Shabbat Shalom, and thank you for welcoming me in to your lovely community. If we haven’t had a chance to meet yet, I’m Rabbi Lizz, and if we have met already but I introduce myself again, please excuse me. I’m still settling in and committing names and faces to memory, but I promise I’ll get there.
This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Eikev. The word “eikev” in this context means “because,” but the word “akeiv” has the same Hebrew spelling (different vowels/pronunciations) and means “heel”. Many of the important Jewish commentators spent significant time determining why this somewhat unusual word was used for “because” and what the connections might be to this word for “heel.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that it means our commitment and connections to Torah should permeate our lives so thoroughly that we feel it throughout our whole bodies, down to our heels, “the lowest and least sensitive part of the person.” Our Jewish identities and obligations toward holiness are not confined to this room, but rather should influence how you live your everyday life and inform your daily decision making.
This parasha also holds a paragraph that is traditionally included as part of the Shema/v’ahavta prayer. It has been taken out of the Reform prayer book because part of it is too full of Divine punishment and direct cause and effect of human actions and God reaction to fit into Reform ideology. The other part of this paragraph is repetitious with the words from Numbers that we do say in our V’ahavta: You shall love God and observe mitzvot. Teach them to your children. Bind them as a sign upon your hands and let them be frontlets before your eyes. Think about them when you go out of your gates and when you are sitting in your home, when you lie down at night and when you rise up in the morning. In doing so, you will embody the Divine holiness so thoroughly that you will feel it in your heels. The great medieval commentator Rashi summarizes the long speech Moses gives to the people on behalf of God in this portion as “If you do all that is incumbent on you [following the mitzvot], then God will do that which is incumbent on God [taking care of humans and the Earth].”
As I begin my commitment to this community as rabbi, I want to make clear that I have every intention of doing that which is incumbent on me. I feel the pull to walk in the ways of holiness down to my heels: to think about mitzvot and tikun olam at each stage of my day, to teach Jewish values and laws and history to all who seek to learn, to be patient and compassionate, to be present, all as God and Torah command. In return, I hope you will do that which is incumbent on you: to let Judaism infuse your daily life, to be willing to form relationships with those around you, to be patient as I learn names and the particulars of this community, to represent the Jewish community righteously, and to walk in the ways of holiness with your whole self, down to your heels. And may we all walk together in peace. Amen and Shabbat shalom.