The Mitzvot We Perform with Our Feet

Posted on August 7, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, opens with words of encouragement to walk in God’s ways and to obey God’s commandments.

“v’haya eikev tishmaun…” It shall come to pass if you observe God’s rules… that God will … bless you and multiply you…” (Deuteronomy 7:12)

The word eikev is most interesting. Its plain meaning is, “as a result of,” or, “as a consequence of,” reminding us that our choices matter. But the root of the word eikev, ayin, kuf, bet, reveals something deeper that caught the attention of our Sages.

The same root, ayin, kuf, bet forms the word akeiv, meaning the heel of one’s foot. Eikev, then, means that which follows on the heels of one’s actions; that which results from our choices. The midrash, however, plays with the more literal meaning of the root in order to teach a valuable lesson.

“This verse,” say the sages, “refers to those commandments which we perform with our feet.” (Tzena U’rena, Eikev)

What are the mitzvot that we perform with our feet? “Going to the synagogue or to the beit midrash to study Torah, visiting the sick, accompanying the dead to their final rest, or comforting mourners,” says the midrash. Not surprisingly, the teaching also highlights the importance of guarding our steps to avoid the paths which lead to shame and transgression. In other words, it warns us to “watch our step!”

I love this reminder that we can do many mitzvot with our feet. For instance, showing up at the right time in the right place really does make a difference – to those who need our help or our care, to the advancement of causes we believe in, to our own wellbeing, and so much more.

Guarding our steps, is also a matter of great significance. In this time of pandemic, of insisting that black lives matter, and of seeking environmental justice and responsibility, it behooves us to give great thought and care to our footprints. Are we treading upon our neighbors and their rights by the steps we take? How heavy is our carbon footprint? Are we guilty of having stood idly by the blood of our neighbors of color over decades of injustice as the weight of feet and knees crushed hopes and dignity, and the very breath of life?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described his experience of marching in Selma, Alabama with John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in this poignant way. “I felt that I was praying with my feet,” he said.

We can trample and defile with our feet. And we can pray and bless and run to do God’s work with our feet. We can develop precious empathy by imagining what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of those we might judge, and we can make it our business to go the extra mile to make a difference in the lives of others.

On this Shabbat eikev, may we be inspired to run to do mitzvot that we may be blessed to walk on the path of the righteous. And let us hold fast to the Torah and its teachings whose “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17)

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck