| Parshah |

Best Foot First

There are mitzvos that correspond to the head of a person and those that correspond to the heart


“And it will be, because you will listen to these laws and keep and do them, then Hashem, your G-d, will keep the covenant and the kindness that He promised to your fathers.” (Devarim 7:12)


Rashi says the word “eikev — because” is used here since it alludes to those easy mitzvos that one tramples with their “eikev — heel.” Yet a true tzaddik doesn’t degrade the mitzvos. So why use the word “heel” if it alludes to something only resha’im do? There must be deeper/further significance to the meaning. (Sefas Emes)

Her name was Bertha. I coddled and favored her and she dogged my footsteps constantly. Bertha was my right ankle. She came into existence one hot summer camp afternoon when I was 16.

During an impromptu game of Follow-the-Leader, my friends and I jumped out the dining room window. The window was only two feet high, and one by one, my friends landed safely.

I had the bad luck to land on my ankle in a small burrow hidden by the tall grass. I heard a sickening crack and knew I wasn’t going to be jumping out any more windows in the near future. Yet the X-ray showed that my ankle was only sprained, not snapped in two as I’d imagined. The injury earned me crutches and celebrity status as I got to ride up the hill for activities in the director’s aging sedan.

I named my ankle Bertha in a midnight ceremony while my bunkmates autographed my ace bandage and decorated my crutches. By the time camp was over, I was back and running, although I’d stopped using windows as exits.

There are mitzvos that correspond to the head of a person and those that correspond to the heart, and so on. There are 248 mitzvos corresponding to the 248 limbs of a person. The mitzvos that correspond to the heel of a person are those that fall into the category of “easy” mitzvos.

Youth has a short-term memory and I ignored the occasional twinges of pain Bertha sent my way when I neglected to care for her properly. Places to go, people to see. I continued to leap through life determined not to be hampered by a bad-tempered ankle.

I was running a Bnos carnival when Bertha decided she was tired of being ignored. Two little girls banged heads and were crying in the huge inflatable moonwalk. Super-teen that I was, I took a flying leap into the center, landing on Bertha with a horrifying snap.

This time Bertha demanded a visit to an orthopedist. He looked at X-rays, manipulated the swollen mass that was Bertha, and gave his pronouncement.

“This is the second time you’ve pulled this tendon in as many moths. The tendon is on the verge of severing. Either you allow it to heal completely or I’d suggest surgery immediately.”

Surgery is scary, even for a teenage-superhero. I solemnly promised to heed his words, but the doctor, no dummy, also ordered a brace with metal brackets on both sides to prevent any instances where I may forget my vow.

Thus Bertha intruded in my life in so many ways. Gone was dancing at chagigahs, and ice skating on Chol Hamoed. You might think she was just a small tendon, but Bertha managed to interfere in every aspect of my life, proving I was no longer footloose and free. Lesson for life: It doesn’t pay to ignore the small stuff.

Although the head may seem more important than the foot, a person’s whole posture is based on his feet, which form the foundation and base for his upright existence. So too, the “easy” mitzvos are the foundation for the rest.

Recently looking at old pictures, I found one of me with Bertha encased in the brace. I wiggled my right ankle cautiously and realized I felt no twinges or pain. When had Bertha disappeared? I racked my memory. Had she accompanied me on the walk to my chuppah? I didn’t think so. Apparently, somewhere in my roaring twenties, Bertha quietly slipped away, confident I’d learned my lesson.

We may think with our minds, but it’s a no-brainer that you can’t get far in life without standing on your own two feet. Thus, as a mature, middle-aged matron I pay attention when my left heel starts sending me messages after standing too long on Friday afternoons, stopping and doing stretches to appease it.

I’ve named it Myrtle.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 704)

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