Friday, August 19, 2011

Eikev: Party in an Elevator

Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos.

This week’s Parsha begins with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jewish People that if they observe the commandments and full-heartedly devote themselves to Avodas Hashem, then God will keep His promise to bring them into Eretz Yisrael and then conquer it.

Due to the interesting word-usage in the opening Passuk, many bottles have ink have been invested into its exposition. With Hashem’s help, perhaps we too will access some levels of the Torah HaKedosha’s beautiful depth. Let’s explore.

Says the Passuk, “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un Es HaMishpatim…  - ‘And it will be on the heels of your heeding to the commandments…’ This is a fancy way of saying, ‘This is what will happen when you listen to Ratzon Hashem and carry it out.

Now, the Passuk merely could have stated ‘V’Haya Im Tishmi’un’ – ‘And it will be if you listen’. Yet, instead, Hashem chose the language of Eikev, which in affect also means ‘if’. When B is Eikev A it tells me that B was the result of A. So, at the end of the day what is gained by switching the simple ‘Im' with ‘Eikev’?

Come Chazal and tell us that the Passuk is coming to deal with a special type of Mitzvah and that the use of language is hinting to us the change. We all have an easier time with Mitzvos that we see as severe or important.  Fasting on Yom Kippur and eating Matzah are good examples. They only come around so often, and when they do they get pretty hyped up. These are called Mitzvos Chamuros – serious Mitzvos.  But there are Mitzvos Kalos, the types of commandment that people sometimes walk all over. Let’s take Birkas HaMazon. Culturally, making an after-Bracha is not treated as a big deal the way those first two examples are. With some thought it becomes easy to place many examples onto either side.

About that second category, the Mitzvos Kalos, Chazal say that a person is Dash B’Akvav, he tramples them with his heels. This means that they are not paid the attention that is due to them. They are not given the respect that they deserve. Our Passuk is coming to tell us about the immense reward for keeping this type of Mitzvah. “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un”, It will be when you listen to the Eikev-related Mitzvos. When you make a big deal out of the Mitzvos that are all too often overlooked – that’s where the big reward is.

To make things sweeter, comes the hold Ohr HaChayim and he reminds us of an important principle in Biblical exegesis: “Ain ‘V’Haya’ Ela Lashon Simcha”. When a Passuk begins with V’Haya, ‘And it will be’, you can be sure that the Torah is about to impart good news. Therefore, “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un” is coming to tell us that there are very special levels of pleasure and happiness that are waiting for those who keep the Mitzvos that other people are trampling on. Why is this so?

Well, let’s being with the opposite side. In the way that V’Haya is announcing the arrival good vibes, so too Va’Yihi – And it was – is warning the arrival of painful information. It is a Lashon Tzar. How does this work?

The Ze’ev Yitrof explains that the root Yihi is really future tense, but the Hebrew prefix of Vav flips the tense of the word from Yihi - It will be, to Va’Yihi - And it was. This tense-switching prefix is called the Vav-HaHipuch, The Overturning-Vav.  ‘It will be’ connotes the hope for the future, but the Vav HaHipuch puts those hopes out of reach. It tires out what once was a bright possibility. And nothing is more depressing than crushed hopes. This is why VaYihi is Lashon Tzar.

Conversely Haya means ‘It was’ – back in the day, under the cobwebs of history. In this case the Vav HaHipuch breathes new life into that which time has already dominated, switching Haya - ‘It was’ into V’Haya - ‘It shall be’. This refreshing vitality is the life of the Lashon Simcha.

So where is the great Simcha is keeping the Mitzvos Kalos? Those easy Mitzvos, the Mitzvos trampled on by the ‘heels’ of the culture share the theme of Haya, past tense. We see them as bellow us, behind us and beneath us – lifeless and boring. But when we carry them out with zeal, when we fulfill them with enthusiasm, we breathe new life into a once tired and lackluster experience. We take a Haya type of Mitzvah, put in under the enlivening forces of the Vav-HaHipuch and make it a V’Haya type of Mitzvah filled with vitality and excitement.

This is what is going on in the life of Yaakov Avinu. In the epic prophecy of the ladder, the Passuk describes the ladder as being Mutzav Artza and Magi’a Shamaima. It was set on the ground but reaching Heavenward. Hashem is showing Yaakov one aspect of the uniquely Jewish quality to take that which is low and depleted (Mutzav Artza), and raise it up, turning it into something energized and lofty (Magi’a Shamaima).

