Please take a moment to say Tehillim for a father of four, suffering from cancer, and now in critical condition. Needs our tefillot.
Rashi, in his opening comments to Parashat Eikev, famously cites a Midrashic interpretation (from the Midrash Tanchuma) of the word “eikev” used in the introductory verse to this parasha. Moshe in this verse promises Benei Yisrael rewards as a result of – “eikev” – their observance of the Torah’s laws, but the Midrash finds an allusion in the word eikev to the word akeiv – “heel.” It explains that Moshe refers here to, in Rashi’s words, “the ‘light’ mitzvot which a person tramples with his heel.” The Midrash here emphasizes the need to observe even those mitzvot which people tend to neglect or overlook.
We might wonder why the Midrash describes disregard for mitzvot with the image of “trampling.” Is there no a difference between neglecting certain religious responsibilities and “trampling” on them? Is it not possible for a person to be guilty of paying insufficient attention to certain mitzvot without scorning them or showing them contempt?
Perhaps, we could suggest that the Midrash here speaks of a particular kind of neglect, one which is fundamentally justifiable. We “trample” on something when we walk, as we make our way somewhere, and do not find the object on the ground valuable enough to take the time to avoid stepping on it. Generally, this happens in rushed situations, when we hurry and focus exclusively on reaching our destination, such that we cannot pay attention to things lying on the ground in our path. Translating this image into the Midrash’s analogy, we might suggest that is speaks of pressing circumstances, or situations of urgency, when a certain mitzva is, rightfully, “trampled” upon. There are times when different values conflict, and we need to choose one at the expense of the other. The most obvious example is situations of risk to life, when we must do all we can to rescue the person in danger, without paying heed to Torah laws which must be violated in the process. Another example might be a person who faces a grave crisis in his family which requires him to focus all his energy and effort on his family, and cannot involve himself in communal affairs or other valuable mitzva pursuits. More generally, it is understood that parents during the child-rearing years will likely be unable to set aside the kind of large periods of time for Torah study as those who have yet to marry or whose children are grown. The limitations of life force us to choose between competing values, often resulting in our understandable “trampling” of one in favor of another which rightfully takes priority.
The Midrash here thus perhaps seeks to warn against complete disregard of the mitzvot which we need to set aside for the sake of others. Even when we are forced to prioritize some mitzvot over others, we must be mindful of the mitzvot to which we cannot currently tend, and ensure not to belittle their importance. Although certain mitzvot are, in Rashi’s words, “kalot” (“light”), and thus give way to other mitzvot in situations of conflict, their “light” stature does not mean they can be ignored altogether. We must retain our full, unwavering commitment and devotion to all the Torah’s laws, even those which are occasionally overridden by others.