The Torah portion of Eikev is named for the word “eikev ” in the portion’s first verse: “Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them….”1 Eikev also means “heel.” This gives rise to a number of commentaries by our Sages. Among them:

a) Eikev refers to those mitzvos that people treat lightly and “tread upon with their heels,”2 or “toss under their heels.”3 The verse thus implies that those commandments, too, shall be obeyed.

b) Eikev alludes to the time just before the coming of Moshiach — “On the heels of Moshiach.” The verse is thus telling us that close to Mashiach’s coming Jews will surely obey G‑d’s commands. This is in keeping with the Torah’s assurance4 that prior to Mashiach’s coming the Jews will return to G‑d.5

When there are several commentaries on the same verse in the Torah, and especially on the same word, the explanations are interrelated.6 What then is the relationship between the two above-mentioned comments on Eikev ?

Immediately following the words “Because (eikev) you listen to these laws and safeguard and keep them,” the Torah goes on to state: “G‑d your L-rd will [therefore] keep his covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers.”

Divine beneficence may come about in one of two manners:

a) It may be engendered as a result of a person’s good actions (i.e. he earns it), or it may be purely an act of G‑d’s kindness, whereby He showers goodness even upon the unworthy.

b) G‑d acts in a beneficent manner towards the Jewish people because of his covenant with our forefathers, for which reason Jews must receive all manner of good, even if they are — Heaven forfend — unworthy, and even if G‑d is not “feeling” particularly well-disposed towards them.

It would seem that in this instance G‑d has no choice, as it were, in the matter; He must provide the Jewish people with all manner of good because of the “covenant and kindness that He swore to your fathers.”

This being so, how is it that the verse makes G‑d’s “covenant and kindness” dependent on the Jews’ good behavior — “Because you listen….”? After all, the whole point of the covenant is that He will act kindly toward the Jews even when their behavior is wanting?

Conversely, when Jews do indeed “listen to these laws,” performing even those mitzvos that may be taken lightly, then it follows that they will earn G‑d’s beneficence. At such times it becomes unnecessary for G‑d to provide His benevolence because of His “covenant, kindness and oath.”7

Man enjoys that which he works for. Present a person with a gift that is wholly unearned and the recipient will accept it with a sense of shame, aware that he has done nothing to make himself worthy of the gift. Since G‑d desires to provide the Jewish people with complete goodness, He therefore established that all Divine beneficence should come as a “reward” for service.

For this reason, even that goodness which every Jew receives as a result of the “covenant and kindness that He swore” must also be engendered by spiritual toil. Furthermore, when a person does indeed “listen to these laws” he receives Divine beneficence that is truly limitless — in keeping with G‑d’s infinite “kindness that He swore,” rather than a reward commensurate with the person’s limited service.

The merit of service is particularly felt at the conclusion of the Exile, when Jews are “on the heels of the Moshiach.” For then the darkness of exile is particularly intense and the Jews’ spiritual might is waning; at that time Jews perform mitzvos not out of any sense of personal delight, but out of self-sacrifice to G‑d.

This quality found at a time when Jews are “on the heels of the Moshiach” also finds expression in the performance of those commands that a person tends to take lightly.

When a person performs mitzvos out of a sense of self, he will naturally differentiate between those that he deems more important — the level of “head” — and those that he deems of lesser importance — at the level of “heel.” When, however, mitzvos are performed solely because G‑d has so commanded, then “head” mitzvos and “heel” mitzvos will be performed with equal intensity.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. IX, pp. 71-74.