Parshat Ekev: Redemption Depends upon Both the Individual and the Collective

Parashat Ekev: Redemption depends upon both the individual and the collective

“And if you obey these rules…,” the words that begin the week’s parsha, serve as a reminder that our responsibility isn’t just communal. Rather, each of us, as an individual, must revisit his or her personal relationship with Hashem.

Elana Goldscheider is Director of the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Programs

Parshat Ekev begins by declaring “And if you obey these rules”… you shall receive a reward. Many commentators wondered why the Torah uses the word ekev instead of the word im, which appears much more often in the text.

Rashi mentions that the word ekev refers to akev, a person’s heel. The Torah wishes to stress the importance of observing the commandments that seem less important to us, like the dirt a person’s heel kicks up while walking. This conveys a simple message to us: matters that appear trifling may be rather important. In fact, we only receive our reward by observing the “heel” commandments.

Alternatively, ekev could be interpreted as a pursuer, as in a woman running in high heels to attain a specific goal. People receive their true rewards not just for observing the commandments, but also for do so eagerly. Our yearning to perform commandments reflects an enthusiasm that translates into a higher level of observance of the commandments.

Just like the heel, which is part of our bodies, the word ekev relates to the period of redemption that will occur at the end of days. This period of redemption will arrive when we are committed to listening to the words of the Torah, which guide us down the path of living an ethical life, in accordance with the will of Hashem.

The heel may also remind us of our forefather Jacob, who was grasping his brother’s heel when he was born. Some time later, Jacob received another name: Israel. The name Jacob refers to us as individuals: husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. However, each time the Torah refers to him by the name Israel, it creates far-reaching implications to the development of the Jewish people.

From this vantage point, “If you listen” is analogous with “Hear O Israel,” the paragraph we read just a week ago. “Hear O Israel” refers to our responsibility, as part of the Jewish people, to observe the commandments and proclaim our faith in Hashem. The words “And if you obey these rules…” serve as a reminder that our responsibility isn’t just communal. Rather, each of us, as individuals, must revisit our personal relationships with Hashem.

Sometimes, it’s easier to observe the commandments of the Torah as part of the nation, since the Torah is seen as a public proclamation. The challenge is to display and internalize a profound resolve even when we are alone. For the period of redemption to arrive, it isn’t enough for people to connect to Hashem as a nation. We also need to ensure that each of us, just like our forefather Jacob, yearns to fully observe even the smallest of commandments quietly, modestly, and without great fanfare.

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