Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

Summer Perspectives

With the Nine Days behind us, we are now in the depths of summer. Everyone is taking it easy. Many are on vacation, or in summer homes in the country, or taking little day trips, changing scenery and dialing everything down a couple of notches.

But the study of Torah continues. That obligation doesn’t fade, and the lessons we derive from the weekly parsha that we lain on Shabbos and study throughout the week are as strong as ever.

Parshas Eikev helps us as we continue our journey of solace through the Shiva Denechemta. In Moshe Rabbeniu’s final lesson to his people, Mishneh Torah, he reviews what they had learned and experienced during the previous forty years.

Last week, in Parshas Vo’eschanon, we encountered chapters about s’char v’onesh, reward and punishment. “Hishomru,” we are warned. Take heed lest you forget the covenant formed with Hashem, “ki Hashem Elokecha aish ochlah hu – because Hashem is a fire that consumes.”

The timeless, enduring relevance of the Aseres Hadibros resounds through the ages. They are the basis of all that is right and wrong, the defining line of truth and falsehood.

Though it is the haftaras of these weeks that give the appellation of nechomah to the current seven-week period, the parshiyos carry much comfort as well. By studying the parsha, we are comforted.

The vast personal motivation industry revolves around psychologists’ discovery that the greatest catalyst for personal joy and meaning is the realization that each person makes a difference. The people trying to catch your attention to sign up for their podcasts and buy their books use the same gimmicks to get you to buy in. They all scream out to people who feel sad and empty that they make a difference and are important, and that their actions are really relevant. Quite often, they are empty slogans meant to appeal to empty people.

But for us to follow and study the Torah, we don’t need anyone’s pitches to tell us that our lives are empowered and full of meaning. Anyone who performs mitzvos properly and studies Torah in a way that he understands it feels empowered and accomplished several times throughout the day.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner authored his classic Nefesh Hachaim to invest man with the realization of how significant his every move is. The cosmos literally hinge on our behavior.

The Torah and its precepts provide us with that sense of worth. The Imrei Emes of Gur says that the roshei teivos of the words Torah tzivah lonu Moshe form the word “tzelem.” The Torah gives man dimensions of greatness, transforming a mere human into a tzelem Elokim capable of influencing his own destiny and world events.

Parshas Eikev derives its name from the word in the first posuk: “Vehayah eikev tishme’un And it will be in exchange for your listening that you will be rewarded.”

Every meforash, it seems, has a different interpretation of the word eikev. Perceiving the depths of the Torah and its messages provides chizuk and nechomah to us as we are buffeted about. We take comfort in knowing that there is a deeper meaning of everything that occurs and nothing happens by itself or without purpose. Just as there is nothing random in the Torah, nothing in the world happens by chance. The knowledge that the Creator of the world sustains and administers it is a major source of comfort.

Rashi explains that the Torah uses the word eikev to teach us that Hashem desires that we observe not only the major mitzvos, but also those that people think are minor. If we observe the mitzvos that are commonly squashed under people’s heels, the posuk tells us, we will be richly rewarded.

The Baal Haturim states that the gematriah of the word eikev is 172, which is the number of letters that appear in the first Aseres Hadibros. Thus, the Torah is telling us that we will be well rewarded for our observance of all of the mitzvos. When it comes to Torah, nothing is minor and nothing is simple.

An insight that can resonate with us in our time is offered by the Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aharon Hakohein, in his sefer al haTorah. He writes that the yeitzer hora knows that his work will be completed at the time of the geulah.

The novi Yechezkel (31:26-27) tells us that Hashem promised when that time comes, “venosati lochem lev chodosh veruach chadoshah etein bekirbechem…” The novi Yoel (2:20) delivered a similar message: “Ve’es hatzfoni archik mei’aleichem.” Both of these prophecies foretell that at the time of Moshiach, the forces of tumah will be destroyed and removed from the world.

