Parshat Eikev: On Partial Observance

In Parshat Eikev Moshe continues his final speech to Bnei Yisrael. The language he uses provides a springboard for discussing how to relate to varying levels of commitment to Torah within our homes and communities.

Moshe teaches the reward for observing mitzvot: They will thrive, increase and possess the land of Israel. “All the commandment (כׇּל־הַמִּצְוָ֗ה) that I enjoin upon you today, you shall faithfully observe them (תִּשְׁמְר֣וּן לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת)…” First the verse refers to keeping “kol hamitzvah” which appears to be in the singular and then refers to keeping all mitzvot in the plural “tishmerun.” Moreover, the meaning of the word “kol” is unclear.

Rashi, in his usual style, first comments that “kol hamitzvah” should be understood literally, as meaning “all mitzvot,” even though the word mitzvah is singular. Yet, unsatisfied with this logical interpretation, Rashi cites the midrash Tanhuma which teaches a lesson in keeping mitzvot: If you begin a mitzvah, finish it! The word “kol” is understood as “the entirety of the mitzvah,” or “the completion of the mitzvah.” If several people take part in a mitzvah, it is the one who completes it who gets the credit. When Moshe took Yosef’s bones out of Egypt, it was Bnei Yisrael who got credit for burying them in Israel since they completed the mitzvah.

Still, the midrash recognizes that Moshe’s partial completion of a mitzvah was important, even if it is not complete fulfillment. Similarly, Rabbi Yochanan is cited in the Talmud as saying that one who learns only one statute (chok) is rewarded with a share in the World-to-Come. The Kli Yakar on our pasuk states similarly that partial completeness also works at a communal level: the transition from singular to plural in the verse implies that when an individual keeps mitzvot, there is benefit and reward for the wider community.

Perhaps Moshe understood that while completeness is the ideal, recognizing the value of partial observance encourages people to grow and take part in the Jewish community. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

3 thoughts on “Parshat Eikev: On Partial Observance

  1. Lara

    nice ideas! Piggy backing off of what you said regarding communal benefit from individuals” keeping of mitzvot, is it possible that the implication also can be that as a community, we benefit from individuals’ keeping of mitzvot and that at the communal level, the individual mitzvot get added together? (thus the transition from singular to plural….)?

    Liked by 1 person

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