August 2018, Parshat Eikev

Dear Friends,

The opening of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Eikev, starts off with “If only you would listen to these laws.” The Parsha follows the theme from the Book of Devarim which retells the story of the Jewish people in the desert in order to learn from the different episodes that took place during their 40 years of wandering. Moshe also rebukes the people of Israel for their sins in the desert with the Golden Calf and the rebellion of Korach amongst other things.
It’s definitely interesting that the Torah chooses to name and start the Parsha with the word “Eikev”.

I always wondered why the Torah didn’t start this week’s Torah portion off with the word Shema which means ‘hear or to listen’ instead of ‘Eikev’ which translates to ‘heel’ as well as to ‘listen’. It would have been a great segue into the Parsha as just last week we read the first paragraph of Shema and this week we read the second paragraph of Shema. The Parsha repeats the fundamental Mitzvot stated in the Shema’s first chapter which describes the system of reward and punishment for fulfilling G-ds commandments and failing to adhere.

Just the word Shema makes us think of the holiest and most famous prayer. The oldest fixed prayer that the Jewish people have, which sums up the quintessential theme of Judaism to listen, feel and understand that G-d is a constant presence in our lives.

However, Rashi, the famous commentator of the Torah, explains that by using the word ‘Eikev’ to start of the Parsha and not ‘Shema’ the Torah is trying to bring a point that we should not underestimate the importance of all commandments as they all have equal importance.

From Rashi’s point of view, starting with the word ‘Eikev’ is a reminder that even the seemingly less significant Mitzvot should not be trampled on with our heels as even though they may appear to be minor they are just as important as the seemingly major laws, like the daily recital of Shema.

It’s not all about the glamorous things like dinner parties with world-renown speakers or groundbreakings and building campaigns that we should be solely focusing our time and energy upon. Rather, the Torah is encouraging us to see the beauty in the quieter and simpler “day to day” matters that we undertake. The little things count, sometimes just as much if not more than the big things. While the word Shema would have also worked, the beauty is in the details.

Over the past few months as Acting Senior Rabbi at ARK Centre, I have realised that this principle cannot be understated. During this time, I have had the opportunity to engage with many different persons, settings and scenarios which differed from my day to day job as Rabbi for Programs and Engagement. It wasn’t the glitz or the glam that were enjoyable for me (there isn’t much of that), but rather the day to day interactions with congregants, people in our community and those that just wanted to reach out for catch up and coffee.

Having had the chance to experience the top job I know (and always knew) how lucky we are to have Rabbi Shneur and Lisa! Looking back over the past few months I have had experiences that one cannot gain unless they are sitting in the chair. A little like moving from university into the real world of getting a job and paying your own bills. While you can prepare for it with years of schooling and university you don’t really know how it’s going to be until you are there.

Having stepped into their large shoes for a small amount of time I can see just how busy they are with day to day operations and duties in building our Ark community centre and the interactions and sometimes complications that they deal with diligently, effectively and empathetically on a day to day basis.

From my short time in the driver’s seat, I learnt quickly that nothing is status quo. This is the central message in this week’s Parsha. A Mitzvah is a Mitzvah and not one is better than the other. Irrespective of any perceived difference between major or minor, not one Mitzvah takes away from the other and the same is true of experiences one has in life, family and of course their personal relationship with G-d.

To our community, thank you for teaching me and for having me these past few months. I look forward to continuing to learn.

In the meantime, welcome back Rabbi Shneur and Lisa Reti-Waks: We missed you!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi