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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Deuteronomy/Dvarim - Ekev
Blossoming in Exile

Posted 2008 - Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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"In days to come "Yakov" (the Jewish people) will take root and "Yisrael" (also the Jewish people) will blossom." (opening verse of this weeks' Haftarah. The connection with the Parsha - Shemot, is obvious. Yakov went to Egypt with only a small family consisting of seventy souls and in no time grew (blossomed) into an entire nation counting millions of people.

'Yakov will take root' speaks about the time in exile. 'Yisrael will blossom' speaks about the time of the redemption.

Why is it that only by being in exile we blossom?

The answer lies in the difference between the names Yakov and Yisrael:

"Yakov" is a low level, It has the word Ekev - heel - in it. The heel is the lowest part of the body. Yakov got his name because at birth he was holding onto Esav's heel. On the level of Yakov there is room for negative elements – Esav. "Vaya'akveni Zeh Pa'amaim" Yakov tricked Esav - twice. Tricking is not a show of strength (a positive element) but rather it is a negative element.

"Yisrael" when spelled a little differently makes up the words "Li Rosh" - I have a head. The head is the highest part of the body. Yakov was renamed Yisrael after he fought with Esav's guardian angel and won him. On this level Esav's spiritual backup doesn't have any power over Yakov - there is no room for negative elements.

How do we plant a tree?

Take a slice of a sweet apple, stick it into the ground and wait to see the results. Call me when you get tired of waiting.

Take a tasteless seed and stick it into the ground. A new tree full of delicious apples will start growing. (Don't wait for this one either)

The seed itself doesn't grow into a tree though. First it decays in the ground. Only after it is gone the new tree can start growing. This is the concept of bittul. Self-nullification.

The very foundation of our religion is this concept of bittul.

When G-d offered us the Torah, we answered "na'ase venishma. "We will do and (only after we start doing) we'll hear (understand)".

We do a mitzvah because we are commanded to do so. With or without understanding the reason why. Before we perform a mitzvah we say a blessing containing the words asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu. Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us We do it because we were told to do so. A Jew feeds the hungry because it is a mitzvah not because he understands that it is the right thing to do. A Jew doesn't steal because it is a mitzvah not to steal, not because it is morally wrong.

When it comes to Torah study it is a little different. Just reading the words without understanding is not enough. The learner has to use HIS mind in order to understand what he is learning. On the other hand the study has to be done with kabalat ol, because Hashem commanded him to study. The only way to come to deep understanding of the Torah is when it is being studied with the One who gave the Torah in mind as well.

In other words: the way to became Yisrael –li rosh, we need Yakov, the bittul –self-nullification of the heel.

Also: in order to receive the Torah and serve Hashem as the Jewish people, a descent to the lowest levels called Egypt had to happen first.

What it means in our lives.

The souls of the Jewish people are rooted on a very high level. 7 things came before (= on a higher level) the world. …the torah and the Jewish people. Between those two the Jewish people must have been first (= more important) because the Torah addresses itself to the children of Israel. Daber el bnei Yisrael etc. They were there to be spoken to.

We say every morning 'atah nafachta bi' you blew my soul into me. This is based on a verse in the torah relating the creation of Adam. 'He blew life into him.' When a person blows, he blows from his inner depths. Similarly the soul comes from the inner depths, so to speak, of Hashem

Take a stone and throw it. If there is a wall standing in front of you, the stone will fall down. Throw a little harder and the stone will bounce off the wall and, if enough power used, will come back to where it was thrown from. The harder you throw, the more it will come back.

Hashem 'blows' our soul into us with all his might. In order to return all the way to its source (Yisrael), it has to bounce off at the wall. It has to go down to the lowest level. It has to come down into a body in this physical world. –Yakov, the heel.

In this world it has to act like a Yakov. Perform Mitzvot because Hashem commanded them and learn Torah with the realization that it is Hashem's wisdom.

Before the final blossoming of Yisrael -soon when Moshiach comes- a long 1900+ years exile is needed. We should always keep in mind that whatever negative happens in this world is only part of the preparation for the much brighter future. It is the decaying seed that is about to produce a blossoming tree. By going about our divine service like a tasteless seed, doing what we have to do no matter how little we understand why Hashem tells us to do it, we can hasten the coming of Moshiach and the final redemption when the third beit hamkidash will be rebuild in our capital Yerushalayim. May it be right now.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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