Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 71ff.

I. There are several interpretations of the phrase:1 Vihayah eikev tishmaun, “And when it will ultimately come to pass that you heed....” Among them:

a) Eikev refers to a category of mitzvos: “Easy mitzvos which a person dash biakavav (tramples with his heels).”2 The intent is when the Jews observe [even] this type of mitzvos, [they will be granted the rewards mentioned in the parshah].

b) Eikev refers to ikvesa diMeshicha (“the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard”).3 The intent of the verse is that in the time of ikvesa diMeshicha, the Jews will certainly observe the mitzvos. This parallels the promise given in Parshas Nitzavim4 that before the coming of Mashiach: “You will return to G‑d your L‑rd.”

Since both of these interpretations are based on the same verse,5 and indeed, on the same word, it follows that they share a connection.

II. The above concepts can be understood through prefacing the explanation of this passage. After stating: “And when it will ultimately come to pass that you heed these judgments...,” the verse continues: “G‑d, your L‑rd, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your ancestors.”

This verse raises questions: There are two general patterns to the influence which is granted from above:

a) influence which is granted to a person because of his good conduct; he earns what he is given, and

b) influence which is granted to a person [even] when he is not worthy. This influence stems from G‑d’s kindness. (To cite a parallel: the 26 generations that existed before the giving of the Torah and received their sustenance because of the generosity of the Holy One, blessed be He.6)

[Influence] which the Jews receive because of “the covenant and the kindness that He swore....” [is of the second type]. Because of “the covenant which G‑d established with our ancestors and the oath which He swore to them,” it is fitting to give the Jews all good, even when they are, Heaven forbid, not worthy of it.7

{To cite an analogy: When two faithful friends make a covenant between themselves, their intent is that even if over time, difficulties would arise that would usually lead to feelings contrary to love, their covenant will help that their love will not be weakened.8

Similarly, with regard to an oath: an oath reflects a very strong resolve to carry out the action concerning which the oath was taken. Even if there will be obstacles and constraints, and logic could provide reason why not to carry out that action, because of the oath, the person will not take into account any calculations of this nature and will carry out his oath, regardless of the circumstances.9}

Thus explanation is necessary: G‑d will certainly “safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore” regardless. Why does the verse make this dependent on the fact that “It will ultimately come to pass that you heed these judgments”? Conversely, when the Jews “heed these judgments” and observe even the mitzvos which a person tramples with his heels, they have earned reward. Why then are they dependent on G‑d’s covenant, kindness and oath?10

III. The above questions can be resolved as follows: When a person gives a colleague a present which that colleague did not earn, [the recipient does not feel entirely satisfied]. The gift is “bread of shame,”11 [because] it is unearned.

G‑d desires to give the Jews consummate good. Therefore He ordained that all Divine influence, even that which transcends the Seder HaHishtalshelus, [the spiritual cosmos,] would be drawn down by [the Jews’] Divine service. Although this Divine service cannot (on its own accord) evoke such influence,12 [G‑d ordained that it do so]. [He also ordained that] the Divine service [which draws down this transcendent influence] will be representative13

As such (although the influence would come as a result of Divine service), it could still be considered similar to “bread of shame,” for the influence is not [evoked by the Divine service] in a cause and effect relationship. (See similar explanations in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 1009.) Hence, this could not be considered as consummate good. of that influence.14

Therefore, Divine service is necessary even [to draw down] influence that stems from G‑d’s “covenant and kindness that He swore to your ancestors.” This Divine service is reflected in the phrase: Vihayah eikev tishmaun, because such Divine service is representative of “the covenant and kindness that He swore to your ancestors” (as will be explained in section VI).

Accordingly, when the Jews perform the Divine service of eikev tishmaun, they are granted from above (— not only the reward which is earned by that Divine service, i.e., influence which is commensurate to the nature of that service, but also —) unlimited influence which stems from “the covenant and kindness that He swore to your ancestors.”

