The footsteps we follow
Parshat Ekev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25) presents Moses as he recounts what the Children of Israel have gone through: leaving Egypt, wandering through the desert, experiencing signs and wonders, receiving the Ten Commandments, going astray with the Golden Calf, how he broke the tablets in anger, received the commandments a second time on top of Mt. Sinai … and then comes both a warning and a comfort: There will be wars against nations larger and more powerful; we will continue to enjoy the bountiful land filled with fruit trees and flocks. It will not be easy but we will prevail.
The opening verse begins: “Ve-haya EKEV tishme’un et ha-mishpatim eyleh” meaning “and it will be if you obey these rules.” The translation of ekev as “if” loses a whole constellation of meanings. The Hebrew root of ekev is akev, heel; and related to ikvot, footsteps. So an expanded translation could be “on the heels of” or “walking in the footsteps of (ikvot) those who were a model ... .”
Moses is asking the young generation about to establish a society in a new land to remember to live according to the laws of Torah. He wants the youth to realize they are standing on the shoulders of those who witnessed the miracles of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah. They are literally walking in their parents’ footsteps, and are about to leave a trail of their own for future generations. They are exhorted to carry forward what they had learned from Moses and from their parents, both from their mistakes and from the ideals and laws given to them.
This opening phrase of our parshat brings us to consider in whose footsteps we are walking.
Both of my parents had been very Zionistic in pre-World War II Europe, and probably only because of the circumstances of war and family sponsorships they happened to land in America rather than Israel. So ekev, on the heels of these big influences, I was always geared to taking a path that included visiting or living in Israel, observing the Jewish holidays, studying more deeply the literature of our heritage, and eventually, it led to my becoming a rabbi. Think about one set of footprints, just one of the many, that you are following. It could be a parent or other relative, a teacher or mentor; it could be a character from the Bible or Jewish history.
The importance of carrying on Judaism and teaching it to my children (v’shinantem l’vanecha) was clear because of the heavy losses of our family and of our people. It is up to all Jews to continue in the footsteps of those who came before and to leave sure and certain footsteps for those who will come after.
Whose footsteps are you following? And who might follow in yours? We have the duty and delight of continuing to tell our communal and personal stories, pointing out both the places of pride and of pitfalls for those who will follow us. Someday someone may say about you, “Ekev — because of this person in whose footsteps I’m following, I am now living in this way.” This is an invitation for each one of us to stand in this long line, linking to the past, and preparing for the future as we take each step along our journey. JN
Rabbi Alicia Magal serves as the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.