Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Trampled Laws

I

The mefarshim provide multiple interpretations of the opening phrase of Parshas Ekev, "V'haya ekev tishme'un eis hamishpatim ha'eileh". The simplest interpretation is that of the Chizkuni, who explains "ekev" to mean "bishvil - because", and thus the passuk means, "because you will listen to these laws, you will receive Hashem's blessing" (D'varim 7:12).

Rashi connects the word "ekev" to "akeiv - a heel", and understands the passuk to be telling us that we will receive Hashem's blessings if we will listen to the easy mitzvos that people are prone to trample with their heels. Like Rashi, Ramban understands "ekev" to refer to "akeiv - a heel", but explains the heel to refer to the end, just as the beginning is called head (rosh). As such, Ramban understands the passuk to tell us that the end result of your observance will be Hashem's reward of blessing.

Ohr Hachaim notes that "v'haya", the first word of the passuk, is an expression of joy (as we see in Bereishis Raba 42:3), and offers three interpretations based on this. The first is that true joy is achieved only at the end (ekev, like the Ramban above) of observing the mitzvos. Second, the joy of Torah study, which gladdens the heart (see Tehilim 19:9) is itself the reward (as in "ekev rav - great reward", Tehilim 19:12). And lastly, the Ohr Hachaim explains that when Am Yisrael tries its best to learn and understand Torah Hashem rejoices and, as a result, the whole world is happy. The Ohr Hachaim concludes by teaching us that Torah can only be mastered by walking humbly, as one whose akeiv - heel is near his toe, i.e. who walks with small steps which represents humility.

Finally, Kli Yakar explains ekev to refer to chukim which are mitzvos whose reasons are not apparent to us. Chukim are precisely the mitzvos that people are most likely to trample with their heels because, as Rashi explains, Satan and the nations of the world tease Am Yisrael by questioning what reason there is for the chukim (Rashi Bamidbar 19:1). That cynical ridicule leads some to treat these laws lightly and trample them with a heel, so to speak.

Kli Yakar contrasts the previous passuk (7:11) which explicitly mentions both chukim and mishpatim with our passuk which reads "ekev tishme'un eis hamishpatim" and seems to omit chukim. He dispels the seeming discrepancy by explaining that the word "ekev" refers to chukim and "eis" means "with" (see, e.g., Bamidbar 25:14), and thus the passuk calls on us to listen to the chukim together with the mishpatim. This is the source for Hashem's statement reported by the medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 846) and taught again in Avos 2:1, "Be careful with a [seemingly] 'minor' (kala) mitzva as with a major one."

The Yalkut Shimoni (ibid.) cites two pesukim: "ekev rav" (Tehilim 19:12) meaning "great reward", and, "How abundant is Your goodness that You have hidden away for those who fear You, that You have made for those who rely on You, against people" (ibid 31:20). One who relies on Hashem keeps chukim even though people tease us about them. The reward is not instant but is "hidden away", as the passuk says, in Olam Haba.

II

These timeless interpretations must guide us in spiritually challenging times. We must obey all of Hashem's laws, especially those that others trample upon. We must do so with joy and humility, especially when others demean and oppose us. Various gender issues are recent examples of areas wherein surrounding society demeans and opposes Hashem's laws.

"Hashem created man...male and female He created them...He said to them 'Be fruitful and multiply'" (Bereishis 1:27-28). Rashi (1:28) notes that women are to be more private than men and are exempted from the mitzva of procreation. Women are also exempted from time dependent positive mitzvos and the mitzva of talmud Torah (Kidushin 29). Nearly forty years ago, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l responded to what was then a new movement known as Women's Liberation (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:49). Some observant women wished to project that battle onto Jewish ritual observance by doing things like wearing a talis. Rav Moshe responded that the entire Torah was given by Hashem and it is impossible to change even one detail. He suggests that a reason for women's exemption from time dependent positive mitzvos and talmud Torah is that since women are naturally more adept at raising children, which is "the most important work for Hashem and for Torah", Hashem exempted them from the time dependent positive mtizvos and the time consuming obligation of talmud Torah. This exemption applies even if lifestyles change and women are able to arrange for others to care for their children.

Rav Moshe continued to say that no battle, even one supported by the entire world, can succeed in changing the Torah, and women who fight to change the Torah's eternal and immutable laws are heretics. If a woman wears talis or tefillin as a complaint against Hashem and His Torah it is prohibited as heresy since she thinks that it is possible to change Torah law. Rav Moshe adds that women's sanctity is equal to that of men, there is no degradation of their honor in the Torah, and there is no correct reason for them to complain. He concludes by charging a rav to explain this each time the issue arises, to be strong and protest those women who refuse to listen and stubbornly adhere to wrong ideas, and to refuse to change any holy minhag.

The movement to which Rav Moshe refers, now known as feminism or egalitarianism, continues to infiltrate Orthodox Judaism. The recent ordination of women is but one example. Unfortunately this practice is viewed by at least one of its proponents as part of an attempt to change Torah laws and ideas (see Crosscurrents July 29, 2015), precisely the heresy that Rav Moshe warned against.

