm that Hashem is one, "the only true existence in the universe" and that our relationship with him "promotes certain duties of the heart, mind and body." (Shem Mishmuel, parshat Eikev, page 390)

"The rabbis claim that it is Shabbat that is 'the mitzvah. Shabbat is described by chazal as 'fixed and established.' This means that man has no control as to when Shabbat occurs. It is, and always will be, every seven days, and has been so since creation." (Shem Mishmuel, parshat Eikev, page 390)

I want to suggest a third alternative as to what is meant by "the mitzvah". I believe that both Rabbi Levi and the rabbis are equally correct. Rabbi Levi says that Shema is "the mitzvah" out of belief that the fundamental aim of Torah is for man to connect himself to Hashem. The rabbis hold that Shabbat is "the mitzvah" out of belief that the basic purpose of the system is to receive the Divine gift of spirituality.

My third alternative works in tandem with both of the above, not diminishing either. I want to suggest that "the mitzvah" relates back to the beginning of the parsha and the context of the word choice of "Eikev" -- "commandments of minor importance one tramples with his heels, i.e., treats lightly." The Artscroll commentary states that if we will be diligent and careful with even these small, neglected, disregarded mitzvot, which one tends to tread upon, then Hashem will reward us with his covenant and with kindness. (Artscroll Chumash, Parshat Eikev, page 981)

Thankfully, my circle of friends and neighbors in Ramat Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem are the prototype, definitive examples of thoughtfulness, consideration and attentiveness to even the smallest mitzvah or even the smallest detail of a mitzvah. I think back to the planning of the recent Hachnasat Sefer Torah event in Shirat HaYam in Gush Katif and about the many people who helped with both big things and small touches, which made the event so beautiful, memorable and meaningful.

Unfortunately, the same may not be true among a wider public audience.

The importance of performing the smallest mitzvot can't be overstated. Whether it is assisting your fellow when he is in need in a disabled vehicle on the highway, or if he or she is overburdened with tons of grocery bags and a couple of little children, in need of accurate directions (not "l'mala, l'mala") from point "A" to point "B", or is inadvertently locked out of his house - the seemingly small, "eikev" mitzvot, the helping hand of another, is accounted for in Heaven. A record, a ledger if you will, is kept on us all, both individually and nationally. And perhaps the small, tiny mitzvot of discarding one's waste or spent cigarette butt "b'derech" in a trash can instead of tossing it baderech on Eretz HaKodesh is similarly recorded.

That doesn't mean that we should be haughty and go around keeping score or verbalizing about the mitzvot that we do. Actually, the mitzvah done spontaneously, because it is there and without forethought of box scores or expectation of reward, either in this world or in the next, is reckoned most favorably in Shemayim.

During our current times, with the predicament and danger the Jewish nation now finds itself in, every mitzvah that we do, no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential, has deep meaning on spiritual levels far beyond the earthly, physical level. The smallest kindness that one does for another just might be the mitzvah that tips the scale irrevocably toward the Ge'ula Shlaima, the Redemption of the Jewish nation.

Perhaps, if we are attentive to the "eikev" mitzvot, the small, seemingly inconsequential mitzvot and their minutest details, then the trickle-up effect may bring about some sense of Jewish heart, caring and sensitivity among the "powers that be" in the State.

Rabbi Abba Wagonsberg (a student of Rabbi Scheinberg of the Givat Sha'ul neighborhood of Jerusalem), commenting on an earlier parsha, told a story in the name of the Brisker Rav, who told the story to Rabbi Schach, of blessed memory:

The wife of the Vilna Gaon once went out fundraising with a lady friend. They were visiting people door-to-door to raise money. They knocked on one door and there was no answer, no one home. As they continued up the block, the Vilna Gaon's wife spotted the lady who was not home earlier now returning home. The Vilna Gaon's wife put her finger up and called out to the lady, "May we speak to you for a moment?"

As the
Vilna Gaon's wife and her lady friend got older they vowed to each other that whoever died first would come back down to tell the other what things are like in Olam Haba (Heaven). It turned out the lady friend died first and, shortly after, came to the Vilna Gaon's wife in a dream.

The friend said the following to the
Vilna Gaon
's wife, "They told me in Olam Haba that I'm not permitted to tell you what it's like in Olam Haba. But since we made a vow, I came to tell you that your merit in Olam Haba far exceeds mine. Do you remember that day when we went fundraising and we came to someone's home who was not home? Do you remember that we later saw this lady 'b'derech' [on the way, as we walked] and you put up your finger? You can't imagine the value of that one mitzvah."

And in the merit of our diligence in accomplishing even the "eikev" mitzvot, may we merit soon the release of Jonathan Pollard and the liberation of the others, and the arrival of Moshiach, the Ge'ula Shlaima, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayra v'yameinu -- speedily, in our time -- immediately, achshav, like chik-chak, miyad, etmol.