Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 71ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 641ff

Nothing Comes Unearned

One of the fundamental principles of Chassidic thought is that all revelations of G‑dliness are dependent on man’s Divine service. Even revelations which transcend our mortal grasp must be drawn down through our own efforts.

The above also applies to the revelations of the Era of the Redemption. In that era, it will be seen that our world is G‑d’s dwelling. And just as a person reveals his true self at home, so too, at that time, G‑d’s true self, as it were the essential aspects of His Being will be perceived in this material world.

These revelations will not, however, come about merely as an expression of Divine favor. Instead, they will have been ushered in by our deeds and our Divine service during the era of exile.1 And more particularly, it is the response to the challenges that arise during the era of ikvesa diMeshicha the current age, when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard which will precipitate Mashiach’s coming.2

Responding to G‑dliness

An intellectually honest person is, however, prompted to ask: How can our Divine service bring Mashiach ? Mankind was on a higher spiritual level in previous generations, and seemingly displayed a greater commitment to Divine service. How can our efforts accomplish a purpose that theirs failed to achieve?3

These questions can be resolved by contrasting our Divine service during the era of exile with that carried out at the time of the Beis HaMikdash. In our prayers,4 we say “we are unable to go up, and to appear and bow down before You.” When a person came to the Beis HaMikdash and appeared before G‑d, he had a direct appreciation of G‑dliness.5 And as a spontaneous reaction, he prostrated himself. This was not merely a superficial act. On the contrary, experiencing G‑dliness directly spurred complete homage, motivating men to willingly forgo all personal concerns and subordinate every aspect of their being to G‑d.

During the era of exile, by contrast, G‑dliness is not apparent, and our commitment is not triggered by external factors. Instead, it must come as a result of our own initiative.

When G‑dliness shines openly, the revelation draws a person to Divine service, and causes him to feel satisfaction in this endeavor. When, by contrast, G‑dliness is not overtly revealed, commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos requires more self-sacrifice.

A Point in Soul Above “I”

When focusing on the extent of commitment how much of a person’s character is given over to Divine service there is no question that the Jews who lived during the time of the Beis HaMikdash possessed an advantage. G‑dliness permeated every aspect of their being.

Nevertheless, the very fact that this commitment absorbed their minds and their feelings indicates that it left room for a sense of self. Their Divine service had an “I,” albeit an “I” of holiness.

In the time of exile, by contrast, a person’s Divine service occupies less of his conscious thought, and there is less external motivation. For us today, making a commitment to Divine service, and abiding by it, reflects the workings of an inner potential that transcends the conscious self. A modern believer must go beyond all concepts of a personal “I”. It is not his thoughts or his feelings, but rather his true self, the aspect of his being which is totally identified with G‑dliness, which motivates this expression of his conduct.

This reflects a deeper dimension of soul and a deeper commitment to G‑d than was revealed during the time of the Beis HaMikdash.

A Channel for the Soul’s Power

These concepts are related to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Eikev. Eikev literally means “heel,” and refers to ikvesa diMeshicha,6 the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard. Moreover, the connection between this era and “heels” runs deeper. The human body is used as a metaphor7 to describe the Jewish nation as it has existed over the ages. In that context, our present generation can be compared to the heel the least sensitive limb in the body for we lack the intellectual and emotional sophistication of our forebears.

Indeed, our Sages8 refer to the heel as “the Angel of Death within man.” Nevertheless, we find that the heel possesses an advantage over the other limbs. It is the part of the body that yields most easily to the will. For example, it is easier to put one’s heel into very hot or very cold water than to immerse any other limb.

One might say that this advantage is a result of the heel’s lack of sensitivity. Because the heel is furthest removed from the influence of the heart and mind, it offers less resistance to orders which run contrary to one’s thoughts and feelings.

Chassidus9 explains, however, that there is a deeper dimension to the heel’s responsiveness. The heel is uniquely structured to express the power of the will. Our wills are channels for the expression of our souls, and of all the limbs in the body, it is the heel which displays the most active obedience to this potential.

Our minds and hearts are mediums for the expression of our conscious potentials. And our heels are mediums for the expression of our inner will, which transcends conscious thought.

Similarly, in the analogy, it is the souls that can be compared to “heels,” the people living in ikvesa diMeshicha, whose commitment expresses inner power, and manifests the infinite potential of the G‑dly spark in each of us.

Just Recompense

Other interpretations10 explain that the word eikev refers to “The End of Days” when the ultimate reward for observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will blossom. Indeed, the beginning of the Torah reading focuses on the reward we will receive for our Divine service.

This prompts a question: Since the mitzvos are G‑dly, how can any material benefit possibly serve as fair recompense?

The answer to this question has its source in our Sages’ statement:11 “The reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah.” The fundamental reward for observance of a mitzvah is the connection to G‑d which such observance establishes.12

The rewards of health, success, and material well-being mentioned by the Torah are merely catalysts, making possible our observance. For when a person commits himself to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, G‑d shapes his environment to encourage that observance. As the Rambam states:13

If you will serve G‑d with happiness and observe His way, He will bestow these blessings upon you… so that you will be free to gain wisdom from the Torah and occupy yourself in it.

These benefits of observance, however, are not ends in themselves, but merely help men reach their ultimate goal: the service of G‑d.

The real benefits mankind will receive will be in the Era of the Redemption, when:

There will be neither famine nor war, nor envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be as freely available as dust.14

And yet, man should not strive for this era merely in order to partake of its blessings.

The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Era of Mashiach in order to rule over the entire world, nor in order to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them.15

It is the observance of the Torah and the connection to G‑d which this engenders which should be the goal of all our endeavors.

Realization of the Mission

The two interpretations of the word eikev are interrelated. For it is the intense commitment that characterizes our Divine service during ikvesa diMeshicha which will bring the dawning of the era when we will be able to express that commitment without external challenge. Heartfelt dedication to the Torah today will bear fruit, leading to an age in which the inner spark of G‑dliness which inspires our observance will permeate every aspect of existence. “For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”16