What an unusual name for a sidra – “Heel”. But that is what Ekev literally means. It deals with attitudes towards the commandments.
No-one objects to laws against murder or theft: every civilised society has them. No-one objects to laws about Sabbath rest and festival rejoicing, even though some people don’t observe them.
But as Rashi points out, there are other commandments which many people disdain – figuratively crushing them with their heel – because they think they are too minute to matter.
But in life it is actually the tiny things that make all the difference. If a small screw isn’t in place, a giant chandelier can come crashing down. If an architect isn’t particular about a centimetre here or a centimetre there, a whole building can be unstable.
It’s all very well to say, “Who cares about the small things?” The prophet Zechariah asks this question (Zech. 4:10). Actually what he is saying is that no-one should despise small things. From small beginnings great results ensue.
From small acts of love and mercy the whole world can become blessed.
WHAT GOD WANTS
One of the most famous Biblical questions asks, “What does the Lord want of you?”
The question has two versions. The better known one is in Micah 6:8. What does God want of you, asks Micah. His answer: “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God”.
The other version of the question is in this week’s reading (Deut. 10:12).
The answer the Torah gives is to fear God, to walk in His ways, to love Him, to serve Him and keep His commandments.
Why doesn’t Micah give the same answer as Moses? In his own way he does. Moses establishes the principle: fear, love, serve and emulate God. Micah gives three examples: justice, mercy and humility.
Borrowing a comment of the Talmud (Ber. 33b), we can ask, “Are these such easy things to observe?” The basic ethical traits which Micah lists are so demanding that you can never be certain you have really fulfilled them. Not that this excuses anyone from trying.
AS FRESH AS TOMORROW
Ekev ends with the well known passage which we traditionally call the second paragraph of the Shema. It speaks about keeping the commandments which God gives us “this day” (Deut. 11:13).
Following the Sifrei, a much earlier midrashic work, Rashi says that we must be so eager to keep the commandments that we regard them as “as fresh as tomorrow”, though both he and the Torah speak of “today”, not “tomorrow”.
To this well known interpretation we can add the following observation. Whatever “today” brings, whatever the unique circumstances and challenges of “today”, we must find a message in the teachings of the Torah.
What “today” represents we can find guidance in the Torah tradition.