IV. The above concepts can be understood by prefacing [another concept] — the advantage of the Divine service performed by the Jews in the era of exile over the Divine service in the era of the Beis HaMikdash. [More particularly,] within the era of exile itself, [this positive quality is expressed] through the Divine service in ikvesa diMeshicha,15

See also Tanya, ch. 37 (p. 48a) which states that the descent of the soul to the material plane is “actual exile.” when the darkness of the exile is very powerful.16

When a Jew performs mitzvos because G‑dly light shines overtly for him, he feels satisfied in the performance of his Divine service. Thus his own self is involved in this Divine service, and [carrying out this Divine service] does not express his bittul, self-nullification, to G‑d so thoroughly.17

When, by contrast, a person carries out Divine service in a time of [spiritual] darkness, [when he does not feel closeness to G‑d,] his self is not involved in this service. Thus this service expresses the Jews’ bittul [to G‑d].18

The new concept developed in this sichah is that there is an advantage to the bittul experienced in the era of exile. For a bittul which is prompted by [an appreciation of the revealed levels of G‑dliness] involves the selfhood of the person who becomes butel. [He appreciates and derives satisfaction from devoting himself to G‑dliness.] In the era of exile, by contrast, as explained above, [the bittul does not involve any sense of self]. See note 25.

During the era of exile,19

Nevertheless, the expression “is bonded” also alludes to the advantage achieved by the soul in its descent to the material plane. [our bittul is not as encompassing as that experienced during the era of the Beis HaMikdash.] Therefore we say:20 “We are not able to ascend, see, and prostrate ourselves before You.” This was possible only in the time of the Beis HaMikdash, when G‑dliness was overtly revealed and could [actually] be seen. As our Sages commented:21 “Just as a person came to see [G‑dliness, during the three pilgrimage festivals]; so, too, he came to appear [before G‑d].” Seeing G‑dliness motivated the person to prostrate himself as an expression of his inner spiritual experience. [It motivated him to] “nullify [his] will before [G‑d’s] will”22 entirely; he lost all conception of a personal will.23

In the era of exile, by contrast, we do not appear before G‑d and thus there is no experience of prostration. There is only an outward sense of bowing to G‑d, [i.e., the person bows to His authority]. [But even while doing so,] he realizes that he has “a will of his own and a thinking process of his own.” He merely “makes his body subservient, so that he does not rebel [against G‑d].”24

[The advantage of] the era of the Beis HaMikdash involves only the extent of the bittul. In that era, the bittul would encompass the person entirely until he “had no other will or desire at all.” In the era of exile, by contrast, a person is not permeated by bittul. On the contrary, he remains a self-conscious entity and merely subjugates himself to G‑d’s [will].

On the other hand, when speaking about the nature of the bittul [experienced, there is an advantage to] the submission [of the era of exile].25 The very fact that it does not involve the person’s self26 indicates that it is true bittul. [Certainly, it possesses] a disadvantage, the bittul has not permeated his being and he remains a yesh, a self-conscious entity. Nevertheless, the bittul which he does express (in his external [conduct]) is true bittul.27

A faithful servant, by contrast, makes the decision to serve his master on his own volition. Accordingly, he always retains a certain dimension of self. And since his commitment revolves around his self, it may change according to the fluctuations of his moods.]

The bittul experienced in the era of the Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, involved the revelation of G‑dly light. In essence, this is not bittul at all, for one’s bittul involves one’s own personal self, as explained above.28

[Trans. Note: In the higher spiritual realms, there is a greater awareness of G‑dliness. But that awareness also involves a negative dimension. For by definition, the concept of understanding implies that the entity which understands exists and possesses a certain degree of importance. In our material realm, we do not have any direct awareness of G‑dliness. Our relation to Him is based solely on the acceptance of His yoke. Nevertheless, we do not attach any importance to ourselves at all. All that is significant — and indeed, all that exists — is Him.]