Therefore, in the times leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, the yeitzer hora and the forces of evil and tumah increase their efforts to entrap the Jewish people. They do everything they can to cause us to sin so that we will not merit redemption. Meanwhile, the yeitzer hatov and the forces of good do everything in their power to cause the Bnei Yisroel to act properly and be meritorious of geulah. As the time of Moshiach approaches, there is a tough ongoing battle between the yeitzer hatov and yeitzer hora. We need to be aware of that and ensure that whatever we do is motivated by the yeitzer hatov, lest we act callously and are led to sin. Being misled by the devious yeitzer hora is deleterious to us personally and empowers the forces of darkness and evil.

Thus, the first posuk of the parsha, “Vehayah eikev tishme’un,” can be understood to be addressing this very period in which we now live. It will be in the period of “ikvesa deMeshicha.” If you follow the chukim and mishpotim of Hashem, He will adhere to the bris He forged with your forefathers and He will love and bless you and cause you to flourish. If, during the period prior to Moshiach’s arrival, you are able to resist the temptations offered by the yeitzer hora, you will be doubly blessed, as each person and Klal Yisroel will be able to realize their potential.

Chassidim relate that the Rizhiner Rebbe once went into a trance, visualizing something beyond the confines of his room. When he returned to himself, he told his chassidim that there will come a time just before Moshiach arrives when confusion and turmoil will be so strong that it will take extraordinary strength to remain an ehrliche Yid. People at that time will have to climb the bare walls and hold on with their fingernails to remain true to the Torah, said the rebbe.

We are living in the period about which Chazal and tzaddikim foretold, the era that this posuk is speaking of. We see how the yeitzer hora endeavors to sink the world to unprecedented levels of deprivation and tumah. We experience the temptations he throws our way. We see the powers of tumah gaining around the world. We see our moral way of life mocked and under continuous attack. Such is life in the era of ikvesa deMeshicha.

This week’s parsha offers us many chances to earn eternal good. We learn that we have the ability, through performing mitzvos, to elevate the world around us and to ultimately triumph over evil.

It’s a comforting thought that charges us with hard work and a mandate to keep improving ourselves and our actions.

With this, we understand the parsha’s first posuk, “Vehoyah,” which denotes a joyous occurrence. There is nothing more hopeful – “Vehoyah eikev” – than the moments of ikvesa deMeshicha, when we live in a state of expectation, doing what we can to help prepare ourselves and the world for the arrival of Moshiach. Our people have endured centuries of suffering and deprivation, yet they persevered as they waited for the epoch of Moshiach. We are there now.

When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we see Moshe pleading with the Jewish people. He reminds them of all that they have been through, and of all the miracles Hashem performed to bring them to where they are. He admonishes them to remember Who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even though they were ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.

Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good, fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, ‘I did this all myself with my own strength.’ Remember, it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”

These pesukim are directed to us as well, reminding us that we should not be misled by our gaavah to think that we are self-sufficient, smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must remember that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges.

It is He who makes us rich and successful. It is He who causes our hands and our feet to move, and our brains to function and think. There is no way we can do any of that on our own. And if we think about where we have gotten in life and how we have gotten there, it rapidly becomes obvious to us that it was not due to what the world calls “good luck” and “chance encounters” and being in the right place at the right time. We know that is the Yad Hashem, guiding and helping us every step of the way.

The yeitzer hora leads us to focus on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without cogent perspective, we can easily get sidetracked, with marginal concerns skewing our missions. When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.

We live in an age when perception is more important than reality. People who excel at creating the “in” perceptions appear to get ahead and then flounder, while those who do things the old-fashioned way aren’t cool, but they don’t crash and burn as the others do when the glitz comes off. Adhering to the chukim and mishpotim of the Torah aids us in maintaining proper focus, clarity of vision, and essential proper perspectives.

In the smell of the clean rural air, the lapping of the ocean’s waves, and the gentle summer breeze, we enjoy as we dial down the intensity of the rest of the year. We have the calmness and peace of mind to focus on the blessings Hashem has given us, as we contemplate life and gain a sharper appreciation of the truth.

Let us fulfill our missions during this period prior to the arrival of Moshiach so that we hasten his coming and make ourselves deserving of his redemption.

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