By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
Until the serpent committed the crime of persuading the Adam and Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in the Garden of Eden, he walked about on two feet like man. As punishment for bringing man low, he was condemned to crawl upon his belly and to be in eternal mortal conflict with man.
Bereshit (Genesis) 3:14-15 And HaShem God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou [art] cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (eikev).
This first use of the wood eikev, (Strong’s spells in phonetically as ‘aqeb’) defines the creation of the concept of the heel. When HaShem first spoke the word Eikev, the reality was created for the very first time. Here is how Strong’s defines this word:
6119 `aqeb, aw-kabe’; or (fem.) `iqqebah, ik-keb-aw’; from 6117; a heel (as protuberant); hence a track; fig. the rear (of an army):-heel, [horse-] hoof, last, lier in wait [by mistake for 6120], (foot-) step.
----------------- Dictionary Trace --------------
6117 `aqab, aw-kab’; a prim. root; prop. to swell out or up; used only as denom. from 6119, to seize by the heel; fig. to circumvent (as if tripping up the heels); also to restrain (as if holding by the heel):- take by the heel, stay, supplant, X utterly.
6120 `aqeb, aw-kabe’; from 6117; in its denom. sense; a lier in wait:-heel [by mistake for 6119].
Rashi also teaches that Eikev means heel.
This conflict is described here in the Torah as man’s efforts to trample upon the serpent’s head and the serpent’s efforts to strike at man’s heel. Hakham Shimshone Rafael Hirsch points out that originally the serpent did not crawl upon its belly, that HaShem altered its form following this episode. As well, He altered its nature. Ever since his fall, the serpent envies the upright position of man which he once enjoyed. Aware that he can never regain that position because of the Divine curse upon him, the serpent tries to do the next best thing to bring man down to his level by injecting his venom into his body.
The heel contains a part of the body that contains dead skin that is so insensitive that it can not feel anything of significance. On the other hand, that which is totally insignificant and trivial, tickling, that the foot can feel. This is an accurate description of our generation: We are totally insensitive to the spiritual reality. We are devoid of understanding or feeling, yet we are very much in tune with that which is totally superfluous, transient, and meaningless, that we can feel.
In the overall stature of Israel’s history, our generation is the very “heel”, the lowest part of the body, while our predecessors are like brains, heart and other higher parts of the body.
Our task and mission is likewise the last, or heel, labor to complete and finish all that is still required to bring about the Messianic redemption.
The serpent bit the heel and injected death into that part of the body. From this point in the body, death spreads until it eventually covers the entire body.
Just like the connection between body and soul, the soul’s connection with the body is to the entire body, including the heel. The heel is below the leg. It does not have the brains of the head, nor the character traits of the heart, nor the ability of the hands. Even the legs’ ability to walk is not in the heel, for it is possible to get around even without the heel. Life-force is not felt in the heel, which is why the heel is called the the “Angel of Death in Man”, in Avot d’Rabbi Nosson.
This struggle between Adam and the serpent is typified in the struggle between Yaakov and his brother Esau. The Torah records that the birth of these twins was in such a way that the heel of Esau was intimately involved:
Bereshit (Genesis) 25:24-26 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, [there were] twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac [was] threescore years old when she bare them.
Hosea 12:3-5 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him [in] Beth-el, and there he spake with us; Even HaShem God of hosts; HaShem [is] his memorial.
The material world of Asiyah is at the feet, the bottom of the whole system of worlds upon worlds created by HaShem as a means of ascent for the soul. In this world, the soul - Yaaqov, is at the Eikev, “foot” of the universe. His mission is to find Godliness even at the lowest levels of creation. This he does by viewing all things in the radiant light of chakmah (wisdom), represented in the letter Yod, root of all the twenty-two letters of the Aleph-Bet. Thus Yaaqov’s name is made up by joining the Yod to Eikev (the heel):
Yaaqov = Yod + Eikev.
Yod has a numerical value of ten (10). Thus Yaaqov = ten in the heel.
