Moshe makes a point of telling the gathered people not to overlook things they aren’t keen on:
וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֹתָם-וְשָׁמַר ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ, אֶת-הַבְּרִית וְאֶת-הַחֶסֶד, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע, לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ – When you finally listen (עֵקֶב) to the laws, observe and perform them; Hashem will safeguard you, and uphold the covenant sworn to your fathers. (7:12)
עֵקֶב is the word for “heel”; it denotes some definition of stepping. Keep the mitzvos that are neglected, and God safeguards you.
R’ Shlomo Farhi observes that the conclusion of that section evokes nearly identical imagery:
כָּל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר תִּדְרֹךְ כַּף רַגְלְכֶם בּוֹ לָכֶם יִהְיֶה מִן הַמִּדְבָּר וְהַלְּבָנוֹן מִן הַנָּהָר נְהַר פְּרָת וְעַד הַיָּם הָאַחֲרוֹן יִהְיֶה גְּבֻלְכֶם. לֹא יִתְיַצֵּב אִישׁ בִּפְנֵיכֶם פַּחְדְּכֶם וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם יִתֵּן | יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תִּדְרְכוּ בָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָכֶם – Every place the soles of your feet tread will be yours… No man will rise up before you; the Lord will cast fear of you and the dread of you on the land upon which you tread… (11:24,25)
The conquest of Israel is through תִּדְרֹךְ כַּף רַגְלְכֶם. But that is not actually a method of acquisition at all. R’ Farhi teaches that the meaning here mirrors that of earlier. The beginning and end of the parsha denote the entirety of a journey – by understanding the true sanctity of what is “stepped on” – you become someone who treads carefully, and grows and acquires through his steps.
However – this is only true if we internalise the lesson of וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן. What if we don’t get it?
The very next sentence, the opening of the next section, addresses this:
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָֽה – See how I place before you a blessing and a curse… (11:26)
רְאֵה – “Look; see! I need you to get this!”
The definition of the curse is not having the crystal clarity of the lesson. It would be impossible to sin, the way you don’t put your hand in a fire. It’s about perception; like associating a cigarette as death.
Through not following everyone else’s footsteps you blaze a trail of your own.
Rivka had a difficult pregnancy and was often pained. One particular time, she lamented:
וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה.
Chazal understand that each time she walked past a holy place, one child would agitate, and each time she walked past a place of idolatry, the other would agitate.
Not yet knowing it was twins, she could not understand what she was experiencing – לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי – (Literally) “Why is this happening to me?”.
She inquired her about her condition, and learned she was expecting twins, calming her:
וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה וַיֹּאמֶר ה לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנך – She went to a prophet, and he said to her, “There are two nations within you”.
But if what bothered her was the children moving around, how does the new information that she was expecting twins address the issue?
R’ Chaim Brown suggests a fascinating resolution. When Moshe reviews the Torah in his final speech to the people, he tells them:
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָֽה – See how I place before you a blessing and a curse… Good and Evil. (11:26)
The obvious meaning is that there is a choice between two archetypes: good and evil, and we are implored to choose wisely.
But there is a different implication. אָנֹכִי means the first person, the self, “I”. What kind of אָנֹכִי do we each wish to be?
Tying this to Rivka’s problem, R’ Brown frames her problem and resolution in a different light:
לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי – where is the אָנֹכִי in this child? Does he want to go to holy places, or serve idols? This child has no אָנֹכִי – he is confused! And the prophet replied to her:
שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵך – It is not one confused child, there are two distinct אָנֹכִי archetypes. With this, she was comforted. In a sense, this is the choice laid before us each and every day. With each choice and action, we get to choose to align closer with one way or another. Let’s make it count.
The Torah affirms the importance of charity:
עשר תעשר – you shall tithe… (14:22)
A double statement means to repeatedly do it, an unlimited amount of times. The difficulty this poses is that the Gemara in Kesubos caps the permissible amount of charity at no more than 20% income. These are mutually exclusive concepts.
The Vilna Gaon deduces that if the Torah requires endless generosity, it can only be that the reward for charity is the ability to give more, without hindering the giver. The Gemara in Taanis therefore says that עשר בשביל שתתעשר – a person will never be limited in their ability to to give charity over time.
The people are presented with a very clear choice regarding their futures:
רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה – Behold, I am giving before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)
Curiously, there is transition from singular – רְאֵה – to the plural – לִפְנֵיכֶם. The choice presented is clearly by God – why specify אָנכִי then; who else would be speaking? It is also given in the present tense – נתֵן – when it ought to say נתתי – ‘I have given’, and with emphasis on הַיּוֹם – today. Further, why is the choice לִפְנֵיכֶם – ‘before you’, and not לכם – ‘to you’?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the choice is not a general stand alone principle; it is a personal, ever-relevant choice. Anyone, at anytime, can become something more, and can repair past misdeeds. Hashem is נתן – ‘giving’ us the choice – in the present tense. The opportunity is always there.
This is accentuated – הַיּוֹם – ‘today’; forget about yesterday. Chazal understand that a Baal Teshuva is like a newborn; a new person by turning over a new leaf.
Despite the niggling self-doubt in the recesses of the mind at the ability to change, Hashem assures that you are not alone – אָנכִי – “I am with you in the struggle”. The Gemara teaches that the evil inclination seeks to consume and destroy mankind, and without God’s help we would be powerless to resist. God is with us.
But the choice remains ours. We have to exercise our free will and make the decision. God can only present the opportunity – אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם.
R Yitzchak Lande points out that the Torah frequently switches from plural to singular, to teach that although there is an expectation of society – every single Jew has to participate. And if society aren’t doing it, you have to do it on your own.
In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to be running away.