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Todah Le’HaShem Part II

Updated: May 27, 2020

Today’s politically correct world is quick to conclude that talks of Biblical rebuke are negative, yet much of the holy Torah is just that—Mussar (i.e. rebuke).  It may surprise some to learn that in his commentary on the Talmud (Shabbat 32b), Rashi clearly states that the words Mussar and Torah are synonymous.  As Rav Nissim Yagen zt’l once said “even the exciting wedding day between Am Yisrael and HaShem Yitbarach began with the Ten Commandments that forced us to change everything overnight.”  Whether it’s the difficulties experienced by our forefathers, the intricate details of the Torah commandments, or the heavy price we pay for disobeying either of them, the holy Torah is the instructions book to life. 

""...וְהָיָ֣ה עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם “This shall be the reward (Eikev עקב) when you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them;” (Deuteronomy 7:12)

Unlike most of the Torah, Parashat Eikev (i.e. The Reward) opens in an unusually delightful way, whereby Moshe Rabbeinu tells Am Yisrael about the divine promise of extraordinary rewards.  The “fruit of your womb (i.e. children) and fruit of the land (i.e. $u$tenance) are just the starting points of the countless blessings being promised.  Yet, it seems like each year there are more “Breaking News” stories of suicide by the same celebrities that looked really happy and blessed.  Why does the richest and most conveniently living society in history want to stop living so badly?  Although the research shows 72% higher suicide risk for an unemployed person, the suicide risk is also higher in wealthier neighborhoods?[1] Disturbing as they might be, these stories serve as a testament that the material part of the blessing is indeed incomplete.  In short, it’s the not the money!

As is the way of the Torah, we turn to our holy Sages for answers.  The same holy Sage, Rashi, uncovers the secret of the blessings, and thereby one of the first secrets to happiness.  A brief analysis of the word Eikev (reward עקב) shows that it also means heel (i.e. the back part of the foot).  Allegorically, just as it is inevitable for the heel to arrive at its destination as a result of every [normal] step forward, the Torah promises that the “reward” (i.e. Eikev) arrives “after” the observance and performance of the commandments.   

 "כִּי מוֹקֵשׁ הוּא לָךְ..."

“…for it is a trap for you” (Deuteronomy 7:16)

So what if we received what we thought were the “blessings,” but without the prerequisite steps?  Just four verses ahead we see the word Mokesh (trap  (מוקש inside the very verse that’s warning us about violating the divine instructions.  This self-inflicted, Yetzer Hara induced, spiritual poison is the essence of our free will in this world.  As our sages repeatedly tell us “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b).  

After retelling the details of our divine wedding at Mt. Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu repeats the Ten Commandments and shocks the nation with what many thought is impossible.  In Parashat Va’Etchanan, God code names the observers and violators of his mitzvoth, His lovers and His haters[1], respectively.  To ensure clarity, God repeated these words later in the Parasha, telling Moshe Rabbeinu about outcome of one who refuses to do Teshuva. 

“…And He repays [abundance] to His haters in his lifetime to make him perish; he shall not delay for His hater—in his lifetime He shall repay him.” (Deuteronomy 7:10)

In what is arguably the scariest verse in the Torah, we now understand why material success is not always the Eikev (reward), but can sometimes be the Mokesh (trap).  Interestingly the word Mokesh also means landmine in Modern Hebrew (i.e. a deadly bomb hidden underground as a trap).    

From here we learn a powerful Mussar lesson about being honest with ourselves in our journey to true happiness.  When it comes to materialism, it’s time we look at the facts and take them to heart.  Enough with basing our happiness on some imaginary bank account that we “need” to have.  Enough with basing our goals on what our neighbors, friends or foes have.  If you don’t waste your energy looking at the other side of the fence, you’ll never care whether its greener grass or not.  As our Sage Ben Zoma said “….Who is the rich one? One who is happy with his lot…” (Pirkei Avot 4:1).  Most of human misery stems losing control of their desires due to jealousy.   If you want to be jealous of something, at least be jealous of those who work hard to become lovers of HaShem.  After all, what purpose does the money have, if it hater doesn’t have the blessing from Heaven (Eikev)?

For those of you who want happiness and blessing in both this world and the next, BeEzrat HaShem we will discuss more Torah details in part III of our Todah Le’HaShem series.   In the meantime, we should all take this time to think, reflect and realize that we all live a life that’s full of difficulty;  it’s time to make something good out of it.  This opportunity alone is reason enough to say Todah Le’HaShem (Thank You to HaShem).

“It (Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy” (Proverbs 3:18)

If you ask the praiseworthy supporters why they grasp it, they’ll simply tell you that it’s their tree of life. 


[1]  See paper Relative Status and Well Being: Evidence from U.S. Suicide Deaths  San Francisco Federal Reserve September  2012

[1] See (Deuteronomy 5:9-10)

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