Simon M. Jackson
Legal Adviser to Torah MiTzion
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לע”נ אמי מורתי, חיה חנה בת יונה הכהן ז”ל
In our parsha, Toldot, Hashem tells Yitzchak: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (the blessing of children) and will give them all these lands (the blessing of Eretz Yisrael), and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed – because (“eikev”) Avraham hearkened to My voice and did everything I required of him, keeping My commands, My decrees and My laws” (Ber. 26:5).
What Does “Eikev” Really Mean?
(a) Leaving One’s Mark
Literally meaning a “heel”, the Hebrew word “eikev” evolved to denote a mark left by the heel, i.e. a foot-print. It then became a verb – “to follow at the heel”, in the positive sense (as in the above pasuk), but also “to grasp the heel” i.e. to assail insidiously, circumvent, overreach.
This can be seen in our parsha, with Eisav’s accusing words regarding his brother (27:36): “Is he not rightly named Yaakov (from the root eikev)? For he has supplanted me (Va-Ya’akveni) these two times – he took away my birthright (bechora) and, look, now he has taken away my [special firstborn] blessing (bracha)”. In Ramban’s poignant words: “And this was the reason for the great perplexity with which Yitzchak trembled (27:33), because he realized that his son, Esav, who was beloved to him had lost his blessing forever”.
Eventually, Yaakov will do teshuva, evidenced by his new title “Yisrael” or “Yeshurun”, both of which indicate honesty (‘as straight as an arrow’) – the opposite to the twisting, cunning, maneuvering and crooked approach to life implicit in the name “Yaakov”.
“Following at the heels of” gives rise to the idea of “as a consequence/result of, because of”; hence the adverb – “in consequence of”, as in the above pasuk (26:5); and “in consequence of” also has the concept of “as a reward for”, so that eikev also means “a reward”, as in the famous verse in Tehillim (19:12) – “Your servant was careful with the commandments, for in observing them there is great reward (eikev rav).”
And from the heel to the foot (regel); with hergel meaning a practice to which one becomes accustomed through constant treading, and the Three Foot Festivals (Regalim) transforming an occasional practice into a continuous experience (3 times = a chazaka in Halacha).
Consistency (aikviut) is important, provided one is on the right track, listening to the voice of Hashem and His commandments. The first verse of Parshat Eikev in the book of Devarim (7:12) proclaims: “Because (eikev) you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers”. Yet one chapter later (8:20), the Torah cautions: “if you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, and worship them, and prostrate yourself before them, I bear witness against you this day, that you will surely perish… since (eikev) you will not obey the Lord your God”!
The Wilderness generation, who “tested Me these ten times and did not listen to My voice” (Bamidbar 7:22), will not merit to enter the Promised Land. “But as for My servant, Calev, since (eikev) he was possessed by another spirit, and he followed Me, I will therefore bring him to the land to which he came, and his descendants will drive its inhabitants out” (7:24).
May we merit to “practice justice and righteousness” in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu (Ber. 18:19), to be amongst the givers and sharers, whose impact will continue to live on in our descendants for generations to come.