The opening Pesukim of Parashat Eikev state, “VeHaya Eikev Tishme’un Eit HaMishpatim HaEileh UShemartem VaAsitem Otam,” “And it shall be because you listen to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them” (Devarim 7:12), and go on to describe a reward. Immediately, the question arises as to what exactly the reward is coming for. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “VeHayah”) comments that the word “Eikev” refers to the simple Mitzvot that people generally neglect. The work Eikev literally means heel, and Rashi asserts that it alludes to Mitzvot that we normally tread over with our heels.
The Kli Yakar takes a different approach, maintaining that Eikev is referring to the Chukim, the laws we do not know the reason for. He derives this from the Semichut, juxtaposition, of this Pasuk and the final Pasuk of the previous Parashah, VaEtchanan. That Pasuk says, “VeShamarta Et HaMitzvah VeEt HaChukim VeEt HaMishpatim Asher Anochi Metzavecha HaYom LaAsotam,” “You shall observe the commandment, and the decrees, and the ordinances that I command you today, to perform them” (7:11). The Pasuk in VeEtchanan mentions Chukim and Mishpatim, while our Pasuk mentions only Mishpatim. Since it does not explicitly mention Chukim, the word “Eikev” must be alluding to them. The Pasuk is therefore teaching us that we must be very careful with the Chukim, because we don’t know the reasons for them, unlike the Mishpatim. There is a stronger inclination to be negligent of the performance of Chukim, since the other nations may ridicule the fact that we perform them without knowing the reasons behind them, and thus the Torah needs to exhort us to fulfill them properly.
The Da’at Zekeinim, agreeing with Rashi, says that the Pasuk informs us of the need to be careful to fulfill the easy Mitzvot. He explains that the Mitzvot of which people are usually negligent are the easy ones. This is because we don’t know how much Sachar, reward, we will receiving as reward for fulfilling the easy Mitzvot. He suggests that we may even receive more Sachar for the easy Mitzvot, so we should be even more careful with their performance. He cites a proof from a statement of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, who teaches that Hashem told us the Sachar for two Mitzvot, one of which is easy to fulfill, and one of which is difficult to fulfill. The easy Mitzvah is Shiluach HaKein, sending away a mother bird before one can take its children. The difficult one is Kibud Av VaEim. Proper fulfillment of each of these Mitzvot, argues the Da’at Zekenim, results in the exact same reward of long life, proving that even seemingly minor Mitzvot may have great Sachar attached.
The next few Pesukim in the Parashah list the various rewards the Jews will receive for fulfilling the Mitzvot mentioned in the earlier Pesukim. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, all of the rewards listed here are the smallest rewards for doing Hashem’s Mitzvot. The ultimate reward, which we should constantly be striving for, is that of the World to Come.
A number of questions may arise regarding Rabbeinu Bachya’s approach, however. Firstly, why are the rewards that the Torah mentions of a material nature? Furthermore, how could this Parashah tell us of all the reward that we will get for performing Hashem’s Chukim and Mishpatim if the Gemara (Kidushin 39b) asserts “Sechar Mitzvah BeHai Alma Leka,” “There is no reward in this world for [performing] Mitzvot ”?
The reason why we are granted material reward is explained in Pirkei Avot (3:5), where Rabi Nechunyah ben HaKanah states that everyone who receives the Torah will have the yoke of kingship and yoke of work removed from him, while anyone who removes the yoke of Torah will have to deal with the yoke of kingship and the yoke of work. Commenting on this Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that for anyone who makes Torah his permanent focus in this world and work his secondary focus, Hashem will remove all bad things from him, and He will guard him so that he will be able to study Torah and will not have to work a great deal in order to make a living. We see, then, that material rewards are not really rewards per se; rather, they simply facilitate learning Torah and serve Hashem without having to deal with physical problems, such as work.
To answer the second question, Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav MeiEliyahu volume 1), quotes a Mishnah (Avot 4:17) that states that one hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is greater than the entire life of this world. Expanding on the Mishnah, Rav Dessler explains that even if you combine all of the earthly rewards from the beginning of creation until the end of time, it will not be comparable to the rewards of the World to Come. Therefore, when the Gemara states that there is no reward in this world, it means that no reward in this world can be compared to the reward we will get in the next world. Thus, though our Parashah reassures us that Hashem will make it easy for us to serve Him by granting us prosperity and other this worldly rewards, we can also take comfort in the fact that He has much greater reward in store for us in the Olam HaBa.