It seems that this is likely what Moshe had in mind. At the beginning of chapter 8, he cautions the nation that they should observe “the entire commandment;” suggesting that selective attention to ritual must be avoided in favor of taking on the whole enchilada.
Is this setting the bar a little too high for the average Jew? Even in antiquity, no one person could observe all 613 commandments. In modernity, how much more so? Does Judaism give us the right, the responsibility, or the imperative to select those mitzvot we can take to fruition and perform in their entirety while avoiding or delaying those which we either reject or will not be able to fulfill?
Rashi again gives us a little more insight. In his commentary to “the entire commandment” he offers the following caveat: the mitzva belongs to the one who brings it to fruition. The example he gives is that of bringing Jacob’s bones to the Promised Land for burial. Joseph and his brother received the imperative, Moshe was charged with carrying it out but since he was unable to see the task to its end, Israel themselves received credit for fulfilling Jacob’s wishes. Rashi’s commentary quotes a source which highlights the word “the.” The implication of the added article is that if the standard applied to all of the mitzvot, it would have read “all commandments.” The addition of “the” suggests that any individual commandment which one ventures to undertake should be done in its entirety, but, failing that, the one who completes it receives the bulk of the credit.
That changes things. The Torah text and the associated commentaries teach us that:
1. No commandment (mitzva) is worthy of being “trampled” or trivialized.
2. Accepting mitzvot is not an all or nothing proposition.
3. Taking on any mitzva means making a commitment to see it through.
4. If you do not have the ability to complete a mitzva on your own, it may still be completed.
In other words, there is no reason to not continue striving to bring more of our tradition into your life. Whether practically, ritually, ethically, or spiritually, there are multiple points of entry from which you can enrich your personal situation. Choose one, do it, and do it as best you can. Then choose another. The greater the variety of colors on your palette, the more you can paint.
What holds us back is either a reticence to commit, a fear of failure, or simple lack of initiative. This week we will bless the month of Elul, the last month of the year before the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. That gives us a month and a week before Rosh Hashana. It’s time for us to consider how we want to change and grow for the coming year of 5783. What can you add? What can you change? Where have you been successful, and where have you fallen short? Can you come to the New Year with a plan for self-growth, or are you content to continue where you were? Parshat Ekev is uniquely situated to raise these issues for us. It’s not surprising that this parsha, so dedicated to inspiring the observance of G-d’s commandments, only offers 8 new ones. The rest are referred to generally; suggesting that the vast array of practical and spiritual possibilities are open to possibility, and ready to claim. In Pirkei Avot, we are taught to rush to complete an easy mitzva as much as a difficult one, since one mitzva leads to another. With such a wealth of possibilities past, present, and future available to us, What will you claim as your own?
As always, call, email, or stop by to talk if you’d like a few personal suggestions….
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen