Parashat Eikev begins by describing a covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people. In this covenant, Hashem promises that if we observe His commandments, He will take care of His people and allow us to prosper in Eretz Yisrael. In describing our portion of the agreement, the Torah uses the words, “VeHayah Eikev Tishme'un Eit HaMishpatim HaEileh,” “And it will be, when you listen to these commandments…” (Devarim 7:12).
The word “Eikev,” which was chosen as the title for the Parashah, is a very interesting word. Rashi explains that the word Eikev sometimes refers to the heel of one's foot. He explains that people tend to rank Mitzvot in order of importance, and are likely to trample, with their heels, over Mitzvot that they perceive as less important than others. As a result, the Torah uses the word Eikev to teach the lesson that all Mitzvot are important, even those which people would normally step on or ignore. Hashem expects us to observe all of His commandments as part of His covenant with us.
This message is an appropriate introduction for Parashat Eikev, because the Parashah also contains the second paragraph of Keri’at Shema (11:13-21). This paragraph is the quintessential Parashah for Sechar VeOnesh, reward and punishment. It teaches us that we must adhere to all the Mitzvot, both the ones we deem important, and those we do not.
One of the lessons of Parashat Eikev, therefore, is to appreciate those things that might not otherwise be appreciated. The source for the Mitzvah of Birkat HaMazon is in this week’s Parashah. The Torah states, “VeAchalta VeSavata UVeirachta,” “You shall eat, be satisfied, and bless” (8:10). How much does someone have to eat in order to be required to make a Berachah afterwards? The Gemara in Berachot answers that, based on the word, “VeSavata,” “you shall be satisfied,” the only time one has an obligation from the Torah to make a Berachah after eating is when one is truly satisfied from the meal. Why, then, do we recite a Berachah after eating even small amounts of food? Shouldn't we only have to make a Berachah when we are satisfied?
The Gemara explains that although the Torah requires us to recite a Berachah only after being satisfied, the Jewish people took it upon themselves to thank Hashem even after consuming small amounts such as a KaZayit or KaBeitzah. For this, Hashem shows us great favor. Again, we see the lesson of Eikev, that not only do we have to thank Hashem for large amounts of food that satisfy us, but for small amounts as well.
Just as we learn to appreciate all that Hashem gives us from the Mitzvah of Birkat HaMazon, we also derive this from the Mitzvah of Tefilah, which is found in Parashat Eikev as well. In the paragraph of “VeHayah Im Shamo’a,” the Torah states, “UL’avdo BeChol Levavchem,” “To serve Him with all your heart” (11:13). The Gemara explains that “serving Him with all your heart” refers to Tefilah. Apparently, the Torah obligates us to pray to Hashem, but does not provide any specific guidance how to properly pray. For example, how often must we pray? What should the content of our prayer be? There is a well-known debate between Rambam and Ramban as to how to fulfill the Mitzvah DeOraita of Tefilah. In his Sefer HaMitzvot, Rambam counts Tefilah as one of the 613 Mitzvot, and he cites Parashat Eikev as its source. In his Mishneh Torah, Rambam writes that the Mitzvah is to pray once a day. Ramban, on the other hand, believes that the only time the Torah obligates a person to pray is when he is in a dangerous situation, for example, in the midst of war. According to Ramban, there is no Mitzvah of Tefilah on a routine basis.
What is the reason for this difference of opinion? The source in the Torah for Tefilah is to serve Hashem with our heart, and it seems that Ramban feels that we can only truly pray to Hashem from the heart when we are in desperate need, such as during a time of war. Rambam, however, disagrees, claiming that there is a Mitzvah to connect to Hashem from the heart each and every day, regardless of the circumstances. Once again, this connects to the lesson of Eikev. When life is good, it is easy to forget that everything comes from Hashem, and that each day is full of hidden miracles. Good days are like the small Mitzvot that people tend to overlook. Rambam believes that these days are special, too, and that is why we are obligated in the Mitzvah of Tefilah every single day.
A final illustration of this lesson can be seen in a third Mitzvah that is found in our Parashah. The Pasuk states, “ULeDavkah Bo,” “And to cling to Him” (11:22). How does one fulfill this Mitzvah?I It is obviously impossible to cleave to Hashem, whom we cannot see or touch!
The Sefer HaChinuch and Rambam both explain that because we cannot directly connect to Hashem, the way to fulfill this Mitzvah is to attach ourselves to Talmidei Chachamim. By doing so, we may learn from their actions and serve Hashem properly. One might think that we only have to cling to Talmidei Chachamim while they perform Mitzvot, so that we may learn how to do the Mitzvot ourselves. Indeed, this is how the Sefer HaChinuch understands the Mitzvah. However, several other authorities extend the Mitzvah further. The Gemara teaches that one should do everything possible to connect to Talmidei Chachamim, ranging from conducting business with them to marrying into their families. Based on this Gemara, Rambam writes that the Mitzvah is to observe and to be involved in all aspects of the lives of Talmidei Chachamim. Once again, we see that even the smallest aspects of day-to-day life are worthy of our attention and are considered important.
We can all take away a very important lesson from this. It is important for us to pay attention to even the seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives, and try to work on them. We should all pay extra attention to the Mitzvot which we deem unimportant, and be careful to perform them to the best of our ability.