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  • Writer's pictureAliza Davidovit

If


There are many eloquent words in the dictionary, even very long ones, such as Floccinaucinihilipilification. At 29 letters, it is considered one of the longest words in the English language. Ironically, the word is much ado about nothing and means "the estimation of something as valueless." It seems like a lot of effort at articulation to deem something worthless.

Conversely, the word "if," so short and succinct, is often underestimated, yet it is the steering wheel of life. It is upon this very simple two-lettered swivel point that our entire lives spin. We learn the conditional value of "if" early on in childhood: "If you behave, you will get a toy"; "If you eat your spinach, you can have cake." It's a slippery word that slides so easily off our tongues that we don't take notice of how it controls us day in and day out. This pattern continues throughout our lives, subtly guiding us in making choices based on the conditions we believe are necessary for success, happiness or fulfillment.

The Jewish people, during their forty years of wandering in the desert, also fell prey to the allure of "ifs." They attributed their rebellious nature and disobedience to external factors blaming the harsh desert conditions for their actions. Instead of taking personal responsibility for their wrongdoings, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they reassigned blame. The final finger points to the snake. What is part of the ultimate punishment? "He (man) will crush your head, and you (the serpent) will bite his heel."

That brings us to this week's Torah reading, called Eikev. G-d brings the Jews to the border of the Promised Land with an "if" of His own. Basically, He tells the Jewish people that they will be impervious to anything harmful, such as illness, famine, enemies, drought, infertility, etc., on the proviso, "IF" they keep His laws.

But in the Hebrew text, the same word used to imply "if"—the word ekev—also means "heel," as in the heel of a foot. In short, the same foot that hits the pavement to usher them into the land has the ability to pivot—to turn on one's heel—and to drive them out if they stray from G-d's laws. The snake, i.e., the evil inclination, is always waiting to bite our heel and poison our will to serve G-d. It helps manufacture the "ifs" that cloud our judgment and pollute our souls. G-d promises protection and blessings for the Jewish people on the condition that they follow His laws faithfully. But He also warns them that straying from His guidance can lead to adverse consequences. So, it is up to us to crush the snake's head to protect our own.

How often do we hear people say, "If I had more money, I wouldn't work on the Sabbath or give charity," or "If I were married, I'd keep kosher"? Our entire lives hang on "if." When we start doing what we must and stop making excuses why we can't, we will find G-d there to sustain us; for, "Man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live."

This principle extends beyond our relationship with G-d and permeates our personal lives as well. Relying on "ifs" to justify our inaction or misbehaviors will only hinder our progress. Instead, we must be courageous and embrace the moment. Realize each second is a test and an opportunity to squeeze out the light. The perfect time and place rarely align. We have to break free from the constraints of "ifs" and take charge of our lives. And so, perhaps the best sentence starting with the word "if" is from the great Rabbi Hillel who said, "If not now, when?"

Shabbat Shalom!

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