Sweat the Small Stuff
by Miri Korbman
Last week’s Parsha concluded with Moshe outlining what will happen when Klal Yisrael enter the Land of Israel and face the nations living there. Moshe beautifully explained that Hashem chose the Jewish people because He loves us, and it is for this reason that Hashem will fight for Bnei Yisrael and ensure their safe and swift conquering of the land that He promised to our forefathers. On the heels (pun intended) of this declaration, Moshe begins this week’s Torah portion with a promise and a warning. “V’haya eikev tishmi’un es ha’mishpatim ha’eileh… v’ahavcha, u’beirachecha, v’hirbicha” - “and it will be because you listened to these commandments… and God will love you, and bless you, and make you multiply” (Devarim 7:12).
Let us pause to allow the enormity of such a promise, such a possibility, to truly sink in. Moshe is promising us that under some specific condition that he calls “eikev tishmi’un,” God will shower us with all we could ever ask from Him: His love, His blessing, and His bounty. What are the terms of this incredible bargain?
As is practically Jewish tradition, to answer the above question we must pose another question. Rashi wonders, why is the word “eikev” used here to mean “because”? Why doesn’t the text use the word “asher,” or “ki”, as is typical? Rashi explains that the word “eikev” literally refers to the heel of one’s foot. Rashi explains that the terms of the promise Moshe is relaying to Klal Yisrael are quite specific; rather than saying, if you listen to God’s laws (in general), then God will bless you and love you, Moshe says, if you listen to the Mitzvos Kallos, the easy Mitzvos, “she’adam dash b’akeivav,” that man typically treads upon with his heel, then Hashem will love you and bless you (Rashi 7:12).
Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains the incredibly important and psychologically salient terms and conditions of God’s promise here. Judaism is an all-encompassing religion, one that quite literally has laws and bylaws for every minute and hour and season of a person’s life. It is a common misconception that we must be constantly striving to do as much as we can, that we must make grand gestures in our Avodas Hashem, that every person must be making their best effort to become a literal Gadol B’Yisrael, a giant in Torah and Mitzvos. Yet, as Rashi notes, it is the small, seemingly easy or insignificant Mitzvos that God asks of us to treat with care and precision; He tells us here through Moshe to specifically adhere to those Mitzvos that we instinctively dismiss as small or easy, that we kick aside without considering their significance.
Rav Wolbe notes that it is the same case with positive commandments as it is with negative commandments, or Aveiros. Shabbos, Kashrus, Avodah Zarah, sexual morality – these are the sins we think of when we consider the important elements of a Jew’s growth and spirituality. And yet, what of Borer, separating the bad from the good, which is forbidden on Shabbos? What about the hours we wait in between meat and milk? What about walking in a modest manner, being careful with the way we speak to those of the opposite gender who are not our family or spouse? These may seem like smaller Mitzvos, but the entreaty made within the first few words of this week’s Parsha underscores the critical importance of taking great care to guard and keep these smaller Mitzvos.
A colleague once described an experience she had helping a patient who came to her saying that he was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, his health was declining, and his relationships were suffering due to his smoking habit. The patient’s overall Goal (with a capital “G”) was clear: he needed to quit smoking. But of course, if it were that simple, he likely would not have come to therapy or sought any assistance. In breaking that goal down into smaller objectives, he began to take small steps toward that Goal. Objectives are those baby steps that help a person reach his ultimate goals. For this gentleman, who put his first cigarette into his mouth within a minute after opening his eyes in the morning, his first objective was to wait until his feet were on the floor and he was sitting up in bed to light that first cigarette. He then moved on to putting the pack across the room on his dresser, so he got up and out of bed first. Then, he was having his first cigarette in the car on the way to work, and his last one in the car on the way home, so that he was actually not smoking in his house at all. Eventually, his house was no longer associated with smoking – the same was done with his car, and then his workplace, until he was smoking one cigarette a day during his lunch break outside on the sidewalk. These are baby steps.
L’havdil, in spiritual growth, we often get caught up in the big ideas. We want to be better Jews, better parents, children, siblings, teachers, professionals, human beings. We want to grow, we want to be closer to God, we want to stop speaking Lashon Hara and daven three times a day (or even once a day) and never raise our voices at our children (or parents). These are the big Goals, and they are crucial. Yet, we laugh and scoff at the smaller Mitzvos. Smile at someone as we pass? Be the first to greet another Jew? Say a Bracha Rishona on our food? Stand still while reciting Asher Yatzar? How will these minutiae lead to spiritual greatness??
In just a few weeks, we will begin stepping into the mindset of spiritual growth that characterizes the months of Elul and Tishrei and the Yamim Noraim season. In this week’s Parsha, on the very eve of that season, Hashem gives us the key to access the closeness we seek. Sweat the small stuff; break down your goals into SMART goals: Small, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic steps that can be applied to a specific Time. Rather than vowing to improve your davening in general, commit to saying a Bracha on one breakfast food on Tuesday mornings. If you want to work on your relationships with family members, try to set a reminder at 6pm on Thursday evenings, and send a short, complimentary or loving text to the family member who irritates you most.
If God’s love, blessing, and bounty are indicative of anything, it is that He values the small stuff. This week, let us make an effort to be conscious of those Mitzvos that we are tempted to cast aside, that we tread upon and disregard so easily, because those are the baby steps to the growth we are seeking.