Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s talks are known throughout the Jewish world. They combine chassidic teachings and philosophy, along with tips for a better life. We have collected pearls from his teachings that are relevant to our daily lives. This week he comments on the Torah section of Ekev.
"And it will be, because [ekev] you will listen to these ordinances"
In this week's Torah section, the Torah tells us, "And it will be because [ekev] you will listen to these ordinances." Why is the word ekev used to express “because” when there are far more common terms for this word in Hebrew? The reason is because ekev also means “heel,” the lowest part of a person’s body, which is conveying an extremely important principle in this verse.
There are two ways to do a commandment. Sometimes a person fulfills a commandment with joy, with inspiration, with an expanded consciousness - which is a great and wonderful thing. But sometimes a person fulfills a commandment in a mood of sorrow and grief, when his mind feels constricted and morose.
The holy Torah tells us "it will be because you will listen" - that is, if a person does commandments and good deeds at a time when he is feeling like a 'heel', while he is at the bottom and in the worst condition - the commandment he does at that time has enormous value.
Looking at Joseph, he acquired the appellation Yosef the Righteous precisely when he was a slave in the land of Egypt, and he withstood Potiphar's wife when she tried to get him to sin. From that day on, he became known as Joseph the Righteous.
The Torah praises and lauds Joseph not for the period when he was the ruler of the entire land of Egypt, but for the period when he was a simple man, a menial worker and a servant in Potiphar's house. Because when a person is in miserable circumstances, in the lowest and most difficult place - in the “heel” - there he has the power to climb and ascend to the highest and greatest places.
We see a great principle here: the proof of who a person really is - is revealed in his most difficult hours and times of crisis. The true measure of a person is how he behaves at that time.
When a person fulfills commandments and does good deeds when things are going well for him and he is happy - it does not mean much. He has a livelihood and he has success and everything is good and comfortable. A person's greatness is only proven when he is at the bottom and at the “heel”, at his lowest place. And if he manages to observe commandments and act virtuously in his low state, then he is truly a great person.
And so it was with Hillel the Elder. The Gemara says (Yuma 35b) that "Hillel obligates the poor." Hillel the Elder was one of the great leaders of the Jewish people. He was wise, righteous and rich, and possessed every virtue. Yet, he became famous far and wide from the time when he was a simple man.
The Gemara relates about Hillel that he was a poor laborer who worked and earned one coin per day. What did he do with his earnings? With half he bought food for his family and with the other half he paid the fee to the study hall guard to let him enter to study Torah.
One day there was a snowstorm, and Hillel the Elder could not work and earned no money. He came to the study hall but they wouldn't let him in without payment. The study hall ceiling had a small hole from which the studies could be heard. Hillel the Elder climbed on the roof to hear the Torah lesson, ignoring the large amounts of snow falling on him until he lost consciousness.
When morning came and they saw the study hall was still dark, Shemaya and Avtalion, the sages in the study hall, looked towards the ceiling, and they saw something blocking the light. They immediately sent someone to check and they found a frozen man. They brought him down and revived him. His devotion to hear the Torah lecture is one of our legends to this very day.
From his climb to the roof, from the time when he had no money, Hillel the Elder became famous in Jewish history. He obligates the poor, because when he was in the “heel”, at the lowest point of his life, from there he soared and became one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people.
King David wrote, "He remembered us in our lowliness" (Psalms 136:23). This means that God remembers a person during his lowest moments and He specifically remembers the person’s miserable state and crises. This is because the actions he did in times of trouble are the true measure of a person and his greatness.
When a person finds himself in a time of crisis, he should know that he is being tested. In life, sometimes everything goes as you want, things are humming along - but this time is not a true measure of a person. When a person finds himself in difficult times with days of crisis and trial - that is the true test of who he is.
The Torah says about our forefather Abraham, "And God [Elokim] tested Abraham" (Genesis 22:1). We know that the name Elokim always implies the attribute of justice, and at a time of justice - God examines a person, his behavior and deeds.
God examines how a person conducts himself during the time when he feels as low as a “heel”, and if he stands firm during this time - then God will help him and give him special heavenly assistance.
We are in a very tense period where the fire of discord is spreading everywhere and in every corner, and in particular in the Land of Israel. The period seems difficult and complex. The rich become poor. Big companies collapse and disappear. Countries are warring and the cost of living goes up and up.
We must remember that a person proves his mettle precisely during such a period. Whoever holds strong in this difficult time - will receive the greatest good. Because precisely this period will prove his greatness.
What protects us during this period is only our holy Torah which has always protected the Jewish people throughout its long exile. Without the holy Torah, there is no unity among the Jewish people. It is the only thing that truly unites Jewry more than anything else.
The fact that we are called the Jewish people, and we all speak Hebrew, and we all are circumcised - is not enough. The holy Torah is the spirit and soul that binds all Jews together. Therefore, each and every one should adhere to the holy Torah, devote himself to keeping the commandments, keep a distance from controversy, stay away from strife, increase unconditional love and sanctify the name of heaven.
And in the merit of intensifying our devotion to the Torah, the Almighty will send us abundance from on high, blessing, salvation, a good livelihood, knowledge, nachat from the children and everything good.
This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel