Ekev: Just One Mitzvah

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ekev

 Good morning! 
This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, continues the theme of Moshe reminding people of their history since leaving Egypt and warning them not to be tempted to worship other gods or be lured by other peoples into forgetting the covenant. The latter part of our Torah portion is also the second paragraph of the Shema, beginning with a general commandment to serve the Holy One out of love:
“If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, to love the Lord your God and serve the Holy One with all your heart and soul . . ” (D’varim/ Deuteronomy 11:13)
The conditional phrase translated above as “if then you obey. . . ” is a doubled verb in the Hebrew: shamoa t’shmeu, which you may recognize as the same root as shema, or “hear” in the sense of “heed” or “hearken.” The doubling of a Hebrew verb indicates emphasis: “if you will heed, I mean really heed, the commandments . . . ” 
However, the ancient rabbis always looked for an opportunity to explore the unusual grammar of the Bible in order to make deeper meanings, and in this case, they saw the double verb root of shema (hear/ heed/ obey) as a hint that if you “heed” one mitzvah, you will be given the opportunity from Heaven to “heed” many mitzvot. (From theTorah Temimah, quoting an earlier source.) This rings true to me as a psychological insight: it’s hard to get started in religious or spiritual practices, but once you do, it becomes a cycle that builds on itself. One mitzvah, whether a ritual or an ethical action, expands our sense of spiritual possibility, our idea of what it means to stretch the soul towards the Sacred and towards each other. Such a shift in consciousness can often lead to naturally growing and stretching ourselves even more. 
According to Heschel, a mitzvah is a connection between God and humankind, a point in time where the earthly and heavenly meet; if so, the idea that one mitzvah leads to many mitzvot is really a way of talking about a relationship that deepens over time. If you will listen- really listen- to yourself, to our tradition, to the meaning and feeling in just one mitzvah, then anything becomes possible, and you may yet be surprised at how the journey unfolds. 
Shabbat Shalom, 

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