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לימוד תורה

The 'enormity' within the 'smallness'

The Parasha in our everyday life – Parashat Ekev 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

Social media has a considerable influence on public discourse. Each one according to its specifications. Some of the networks limit the messages to a few characters, thus they dictate a dialogue based on abbreviated messages. This dictation not only determines the framework but also the essence of the discourse. There are fundamental issues up for public discussion that require deepening accuracy and grammar, in which sometimes a subtle difference between one concept and another may change the essence, and ignoring it might lead to miss the point. When a discussion takes place, it is necessary to present arguments to substantiate a claim, explain why one disagrees with the opposing side or convince. However, when the discussion is done on these networks, the short sentences do not allow for deepening, on the contrary, they cause a superficial discourse of generalizing, binary statements - of black and white. And the arguments are replaced by rants, extreme expressions and hurling insults. There is no chance for listening and being convinced, because there is nothing to be convinced about. And sometimes, as observers from the side, it doesn't seem that there really is such a significant difference between the claims, except for the claimants themselves...

In the age of increased information in which we live, there is a built-in tension between the impossibility of expansion and going down to details in everything, (in order to navigate and control information, there is no choice but to develop an inclusive view), and between the development of special fields that in order to become familiar with them, and to develop expertise, one must go into the depth of the littlest details. For example, the study of DNA and chromosomes, which are tiny, but their influence on man is tremendous. And in other cases, sometimes a small detail changes the whole picture. Then you find out the 'magnitude' of 'small'.

Parashat Ekev opens with:

וְהָיָ֣ה עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃

"And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, your G-d Hashem will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers" (Devarim 7:12)

Rashi explains according to the Sages:

 אִם הַמִּצְווֹת קַלּוֹת שֶׁאָדָם דָּשׁ בַּעֲקֵבָיו תשמעון

“And the consequence will be, if ye hearken - The Hebrew text may be taken to signify if you will hear the heel, עקב) — If, even the lighter commands which a person usually treads on with his heels (i.e., which a person is inclined to treat lightly), ye will hearken to”

יִשְׁמֹר לְךָ הַבְטָחָתוֹ Then Hashem (Thy G-d) will keep for thee His promise.

Which Mitzvot are thought of as less important? And why is the promise specifically about these commandments?

והזכיר הכתוב המשפטים אולי יזהיר במשפטים הקלים כדיני ממונות שלא יבזו אותם

“Now Scripture mentions the ordinances [And it shall come to pass ‘ekev’ ye hearken to these ‘ordinances’] perhaps because he admonishes them not to be disdainful of the lightly-esteemed ordinances such as the laws pertaining to monetary matters”. (Ramban ibid)

The “lightly-esteemed Mitzvot” are the ones that stand in the way of a person in his day-to-day life, and they do not succeed in making a person pay the attention they deserve, and keep them. The race of life causes them to be trampled upon like little things on the ground, in the way that in the race of life the person does not pay attention to and tramples them under his heels. In contrast, the severe Mitzvot such as Shabbat, Yom Kippur, etc., which stop the race of life, and we do not trip over them, are similar to big things that are placed in a person's path, and because of their size, he cannot ignore. The image of the heel which is the lower end and less important part of the human body, and especially of the head which is the most important.

Regarding the great things and the severe Mitzvot, it is impossible to get confused, treating them as such is not a touchstone for understanding their value. The Torah teaches us that sometimes the great things are actually in the small things that seem to be worthless to us, so we knock them over with our heel. However, when you look deeper, you see that there are small things that are influential and might change things from the foundation and the essence.

In particular, this is said while observing G-d's world creations:

ר' יוחנן כי הוה חזי שלך אמר (תהלים לו, ז) משפטיך תהום רבה כי הוה חזי נמלה אמר (תהלים לו, ז) צדקתך כהררי אל

"The Gemara recounts: When Rabbi Yoḥanan would see a shalach, he would say: “Your judgments are like the great deep”, as G-d exacts retribution even upon the fish in the sea. When he would see an ant, he would say the first half of the same verse: “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,” as G-d provides sustenance for the tiny ant just as He does for the largest creatures.” (Chullin 63a)

צדקתך כהררי אל - דאפי' נמלה אית ליה חיותא כגדולה:

“The great wonder that even the little ant has a life like a big animal. (It has the same systems as a large animal)” (Rashi ibid).

"כִי בַקָטֹן שֶבָרְמָשִים מִפְלִיאַת חָכְמָתוֹ, מַה שֶאֵין הַדַעַת מַשֶגֶת אוֹתוֹ" (כוזרי א סח).

"For the smallest worm shows the wonders of His wisdom in a manner beyond the human mind". (Kuzari 1:68).

On the other hand, it should be remembered that magnitude and minuteness complement each other:

בְּחָכְמוֹת וִידִיעוֹת הָעוֹלָם בִּמְצִיאוּת הַמּוּחָשׁ הִנְנוּ רוֹאִים, שֶׁנָּכוֹן לֵאמֹר עִם "מַה גָּדְלוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ ד'" גַּם כֵּן בְּרֹב הִשְׁתּוֹמְמוּת "מַה קָּטְנוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ ד'". כְּלוֹמַר כְּשֶׁם שֶׁהִנְנוּ מִתְמַלְּאִים פֶּלֶא עַל גֹּדֶל הַמְּאוֹרוֹת, עַל הַמֶּרְחָבִים הַגְּדוֹלִים, הַמְּלֵאִים כּוֹכְבֵי שַׁחַק נִפְלָאִים, וְהַכֹּחוֹת הַטִּבְעִיִּים הָאַדִּירִים, כֵּן הִנְנוּ מִתְפַּלְּאִים בְּהִסְתַּכְּלוּתֵנוּ לְעֹמֶק הַיְצִירָה בְּקַטְנוּתָהּ, בִּפְרָטֵי הָאֵבָרִים שֶׁל בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים הַיּוֹתֵר קְטַנִּים, וְדַקּוּת הֶחֳמָרִים וְדַיְקָנוּת הַכֹּחוֹת שֶׁבַּמְּקוֹמוֹת הַיּוֹתֵר רְחוֹקִים, וְעַל יְדֵי הַיְדִיעָה הַשְּׁלֵמָה שֶׁל שְׁנֵי הַקְּצָווֹת, שֶׁל הַגֹּדֶל וְהַקֹּטֶן, יִתְמַלֵּא צִיּוּר הַמְּצִיאוּת בְּלִבּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם עַל מַתְכֻּנְתּוֹ. (אורות התורה ג ח).

“In the wisdom and knowledge of the world, in the reality of the tangible, we see that it is correct to say מַה־גָּדְל֣וּ מַעֲשֶׂ֣יךָ ה'""- “How great are Your works, O Hashem” as well as in astonishment, "How minute are your creations O Hashem”.

This is to say, the same way we wonder about the size of the lights in the expanse of the sky, the large spaces, wonderful stars of the night and the mighty natural forces, we should also be amazed by looking into the depth of creation in its smallness; in the details of the limbs of the smaller living creatures, the fineness of the materials and the precision of the forces in the most remote places. With the complete knowledge of both ends, of the great and the small, he will understand reality in a correct way”. (Orot HaTorah 3:8)

Therefore, the test is precisely the ability to see the 'enormity' in the 'smallness', and not trip over the Mitzvot standing by our heels.

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