V. Every intellectual concept ultimately comes to expression in actual deed. The advantage of the eikev, the heel, which is expressed in the Divine service of the generations of ikvesa diMeshicha is manifest in the observance of “easy mitzvos which a person is dash biakavav (tramples with his heels).”

When a person’s Divine service involves his personal identity, there is a difference between one mitzvah and another. There are some mitzvos that are connected with the head, and a higher level of Divine light shines within them. [Hence,] such a person will view them as more precious than the mitzvos which are connected with the heel.

When, by contrast, a person’s observance of the mitzvos stems from kabbalas ol, in response to the command of the Master, he will fulfill all the mitzvos in the same manner.29 For from the standpoint of the Commander (i.e., His will),30

This classification applies only with regard to our perspective, how mortals view the mitzvos. From G‑d’s perspective, all of the mitzvos reflect His will. If one mitzvah — whichever mitzvah that might be — is not fulfilled, His will has not been satisfied. Thus from His perspective, there is a fundamental equality to all mitzvos. There is no difference between the belief in G‑d, Shabbos, and seemingly minor precepts involving agricultural produce. Both represent G‑d’s will. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, p. 151, where this concept is explained.] there is no difference between the mitzvos which appear as most trifling and those which are of the greatest severity.31

VI. On this basis, we can understand the connection between Vihayah eikev tishmaun, “And when it will ultimately come to pass that you heed these judgments...,” and the conclusion of the verse: “G‑d, your L‑rd, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your ancestors.”

The observance of mitzvos that stems from an appreciation of the G‑dly light [associated with them] relates to the level of G‑dliness which shines to the created beings, i.e., a rung in which He contracts Himself32 according to the perception of the created beings so that they can comprehend Him.33

Nevertheless, even bittul [stemming from] this level [has its limitations]. [It leads a person merely to the awareness that] “everything is of no importance before You.” “The person experiencing that perception continues to exist ... although his existence becomes totally nullified because of this perception.” The bittul of “there is nothing else,” that a person ceases to exist entirely, stems from G‑d’s essence (see the maamarim entitled U’Lekachtem and Ein Omdin, loc. cit.). It does not relate to the level of G‑dliness which transcends the tzimtzum. For with regard to this level, it is said:34 “No thought can grasp Him at all.”

Indeed, since “He exists alone, and there is truly nothing aside from Him,” when a person performs Divine service because he appreciates that light is generated, his own identity is involved, and he acts in opposition to G‑d’s essence.35

When, by contrast, a person’s Divine service is motivated by kabbalas ol, eikev tishmaun, his own intellect and his own self are not at all involved. This leads to (the revelation of) G‑d’s essence, how He exists within the context of His own self, as it were.36

Therefore, the verse states that when eikev tishmaun, “when it will ultimately come to pass that you heed these judgments...,” “G‑d, your L‑rd, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your ancestors.” [Divine influence which transcends the limits of intellect will be drawn down.] For through Divine service that reflects the level of eikev, we become37 a medium38

Similar concepts apply with regard to kabbalas ol. On one hand, it possesses a disadvantage when compared to the revealed powers of G‑d, for they express different dimensions of His being and, kabbalas ol is simple. Conversely, however, this simplicity a) does not prevent the expression of His essence as the revealed powers do, and b) serves as a medium through which His essence is manifest.] for G‑d’s essence.

VII. On several occasions,39 it has been explained at length that the ultimate intent [of creation] is that even those Divine energies which transcend the spiritual cosmos should be expressed in a revealed manner40 and should be internalized. Therefore it is necessary that the kabbalas ol which is rooted in the essence of the soul and which is connected with the essence of G‑d be revealed in an internalized manner.

Thus both positive qualities are necessary: The person must observe the Torah and its mitzvos (not because of his own personal feelings), but because of his devotion and bittul to G‑d which transcend his comprehension. This bittul, however, must permeate the totality of his being, to the extent that this also becomes his [source of] satisfaction.