Yaaqov’s name contains two concepts. His name begins with the letter yod the first and highest level of HaShem’s name, (representing chakmah the highest of G-dly levels), and ends with the word for heel (eikev), the lowest of mundane levels. So low that it is as though dead.
The name Yaaqov also implies that the revelation of the yod permeates until one’s heel.
When Yaaqov and Esau, the twins, were born, “The first one came out all red like a hairy mantle all over, and they called his name Esau. And afterwards his brother came out, and his hand was holding the heel of Esau, and he called his name Yaaqov”. From the very beginning Yaaqov had his hand (Yad = Yod, chakmah) at the heel of Esau, Asiyah, the heel and foot of all the worlds. That was why he was called Yaaqov.
We are living in a period of history know as the ikvata d’mashicha, the birth-pangs of mashiach. We are witnessing a world sinking to a level from which it cannot descend further. Depravity can go just so far before it devours itself; it will rot like a seed until nothing is left.
But from that putrefaction will spring forth a shoot of untainted and un-taintable purity.
Ikvata is an Aramaic word. It has the same root as the word for heel. Why should the coming of the redemption be connected to the heel?
Every generation corresponds to a part of the body. We are the generation of the heel. The heel is the lowest and the least sensitive part of the human body. You can stick a needle in the fleshy part of the heel and not even feel pain.
If we really knew what was going on in these last generations, we would literally not be able to stand. HaShem in his infinite mercy has given us an insensitivity to events so that we can carry on.
Very soon, HaShem will bring the final curtain down on world history. It will be clear why every little thing had to happen in the way that it happened. We will laugh at what we thought was tragedy. Our mouths will be full with the laughter of recognition.
And then HaShem will take our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh and blood.
* * *
Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:6 “And HaShem sent the fiery serpents amongst the people”
A dog is not a very bright animal. When you throw a stick at it, it grabs the stick in its jaws and proceeds to growl and bite it. Who threw the stick doesn’t cross its little mind for an instant; it’s too busy punishing the stick for attacking it.
When we find ourselves threatened and attacked by a hostile world, rather than growl and bite at the stick, maybe we should consider Who it is that threw the stick at us in the first place, and why He is throwing it at us.
* * *
Our generation is called the “Heels of Mashiach” and it is also for two seemingly opposite reasons:
1. We are the lowest generation with the spiritual sensitivity of heels.
2. We are very close, on his heels so-to-say of these tremendous revelations.
Targum Jonathan, relates the following prophecy to the Mashiach explaining: But they will be healed in the footsteps [heels] in the days of King Mashiach.
v’eivah ashit bein’kha u-vein ha-ishah u-vein zarakha u-vein zarah hu y’shupeikh rosh v’atah t’shupenu akev: Our master explained this as a hint to the comment of the Midrash that the verse (Psalms) “why shall I fear in the days of evil that the sin of my heel shall trip me” is referring to the days of Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim. Kind David is saying here that he does not fear for his soul because of great sins, because he can gain forgiveness for those sins if he repents for them with all his heart. However, he dreaded the sins that a person performs routinely and to which, as a result, he becomes accustomed, so that he does not even think about repenting for them. This is what was meant by “he shall bruise your head”, which means that when a person repents on Rosh Hashana for his great sins he bruises the head of the serpent, i.e., Satan, the instigator and seducer, and frustrates all his efforts. But HaShem tells the serpent “you shall bruise his heel”, which means that Satan is able to snare man in those transgressions that he does routinely, which are very difficult to repent of, because after constant repetition, the transgressions begin to seem as if they are permissible.
* * *
The Megilla Ruth opens, “And it was in the days when the judges judged.” Our Hakhamim explain, “And it was in the days when the judges were judged!” The times were filled with tremendous chutspah. When a Jewish high school education was enough wisdom to belittle any Hakham and every Rosh Yeshiva. Not only this, later in the Megilla it says, “[Boaz] went to lie down at the end of the grain pile.” Our Hakhamim explain the times were rampant with immorality. Boaz slept by his pile so his grains would not be stolen for payment for the prostitutes. These lowly signs of those times, canonized in a book of our Written Tradition, our Hakhamim in Gemara Sota saw would be the signs of the times of the footsteps of the Mashiach. Indeed the Megilla ends with, “And Jesse begot David.” David, who would become King David, who would be the progenitor of the messianic line.