The letter Yud (י) is the floating letter. Because it hangs in the air, it manifests itself as the Magi’a Shamai letter. If this is true then it makes a lot of sense that the prefix that connotes VaYihi, the letter that serves as the prefix that makes a word future tense is Yud. When the letter Yud starts a word, the whole word is being lifted up after it. Magia Shamaima and therefore Lashon Simcha.

In truth, this begins at Yaakov’s birth. As the Torah HaKedosha tells us, Yaakov Avinu was born a twin. Right before he came out Eisav preceded him. But Yaakov didn’t let Eisav leave without a fight. Yaakov gets his name because – V’Yado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav – his hand was grasping on to the Akeiv, the heel of Eisav. He was trying to pull himself out first.

At first glance it’s an utterly ridiculous thought. Yaakov Avinu, the exaltedly righteous forefather of our nation is named after the heel of his evil nemesis Eisav? How does that make any sense?

Says the Arizal, an amazing thing happened at those dramatic moments of the birth of the twins. VYado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav, Yaakov’s physical grabbing of Eisav’s heel is merely a small physical manifestation of a much larger and more supernal reality.

It’s brought down that the original plan was not for Yaakov versus Eisav. They were not supposed to be set against one another. Rather, they were meant to work together. The initial set up for Am Yisrael was for Yaakov and Eisav to split the twelve tribes in half - six a piece. The Neshamos that were connected to bringing holiness out of the earth were supposed to come from Eisav, as he is described as an Ish Sadeh, man of the field. All the lofty spiritual Tikunim (universal, esoteric perfections) that the world needed were to come from Yaakov. They would split the different roles. Earth and Heaven. Body and soul. Together they would unify two rectified areas of existence thereby making the universe whole.

But Eisav emerged hairy and bearded. He came out Asui, ‘made’. He wasn’t interested in working in the world of spiritual labor. He was done before he started. This being Asui is the root of the name Eisav. At the moment of VYado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav, when Yaakov grabbed onto the heel of, the lower domain of Eisav; he was really usurping those baser spiritual Kochos for himself. He was accessing the powers of Mutzav Artza that were originally cut out for Eisav and he attached them to his natural Kochos of Magi’a Shamaima. The dream he saw later on was a manifestation of this occurrence. Eisav declared himself to be ready and finished. Eisav was a living VaYihi. His very existence was past-tensed. He had all of this potential and he turned it down.

This means that Yaakov’s whole uniqueness stems from the fact that he was able to access the heel-oriented powers that were originally connected to Eisav. He took the powers that were firmly on the ground and he, in his special way, elevated them.

So then why is his name Yaakov? Shouldn’t it be Eikev? What is the extra Yud doing there in the beginning? Well now the answer should be obvious. The whole concept of taking the Mutzav Artza and making it Magi’a Shamaima is manifested as the flip from past-tense to future-tense: the prefix of Yud. Eisav, who came out ready made with no further potential was V’Haya and thereby Mutzav Artza. Yaakov who came out excited for growth manifested VaYihi and thereby was able to lift things up to the level of Magi’a Shamaima.

Like we said, the Yud, the letter of Magia Shamaima takes a normal word and puts it into the exciting realm of that which is yet to fully be. Therefore, Yaakov’s whole being is to take the Eikev and lift it up, make it Magi’a Shamaima, to excite it and make it future tense… to attach a Yud to the Eikev. Yud plus Eikev spells Yaakov.

This is the depth of V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un. If you bring the Eikev into the future tense, if you excite that which is naturally low, If you come to deal with Mitzvos the way Yaakov Avinu did that’s the real Simcha and that is where the really big reward is in store.

If we can carry this out, if we can live with this passion, if we can take the Mitzvos that are Mamesh on the ground and then lift them up – then we will be Zocheh to real joy in this world and amazing reward in the next. This is why the Passuk tells us Yagel Yaakov Yismach Yisrael – it’s specifically through accessing this power of Yaakov through which we will have astounding ecstasy in our Avodas Hashem.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to constantly feel the inspiration needed in order to live in this headspace. When we go about our Avodas Hashem in this fashion there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to the Creator and inevitably towards the Geulah Sheleimah!

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