By: Rabbi Erin Polansky, the founding rabbi of
, a Reform community just north of Toronto.
The High Holy Days will be upon us before we know it. Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? Are they big ones or small ones? This week’s Torah portion,
, shows us that God appreciates when we do the simple, seemingly small things, not only the big ones.
In the Torah we read a description of the health and abundance that God will shower upon us in return for our observance of the
“In the future, as a consequence of (“
”) your heeding these laws and your guarding and fulfilling them,
, your God, will guard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your fathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you, and He will bless the fruit of your belly and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine and your olive oil . . .” (Deuteronomy 7:12–13)
And the blessings go on.
It seems that the nurturing rewards come after we have fulfilled God’s commandments.
Why does the Torah use the word
(as a consequence of) and not
This question is raised by the biblical commentator Rashi, who then proceeds to probe deeper. Rashi points out that the word
has a double meaning: (a) consequence, and (b) a heel. Hence Jacob’s name “Yaakov”—for he was hanging on to Esau’s heel when he emerged from Rebecca’s womb.
This, it seems, is the secret of
! Rashi interprets the Torah’s words as follows: “If you will respect the minor commandments that people usually trample upon with their heel, then God will bless you . . .”
Rashi’s version seems to shift our literal understanding of the verse. Initially, the Torah seemed to say that we deserve God’s boundless blessing at the completion of our service—when we fulfill
that God commands. But according to Rashi, it seems that God asks us merely to respect the
that seem unimportant—those that people “trample upon”—and then we are deserving of God’s blessing!
This reading highlights a major principle in Judaism—the equality of the
. The so-called little
are important too, but we tend to only focus on the big ones. When I ask my b’nai mitzvah students what responsibilities they will have as Jewish adults, they invariably say fasting on Yom Kippur, and keeping some semblance of kashrut. These seem to be indicators of how religious we are, or how committed we are.
However, our text is telling us that all of the
are equal! What about respecting parents? Is this not equal to keeping kosher? I would think it’s at least equal, if not more important!
What about helping to feed the hungry, respecting the elderly, or giving
There are many acts that we would do anyway—whether they were
or not. When we see an old lady struggling to open a door, would we not help her? Of course, because that’s what a good person does! But in that act, perhaps we acknowledge that we are performing a
. What then happens to the act? It elevates it to the level of a mitzvah. We just did something not only to help the old lady, but also to connect ourselves with God.
How about giving money to a homeless person on the street? Many people might do this anyway. But what if you thought to yourself afterwards—I just did a
. Suddenly, God is in the equation.
That’s the reward that the Torah is talking about here. We don’t do the good things just so that God will reward us. But when we do them, and when we acknowledge that they are holy acts that draw us closer to God, then we get something out of it too—we solidify our relationship with God, we draw closer to God, we have a relationship with something greater than ourselves. And that feeling of holiness, security, goodness and love, is the reward.
About the Author’s Congregation:
In addition to running a fun and engaging Hebrew/religious school program, the community gathers for Shabbat, holidays and special events in public spaces, parks and community centres in an effort to bring meaningful Jewish life to as many people as possible.