The Zohar comments on the verse:
Bereshit 25:26 And afterwards his brother came out and his hand was holding on to the heel of Esav; and his name was called Yaakov.
The Zohar states that Esav is compared to the original snake (nachash kadmoni). The force in this world that represents the original snake that tricked Adam and Chava into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the personification of that snake in this world, is Esav.
How does the Torah tell us to deal with that original snake?
Bereshit (Genesis)3:15 And you will strike him in the heel.
Against the powers of that snake, you will not be able to make a frontal attack. To be successful against him, you must grab him by the heel, from behind. This is the only way to deal with the snake and with Esav.
The Zohar says that when the verse tells us here that Yaakov’s hand was holding Esav’s heel, the Torah is setting the stage and is telling us how Yaakov Avinu, in the future, will have to deal with Esav. He is going to have to deal with him by attacking at the heel; he is going to have to deal with him, sometimes, deceitfully and surreptitiously. That is the only way one can deal with that snake.
This is what our Sages mean when they say (on the verse [Samuel II ] “With a pure one, you show yourself pure; but with a perverse one, you deal crookedly.”) that you cannot always be up front and straight forward with a person who is a liar. Even Yaakov, the man of truth, has a mandate from the Torah, that the way to deal with Esav is by ‘heel,’ which is connoted in Yaakov’s name.
This, the commentaries say, is what the verse means when it says “And Yaakov was an ‘ish tam’ (a man who was simple) who dwelt in the tents” [25:27]. It does not say Yaakov was ‘tam’ (simple), it says ‘ish tam’ (a man who was simple). The former implies someone who is naïve, that is not what the Torah tells us about Yaakov. It says he is an ‘ish tam’, he has control over his ‘temimus’ (simpleness). He can control and use that simpleness. There are occasions when Yaakov will be straight and must be straight. But he is also a person that can control his simplicity and attack at the heel, if the occasion so requires.
This describes the whole history of Yaakov and Esav, and their respective descendants. There will be times in history that we as a Jewish people will not be able to deal with the descendants of Esav on a ‘one on one’, straightforward basis. We will have to duplicate the behavior of our father Yaakov.
* * *
There is a direct correlation between the “body” of history and the body of man, as follows:
0000 - 1000
Right Arm (Chesed)
1000 - 2000
Left Arm (Gevurah)
2000 - 3000
3000 - 4000
Right Leg (Netzach)
4000 - 5000
Left Leg (Hod)
5000 - 6000
Bottom of the feet (yesod)
Now, though the sixth millennium also corresponds to a body part with respect to the sefirot, it is already sufficient clear that moving through history is like moving from the top part of a person’s body to the lower part. And, if the year 6000 is the last year of history as we know it, then, sometime close to that year should correspond to, well, the “heels” of history, and what is referred to as, the “Heels of Mashiach.”
Kabbalistically speaking, we are living through the millennium of history that corresponds to the sefirah yesod, which means “foundation.” The first millennium corresponded to the sefirah, chesed (kindness), and the following millennia corresponded to gevurah (strength), tifferet (harmony), netzach (dominance), and hod (glory) respectively.
Translated into English, these traits mean very little, historically speaking. However, kabbalistically, they represent different parts of the spiritual “body“, and therefore, different potentials available in creation at the time that they are the basis for their particular period of history. For example, netzach and hod represent the right and left leg. The role of the legs is to allow the body to move, to extend its influence. chakmah (wisdom), binah (understanding), and daat (knowledge) represent the brains of the spiritual “body,” and, chesed, gevurah, and tifferet represent the “right arm,” “left arm,” and “torso” respectively, all of which make the main part of the person and his influence.