This phenomenon may lead to a schism within Orthodoxy. In a very recent article (Ha'aretz July 27, 2015 - available without login from The Forward), Israeli Orthodox scholars indicate that the beliefs of liberals are really Conservative but they publicly cling to Orthodoxy because of its identity ("lifestyle, ideology, value system, social ties") and its association with authenticity. However, the "blurring of boundaries between Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism" undermines the very authenticity of self-defined Modern Orthodoxy.

Chazal discouraged Torah being taught to women, especially Talmud (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:6). The gedolim of the twentieth century (e.g. Chofetz Chaim in Likutei Halachos, Sotah 21b) understood that directive of Chazal to not be a definitive ban on women's learning Torah but rather guidance on what approach to women's chinuch would best encourage their adherence to the mesorah. Those gedolim, guided by their yiras Shomayim as well as an absolute mastery of kol haTorah kulah, understood that in light of the weakened state of the mesorah from one generation to another in the twentieth century (ibid), talmud Torah for women was a necessity to, "implant pure faith in their hearts" (Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in Moznayim L'mishpat siman 42, etc.), and as such was entirely consistent with Chazal's mandate to provide the most productive chinuch for women.

However, in the words of a "pioneer of the religious feminist wave" cited in the aforementioned article, "What is happening today is a direct continuation of the beginning of Talmud studies for religious women in the 1980's." This candid admission must, for the genuinely Orthodox, call into question the wisdom of these studies. Although there are ample reliable sources that encourage individual women who have proper yiras Shomayim and whose motives are consistent with our mesorah to further their Torah study[1], the inclusion of Talmud in curricula for all women in Modern Orthodox schools needs to be reevaluated. While the gedolim of the twentieth century saw Torah study to be a way to keep women close to our mesorah, an egalitarian attitude has colored some women's study of Talmud and led them to embrace and advocate egalitarian ideas and practices which are unacceptable to those very gedolim.

III

Women's ordination and egalitarian minyanim, the primary subjects of the aforementioned article, are part of a broader issue, "a questioning of one exclusive and absolute truth." This is the postmodern attitude that questions the Divinity (see Crosscurrents ibid), morality, and immutability of Torah law. Indeed, inclusivity and openness are, as their advocates concede, a response to the issues and challenges of the postmodern era. However, while Modern Orthodoxy, properly defined, is viable and possibly even desirable, postmodern/"Open" Orthodoxy seems to be an oxymoron.

The "precipitous move to the right within Modern Orthodoxy" is, in reality, a rejection of postmodernism. In fact, forty and fifty years ago even Conservative Judaism did not accept women's ordination[2], one manifestation of postmodernism.

Same-sex marriage, another postmodern cause celebre, was rejected in decades past even by Reform Judaism. At the time even they understood that homosexuality "is more than a violation of a mere legal enactment", and "runs counter to the sancta of Jewish life...To officiate at a so-called 'marriage' of two homosexuals...is a contravention of all that is respected in Jewish life"[3].

Responsible Open Orthodox rabbis concede that homosexual acts are, and will always be, prohibited by Torah law. The Ramban (Vayikra 18:22) writes that the reason for the prohibition is obvious: it is abominable and does not lead to procreation, the first Biblical command and the primary reason for marriage (Shulchan Aruch Even Hoezer 1:1). Nonetheless, the response of some Open Orthodox rabbis to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is disappointing, to say the least. Two days after the court issued its ruling one wrote "In the modern Orthodox world, mishkav zachar is now mutar". On the day of the ruling another wrote "'It is not good for man to be alone' (Bereishis 2:18). Mazel tov America". That passuk in fact describes the creation of woman to create a couple, not another man!

In Western society today Biblical law and near universal historical attitudes are viewed as outdated and immoral. Unfortunately even some Orthodox Jews who accept the prohibition against homosexuality as normative think that the Torah "got it wrong". As a result, it has become a chok, a law viewed by those people as without a clear reason, contrary to Ramban above. It is not surprising, then, that Satan, the nations of the world, and even liberal Jews trample this mitzvah with their heels and tease Orthodox Judaism which stubbornly clings to this eternal truth of Torah. Our resolve is now deserving of greater reward from Hashem, since we rely on Him against those who mock and deride us. Moreover, faithfully defending and interpreting the laws which society does not accept has a "redemptive influence.[4]"

The claim that these acts are now mutar echoes the aforementioned article's statement regarding egalitarian minyanim: "The train has left the station". What remains to be seen is the final destination of that train. Rabbis should not "throw stones at the windows", but they are duty-bound to caution that the passengers, sooner or later, will likely no longer be part of the eternal mesorah community of authentic Orthodoxy.

We must observe the laws upon which others trample, confident of Hashem's reward in the end. We must study Torah with joy and humility, and not dare to change it or question its Divinity, morality, or immutability. Only then can we successfully pass our sacred and eternal tradition on to future generations.


[1] See the Torah Temima's citation in parshas Ekev (11:19, end of fn. 48) and Sefer Shearith Yosef, volume 2 siman 4, by Rav Shlomo Wahrman (printed in 1981).

[2] Tomeikh Ka-Halakhah vol 1, Union for Traditional Judaism, 1986, cited in Hirhurim-Musings February 23, 2010

[3] CCAR Responsa Vol. LXXIII, 1973, pp 115-119

[4] "The Rav – Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bereshis: p.92 and pp.193-194, both excerpted in Crosscurrents, August 6, 2015.

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