This [sequence is] alluded to by the fact that directly after Parshas Eikev, we read Parshas Re’eh. At the beginning of a person’s Divine service, he stands on the level of eikev — he lacks the ability to “see” G‑dliness (as explained above, section IV). On the contrary, his Divine service is on the level of tishmaun [which literally means “hear”].41 This approach, however, leads to re’eh — seeing — (and not seeing according to the approach of the revealed powers of G‑dliness, but instead) Re’eh Anochi, the revelation of G‑d’s essence.

VIII. Based on the above, we can also explain the order of the first three parshiyos and haftoros of the seven Shabbosos of comfort.42 The beginning and the source of influence for every matter is an arousal from above.43 Therefore on the first Shabbos after Tishah BeAv — i.e., the beginning of the Divine service after the destruction, [when G‑d’s presence] was withdrawn to the most lofty spiritual realms44 — we read Parshas Vaes’chanan which alludes to a matanas chinam, a gift given without obligation.45 Similarly, the haftorah which begins: “‘Take comfort, take comfort, My people,’ says your G‑d,” speaks about comfort which comes from above.

On this basis, we can also comprehend [Moshe’s request made] at the beginning of Parshas Vaes’chanan:46

See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 3c, which explains [that with these prayers, Moshe] desired to draw down the power of seeing [G‑dliness] to the Jewish people and have it internalized within them. (See ibid. 3d [which explains that] even though he was not able to accomplish this, he caused this level to affect them at least as an encompassing light.) “Please let me cross over and see...,” emphasizing the sense of sight (which is on a higher level than hearing).40 [The rationale is that] because the revelation of light that shines from above [is granted] as a gift given without obligations, G‑dliness is revealed bipishitus [as the natural framework in which we live and can be perceived through] sight.

G‑d’s essence, by contrast, is drawn down through Divine service involving an arousal from below. For an arousal from above that is granted on His initiative relates to merely the external dimensions of Divine light.47 (And the level of the external dimensions of G‑d’s light shares a connection to the created beings.) Therefore the sight which is granted as a gift without obligations relates only to these revealed levels and does not bring about true bittul. {[To cite a parallel:] As mentioned above (section IV) with regard to the prostration that was prompted by seeing [G‑dliness] (in the Beis HaMikdash48), [although the self-nullification encompassed the person entirely,] it also involved the personal identity of the individual.}

This also explains why the comfort granted by Shabbos Nachamu ([which is] Shabbos Parshas Vaes’chanan) is conveyed by the prophets. Since this refers to energy drawn down from above, [the creations of] the lower plane retain a certain element of significance.49 Therefore influence is granted to them in a manner which they can appreciate.50

This phase is followed by Divine service stemming from an arousal from below — the Jews’ drawing close to G‑d that comes (not as a result of a revelation of light from above, but) through their own Divine service.51

[To relate these concepts to the points mentioned above:] Torah study parallels drawing down influence from above [for one’s efforts are focused on appreciating G‑d’s truth], while deed corresponds to Divine service involving the material plane [for the purpose of the mitzvos is to refine our physical world] (as is evident from the passage from Or HaTorah, op. cit.). [See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 65ff., the previous essay translated in this series, which also explains this contrast.] This relates to the motif of eikev tishmaun, that even on the level of the heel where G‑dliness is not revealed, a Jew nullifies52 and subordinates himself to G‑d, heeding His will.53

This concept is also reflected in the Haftorah from Parshas Eikev which begins:54 “And Zion said: ‘G‑d has forsaken me and the L‑rd has forgotten me.’” This bitterness {does not come as a result of revelation from above — for on the contrary, [Zion feels] “forsaken” and “forgotten” —} but rather from mankind itself.

This also relates to the interpretation advanced by the Midrash55that “And Zion said: ‘G‑d has forsaken me and the L‑rd has forgotten me’” is a response to “Take comfort, take comfort, My people.”

