Eikev – Masking Germs

A proof that the Torah is the guidebook for life is in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev. The Torah states: “The entire commandment that I command you today you shall observe to perform, so that you may live and increase, and come and possess the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers” (Devarim 8:1).

There is a cryptic but very fascinating Medrish Tanchuma on this pasuk, “’The entire commandment that I command you,’ this is analogous to the pasuk in Mishlei, ‘Keep My commandments and live’ (Mishei 7:2). Because Dovid said ‘Guard me as the apple of the eye’ (Tehillim 17:8). Rebbe Yehuda of Sichnin said in the name of Rebbe Eliezer, ‘There is no beis rova (28.7 yards squared) where there aren’t 9 kavim (12.42 liters) worth of mazikim (damagers or demons) within it. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said that all of them have masks on their faces. How [is one protected]? A person walks around and an angel goes out before him and says ‘look to the sides when in the presence of the image of The Holy One Blessed Be He as it says, ‘Only with the image (tzelem (Elokim)] does man make his way’ (Tehillim 39:7),” (Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Ekev, paragraph 4).

The Etz Yosef, explaining this medrish elaborates and says that there is no place on earth which has the space for sowing ¼ of a kav (a space of .345 liters of seeds to plant) that does not have 9 kavs of mazikim (12.42 liters of demons within it). But each one is wearing a mask on their face so that they will not stare at a person and hurt him. Angels escort a person when a person has upon him the “image of Hashem” (tzelem Elokim), meaning when he is involved in Torah and performing mitzvos, and announces “behold the image of Hashem” and these demons leave the person alone. But when a person is not involved in Torah and performing mitzvos, the “image of Hashem” is removed and the demons can come in and do damage. That is what the pasuk means when it says, “guard the commandments and live.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish is expanded on in more detail in the last paragraph of the Medrish Tanchuma in the Torah Portion of Mishpatim. It says there that for every mitzva a person performs, he receives an angel, and these angels protect from mazikim. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said, “What is referred to when it says, “A thousand may fall victim” (Tehillim 91:7)? Hashem gives to every single Jew tens of thousands of angels to protect him and to make him a path. One of them announces before him and says, “Give respect to the image of Hashem (tzelem Elokim)” because the whole world is filled with spirits and demons. Rebbe Yehuda bar Shalom said in the name of Rebbe Levi that there isn’t a beis rova of land in the world which does not have in it 9 kavs of demons. How should we deal with them? Rebbe Levi said that there is a mask on their (the mazikim’s) faces just like a donkey who pulls a mill, and when sin causes it to happen, the mazikim are unmasked and the person is stupefied. But when the angel makes his proclamations of ‘give respect to the image of Hashem,’ the person is in peace. When [the angel] is silent [the person] immediately is hurt… (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The mazikim, literally damagers or demons, are like germs ready to infect and cause damage to a person, but as long as they are masked they are harmless. We see clearly from here that a mask is used to protect others from harm, to keep the threat at bay. Similarly we find at the end of the Torah portion of Ki Sisa that Moshe Rabbeinu wore a mask most of the time to block the radiance from shining out from his face so that people would not be afraid to approach him.

However, there is an even more important lesson, about the greatness of man, gadlus ha’adam, that we can learn from this medrish. We must realize that we are royalty, dignified people who deserve bodyguards to escort us wherever we go. But our true value is only seen and appreciated if we toil in Torah learning and perform mitzvos. Only then do we earn the bodyguards and the honor to be able to use them. But as soon as we rebel against our Father, the King, we are immediately susceptible to the perils that surround us.

What is even more amazing is the defense we have against the threat; it’s not any weapon or shield; it is our very essence. All of us were created in the image of Hashem, as it says in the first perek of Breishis, “And G-D said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’” (Breishis 1:26). This is the weapon against the mazikim! The awe and trepidation of being confronted by a tzelem Elokim keeps the mazikim at bay, but they only see or realize this when a person is shomer Torah and mitzvos,  observing the Torah and doing its mitzvos. Only then does the angel announce to the world that it must show respect to the tzelem Elokim, this royal prince, made in the image of G-D. But when a person is not so careful in adhering to Hashem’s Torah then he loses his guard and is susceptible to trouble around him because he is not acting regally, so the awe and respect is marred.

Choosing to glorify oneself with using Hashem’s Blueprints of Creation, the Torah, which is our guide for life brings out the greatness of man, gadlus ha’adam!