The Torah portion of Eikev contains the second section of the Shema ,1 which has many striking similarities to the first section, found in the preceding portion of Vaes’chanan.2

Nevertheless, differences exist between the two sections. The first commands us to love G‑d with “all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” while the second exhorts us only to love Him with “all your heart and with all your soul,” omitting “all your might.”

Additionally, in Vaes’chanan, the commandment to study Torah (“You shall teach it to your children…”) precedes the commandment to wear tefillin — to which all other commandments are likened3 — while in Eikev, the mitzvah of tefillin precedes the commandment to study Torah.

Yet another difference: The first section makes no mention of any reward for the performance of mitzvos, while the second one does.

We must understand the reason for these differences.

Actually, all the above-mentioned differences stem from something alluded to in the names of the respective Torah portions:

The general content of Vaes’chanan refers to matnas chinam — a free gift from above.

The portion of Eikev — which literally means “heel,” the lowest (i.e. least alive) part of the human body — speaks of a situation in which no G‑dly illumination is drawn down from above. Nevertheless, even in this situation, Jews perform Torah and mitzvos.

This also explains why Moshe’s request in Vaes’chanan was that he be allowed to enter and view Eretz Yisrael, while the expression at the beginning of Eikev refers to hearing (“because you have heard”). For spiritual sight4 results from an intense illumination from above, while spiritual hearing involves no such illumination.

Hearing, however, possesses a quality that sight lacks: sound actually enters a person and becomes a part of him, while what a person sees remains external to himself; he views it “from afar,” as it were.5

Just as this is so regarding physical sight and sound, so too with regard to “seeing” in the portion Vaes’chanan and “hearing” in Eikev : Although spiritual “hearing” is lower than the “seeing” requested by Moshe, nevertheless, since it is accomplished through man’s service (unlike “seeing,” which comes as a free gift from above), it can permeate an individual in a more profound manner.

The differences between the two sections of the Shema can be understood accordingly: When there is illumination from above, as in the section related in Vaes’chanan , a person is able to exceed the usual limitations and act “with all your might.” However, when speaking of what man can achieve strictly on his own — the level of the second section of Shema — then spiritual service is limited to what can be accomplished by “all your heart and all your soul.”

And, since the Torah reflects G‑dliness as it descends — without change — from above, this being the general content of the first section of Shema , there Torah precedes mitzvos. Mitzvos , on the other hand, emphasize man’s service, the theme of the second section of Shema. The second section therefore has mitzvos preceding Torah.

So too regarding the need to describe the reward for performing mitzvos : only on the lower level of Eikev is it necessary to emphasize the reward; at the level of Vaes’chanan, a person performs mitzvos for his own sake.

Nevertheless, the merit of the Shema as related in Eikev remains, for as mentioned above, there is great value in the seemingly lower service of “hearing.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, pp. 79-84