“Take comfort” is a charge to the prophets to give solace to the Jewish people. The Jewish people answer: “G‑d has forsaken me”; they do not want to be comforted by the prophets, but instead, by G‑d Himself.

[This interpretation is somewhat problematic.] The Jews heard words of prophecy from [the time of] Moshe, our teacher, onward. Indeed, as the Rambam states:56 “One of the foundations of our faith is that G‑d grants prophecy to man.” [Why would they now disdain it?]

[The resolution is that] precisely when revelation is lacking, when man feels forsaken and forgotten — i.e., one is on the level of eikev — the service of tishmaun [receives prominence]. [Hence, the Jews] are not satisfied with the revealed levels [of G‑dliness communicated by the prophets]; they demand G‑d’s essence itself.57

The ultimate intent, however, is (as explained in section VII) that both advantages be combined — that the G‑dliness which surpasses entirely the rung of the created beings58 should be revealed and seen. This is reflected in the name of the parshah of the following week Re’eh Anochi — i.e., Anochi, G‑d’s essence becomes “seen,” re’eh.

This is also reflected in the haftorah of Parshas Re’eh59 which begins Aniyah soarah, “O tormented and tempestuous one, who is not comforted.”60 The statement of Zion: “G‑d has forsaken me,” rouses the prophets — G‑d’s messengers — to the acknowledgement: “O tormented and tempestu­ous one, who is not comforted.” Since the revelation comes after the Divine service of mortals (“And Zion said...”), (even though [the acknowledgement] is also communicated by the prophets,) its content61 is that comfort by the prophets is not sufficient. G‑d accepts the claim, “G‑d has forsaken me,” and the Jewish people are justified in being “tormented and tempestuous ... [and] not comforted.” What is necessary is that — as stated in the haftorah which follows —) Anochi, Anochi62 “I, surely I, will be He who comforts you.”63

It is possible to explain the order of these three parshiyos as follows: an arousal from above on G‑d’s initiative, an arousal from below, an arousal from above that comes after the arousal from below (which includes both of the advantages, as explained in section VII). This reflects the function of the first three emotional characteristics: chesed, gevurah, and tiferes. (For the seven haftoros of comfort correspond to the seven emotional qualities, of which the first three are: chesed, gevurah, and tiferes. Chesed reflects the drawing down of influence from above, gevurah, an ascent upward, and tiferes, a combination of both thrusts.

IX. Based on the above, we can also understand why Parshas Eikev is always read in the month of Av and Parshas Re’eh is read on the Shabbos on which the month of Elul is blessed, or within the month of Elul itself. The month of Av is a month of severe Divine judgment.64

* Although this is the version of the printed text of Nitzutzei Oros, it is clear that the intent is nine days. [It is very possible that a x (numerically equivalent to 60) became exchanged for a y (numerically equivalent to 9).] The original printing of Nitzutzei Oros should be checked. It is within the second forty-day period [when Moshe was on Mount Sinai,] when G‑d was “enraged.”65 Elul, by contrast, is the month of mercy66 and is included in the forty final days [when Moshe was on Sinai] which were characterized by Divine favor.

[In] the month of Av, which is characterized by severe judgment, [our people’s relationship with G‑d] is one of hiddenness and distance, [emphasizing the Divine service of] eikev, “the heel,” and being “forsaken” and “forgotten.” This, however, is the medium through which we approach the month of mercy,67 which is associated with Re’eh Anochi and the comfort which “I, surely I” will grant.

The fact that the Divine service of eikev tishmaun and the bitterness of feeling “forsaken” and “forgotten” leads to Re’eh Anochi and “I, surely I, will be He who comforts you” indicates the importance of this Divine service. For as is well known,68 a cause and a motivating factor has an advantage over the result and the effect which it brings about.

(Adapted from the maamar and the sichos
of Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5711, and Sichos Chof Av, 5729)