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Shiurim & Adult Education
THOUGHTS FOR PARASHAT EIKEV BY RABBI WILKINSON
Every mitzva that I command you this day you shall keep to do, so that you may live and multiply and come and possess the land that Hashem swore to your forefathers. (Devarim 8:1)
What does the term “kol hamitzva” (literally “the entire mitzva”) mean? Rashi suggests that it refers to all the mitzvot. However, the word “mitzva” is written in the singular, which seems to suggest that it is not referring to all the mitzvot. Rather, it is referring to a specific mitzva. Rashi, therefore, offers an additional suggestion: If one begins a mitzva, it must be completed. Every mitzva must be done fully and entirely.
The Or HaHayim offers a different explanation of the term and its connection to the next phrase of the pasuk, “… so that you may live.” Moshe saw in the hearts of the people that there is a problematic worldview that undermines their commitment to the mitzvot. people focus on performing certain mitzvot sincerely and correctly, but they unfortunately ignore other mitzvot. The thought is that if I excel in a specific mitzva, it is less important for me to perform a different mitzva. I enjoy davening and learning, and I do these things well, so I do not have to engage in hesed activities. Others may think, “I am a ‘people person’ and can engage in hesed all day long, but I can’t sit and focus on learning or davening.” People choose to engage in the performance of the mitzvot that appeal to them the most and neglect other mitzvot.
On this understanding the Or HaHayim seems to be suggesting that mitzvot are a complete package. We must fulfill them all. We cannot select those that we feel are relevant to us or those with which we can connect. The mishna in Pirkei Avot teaches us that we must be careful in every mitzva, since we do not understand the hierarchy of mitzvot. Each mitzva is an opportunity to get close to Hashem.
Rabbi Shalom Rosner raises a question about the relationship between the first part of the pasuk, “kol hamitzva,” and the second part, “… so that you may live”. We know that there are 613 mitzvot, of which 248 are positive commandments and 365 are negative. It is stated in the Zohar that each mitzva corresponds to one of the 248 limbs and 365 sinews. If we lack a certain mitzva, it is like we lack a limb. If we experience a pain in our little finger and visit a doctor, we would not be told not to worry because we have another nine fingers. Each finger is crucial, and we need to be able to use each one. Similarly, we need to fulfil each mitzva. We are not complete without the observance of all mitzvot. Just as the body is connected and the lack of a limb adversely affects the entire body, so too are we incomplete if we lack one mitzva. If we want to live a complete life, not just on a physical level but also on a spiritual level, we have to fulfil each and every mitzva.
On this understanding Moshe’s message to us is that we need to appreciate every mitzva. We cannot pick and choose from them. Hashem did not grant us a ‘chocolate box’ of mitzvot from which we select what we believe are the meaningful mitzvot. “Kol hamitzva” teaches us that the Torah is a package deal, and we must perform all of the mitzvot in order for the world to function properly.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin takes issue with the conclusion that Judaism is an all-or-nothing “proposition”: If I cannot keep it all, I might as well keep nothing at all. If I cannot keep the Sabbath, or if I cannot begin it on Friday at the right time, then I might as well throw in the towel regarding kosher food and sexual morality as well. After all, I do not want to be a hypocrite.
Rabbi Riskin stresses that hypocrisy does not apply to an individual who keeps some rules of morality or some ritual observances, but not all of them all of the time; such a person is merely being inconsistent, and, as Matthew Arnold observed, the only truly consistent person is one who is dead. If one claims to be 100% when one is not, then one is a hypocrite; if one does not do everything that one should all the time, one is merely expressing the frailty of his humanity. Rabbi Riskin asks if any logical individual would claim that if someone is guilty of an occasional untruth, he might as well forget about truth and morality in all of his interpersonal relationships? Much the opposite: he should continue to strive as much as possible for greater and greater consistency in his actions. Perhaps this is the real meaning of the singular form with which our verse opens: “Every mitzva shall you observe to do” if you cannot keep all the mitzvot, at least keep one mitzvah.
So far as the parallel to the human organism is concerned: if an individual is blind in one eye, does that justify taking out the other? If a person does not have the use of his hands, should he forgo his legs? Each mitzvah is precious and stands on its own, independent of the others. As the Rambam teaches, it is sufficient for an individual to observe just one mitzvah properly and they will merit the world to come.