There is a parable traveling around the web about someone who send an email addressed to john@yahoo,com. Days have gone by and John failed to respond. Has he not gotten the email? Why, the address was pretty much correct; the only difference is a comma in place of a dot! What’s the big deal?
Had Rashi lived in our times, he might have used this story to illustrate this week’s opening word, ekev. In order to make the sentence flow in English, it’s often translated without dealing with the complex meaning and implications of the word itself: “and it shall come to pass, because you hearken to these ordinances”… (Deuteronomy 7:12, according to Machon Mamre translation). But ekev means heel (as in the back part of the foot). It is what Jacob holds on to at birth. The first time it is mentioned, is in the Garden of Eden, when strife is placed between the humans and the snake. Perhaps a pivotal point, just like the part of the foot we step on the take a step. Rashi says it refers to the “small” mitzvot, the things in life that seem insignificant, the ones we tend to say, ‘what’s the big deal’. In reality, life is not made out of the big things; it’s made of the little stuff in between. It’s not about the once in a life time… whatever it is. It is about the daily grind and how we handle it; it’s about making sure the dot is not a comma. At the end of the day, life is like a picture made of thousands of dots, and it does matter where we place each one of them.
I had the great opportunity to travel a lot this summer and see magnificent views which promoted reciting the blessing “ose ma’ase beresheet”, alternatively nicknamed “the wow” blessing, the one that can be said on top of grand mountains, in rain forests, bluer than blue lakes and more.
The idea of blessings is so powerful and appears in this week’s reading regarding food: “ve’achalta vesavata uverachta” – you shall eat, you will be satisfied and you will bless (Deuteronomy 8:10). Countless discussions centered on how much food constitutes “eating”; what does it mean to be “satisfied”; and what do we say to make a blessing. But underneath it all, what is really critical is the simple idea of saying ‘thank you’. Oftentimes, we can do very little about what happens. The only thing we have control over is how we feel about it.
In his book, The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen shares his experience traveling in Nepal. The declared goal of the journey: researching and photographing the snow leopard, but as with many other journeys, it becomes the author’s rediscovery of what life is all about. Are you happy? the American asks his Sherpa. Very much so, answers the guide. But look at your life! You’re stuck here, barefoot, working hard, loaded with heavy sacks of supplies, no real freedom, demands the writer, you have almost no choices!! It is all dictated to you! Why are you happy?
Especially because I have no choices, I am happy, answers the Sherpa. And the writer can’t figure out, what does this mean?
I’m paraphrasing from my memory, having read this long ago. The author sadly has just passed away this April, but the book made a huge impression on me. Because in our society we grow up to believe that we get happier with more choices; more choices means an option to have more things. If I’m unhappy it’s because I didn’t get the bigger TV, the prettier dress, the best school, the best behaved kid, best flowers-bringing spouse… on and on, you name it.
But it turns out all this has nothing to do with anything. Not that we should not work to do what we can to improve our life, but part of it is our outlook; our ability to see a mountain not as a piece of rock but an amazing work of G-d’s creation; an apple, a slice of bread, a half full glass of anything, and – while we’re trying to improve it – also, first! be able to say, thank you for this gift.