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July 29, 2021

A Woodchuck Chuck's (Ekev)

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Is there anyone who has not heard this question before? But what is the actual answer? According to MyLandPlan.com, New York state wildlife expert Richard Thomas found that a woodchuck could (and does) chuck around 35 cubic feet of dirt in the course of digging a burrow. Thomas reasoned that if a woodchuck could chuck wood, he would chuck an amount equivalent to the weight of the dirt, or 700 pounds!

This is incredible, if you think about it. A little animal, a simple woodchuck (also known as a groundhog), can produce an amazingly large home, by simply gnawing and chucking away at the dirt little by little.

In life, we often strive to go after the big stuff. We aim for the big leagues, sometimes forgetting that we need to go through the minor league first. Of course, connecting to the big things is important, but we mustn’t forget and “trample” over the small things in life. A woodchuck knows that chucking away at dirt, little by little, is the most effective way of producing its burrow masterpiece.

Rashi understands the name of the Parshah – עקב – as a reference to the heel of the human body. He explains that the Torah is teaching us that since humans tend to walk right over and trample upon the small Mitzvos, we must strengthen our commitment to Hashem by keeping and valuing the small Mitzvos. It is only when we come to Hashem with the complete package – the big Mitzvos AND the small Mitzvos – that we can truly be ready to receive His promised blessing of love and bounty.

The Kli Yakar points out an incredible connection. The name יעקב means heel. The reason why יעקב אבינו was called “heel” is because he held onto the heel – the עקב – of his brother Esav. Esav was entering This World with an attitude of lightheadedness towards spirituality and Mitzvos. He was on his way to be דש בעקביו – to trample on the minor Mitzvos. In fact, we know he was מבזה – he made fun of – the Mitzvah of the Firstborn by selling it to Yaakov for some lentil soup!

The imagery of Yaakov Avinu grasping the heel – עקב – of his brother, Esav, is a message to the world, but more importantly, a message to each of us: Make sure to grab the עקב. Make sure to grasp the Mitzvos that are small. Make sure to treat everything with the utmost respect. Make sure to not trample over the small things in life.

When we focus on the big things as well as the small things, we become balanced individuals. We live in a world, an era, a society that exudes extremism. It is getting harder and harder to find people who are simply put, balanced.

One of the messages from the Torah – by telling us not to trample upon and neglect the small Mitzvos – is to strive to be balanced individuals. Don’t be so extreme. As the Rambam says, find the דרך ממוצע, the middle ground.

Let us take the message of the woodchuck, and more importantly, let us take the message of Yaakov Avinu, and make sure we grasp the עקב, the heel. Let us make sure we grab onto the things that seem small and we tend to take lightly. Let us grasp those “small” things and turn them into a masterpiece.