14 Aug 2014

Ekeb 5774: High Heels

“To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.— Harriet Beacher Stowe[1]

The name of our parasha, Ekeb, is the word for ‘heel’in Hebrew. According to some commentators[2] it is abstracted in the first line of this week’s parasha to mean ‘resulting in’or ‘as a consequence of’. However, there are other, less abstract words in the Hebrew language that mean the same, which is why the midrash sees a deeper meaning in the use of Ekeb. The midrash suggests that Ekeb indicates careful, heartfelt attention at every step:

G-d gave Israel six hundred and thirteen mitsvot, some lightweight and some heavyweight. Because some are lightweight, people tend to ignore them, trampling them beneath their heels— Midrash Tanhuma[3]

The heel, according to the midrash, signifies the lightweight mitsvot and other elements of life that, because they are light, small or minor are tread upon as we make our way towards heavier, greater and more major objectives. Ekeb’s point is that while it is easier for us to focus on grand ideas and big goals, it when we focus on little things that love is felt most, because they are easy to miss and paying attention to them shows genuine care. The quiet, small gestures —a touch, a smile, a listening ear, a kind word of encouragement, a small gift on the way home from work because you were thinking of him, or an affectionate text in the middle of the day so she knows she is on your mind —have the potential to turn a life around and profoundly impact relationships.

In Ekeb Moshe imparts to us that to do great things for G-d is relatively easy, but to care about the small things is the greatest and most important achievement. The obedience G-d asks for is not that of a trained animal for its master, but of the faithfulness of the human heart that emerges from adoration. Ekeb teaches us to treat with care, and to be mindful of, the little things that might get caught under our heels. Ekeb inspires us to show care by giving the gift of our attention.

For many of us, sacrificing our lives atop the altar for a cause is less challenging than getting off the altar and living every day fully and faithfully. To do this with G-d we must practise it in our human relationships. It is in our daily interactions that, with work and effort, we learn to be faithful, loving, sensitive and empathetic. Traits such as these thrive in a heart that is without callouses[4] and is exposed to feeling even the delicate and minor elements of life that touch it.

The sensitive heart teaches the heel to act in kind when walking through life. When we learn to watch our step and protect the little things that are dear, we understand that it is in our everyday experiences and interactions that we find our greatest treasures.

[1]American abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[2]Ramban, 7:12; Ba’al haTurim, 7:12; Rabenu Bahye,7:12.

[3] Ekeb, 1

[4]“You shall circumcise the foreskins of your hearts”(10:16)