Since yesod corresponds to the sixth day of creation, the day on which man was created, it is a trait that has special significance to us. Furthermore, just as the sefirot correspond to the six days of creation, they also correspond to the six millennia of history, which means Yesod, the sixth sefirah (down from Chesed), corresponds to our millennium. Understanding Yesod, therefore, is also a way of understanding the nature of our millennium, and the challenges we face (especially since it was on day six that Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).
If Yesod is the balance between the traits of Netzach and Hod, then it is the ability to “give-and-take” in a relationship. It is best expressed by the person who knows when to surrender himself to a situation, how much to do so, and for how long. He will only impose his opinion when doing so is best for all involved, and back down and follow someone else’s lead when it is clear that it is correct to do so. This is what the Mishna means when it says:
Pirkei Avot 2:5 In a place where there are no men, try to be a man.
This is why Yesod is called “Foundation,” a concept associated with the Tzaddikm, the righteous / generous individual. Such people are the foundation of creation, for HaShem created and maintains the world for such people:
Mishlei (Proverbs) 10:25 The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world…
Furthermore, they know how to correctly relate to all those around them, in any given situation. It is a Yesod-type personality that allows one to throw his entire being into a relationship, and the necessary self-control and reliability upon which relationships are built.
This is why Yosef was tested with the wife of his master Potiphar, and why he was able to pass the test as well. And, because Yesod is relationship oriented, it also represents the transition between the sefirot above it, and the sefirah of Malchut below it, just as Yosef was the transition between the forefathers (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov) before him, and the nation that was to be formed after his death.
One final, important point with respect to this sefirah. In Kabbalah, Yesod is divided into two parts: Yesod proper, and Ateret HaYesod, the “Crown of Yesod.” According to the Kabbalists, as long as the Yesod proper governs history, the Jewish people will remain in exile. However, the moment history reaches the part referred to as “Ateret HaYesod”, a specific and set time, exile ends and the period of Mashiach begins. This is the time known as “b’itah”, the final time for Mashiach’s arrival.
There is a contradiction found in the term describing the period in which we now find ourselves: “ikveta d’Meshicha”, “the heels of Mashiach”. On the one hand, “heel” denotes a lowly level, for the heel is the least perceptive limb. Like the insensitive heel, this era is characterized by an inability to perceive G-dliness in the world.
On the other hand, “ekev” also denotes Mashiach’s footsteps, and that they can already be heard approaching. This second meaning suggests the most exalted spiritual level, when Mashiach’s influence in the world can be felt and one can sense the impending redemption.
The same principle holds true on the larger scale as well. It is precisely because the period right before Mashiach’s arrival is so dark that we are able to hear his footsteps coming closer; furthermore, the self-sacrifice we must have nowadays in order to live as Jews is the vessel to contain the greatest revelation of divine light which will occur with the coming redemption.
At present we are experiencing the climax of this dichotomy, for although all signs clearly indicate that “Behold, Mashiach is coming,” the full redemption has not yet occurred. We therefore implore the Almighty with the cry of “Till when?”, which will prompt Him to end all contradictions forever with the establishment of the Messianic Era.
We are living now in the time of footsteps of the Mashiach. Our Sages teach us that this will be a time of immense confusion, when it will appear that events have gone haywire, and it will seem that HaShem does not, or cannot, run the world. The entire reason for this total hiding of providential guidance is to test our faithfulness to HaShem; that even when tragic events do occur, we do not forget, even for a second, question, Who is running the world. We live in the final chapter of world history. The gods of materialism and self-centeredness never close their eyes, relentless in their media barrage.
These signs herald an end to the darkness which is symptomatic of the period of exile. In anticipation of the obliteration of evil, there is a last-minute surge in some negative ways, particularly insolence and arrogance. Although these negative traits existed before, they were never as prevalent as they are today.
The Time Immediately Before Moshiach
by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet
The time appointed by G‑d for the Messianic redemption is a closely guarded secret. Nonetheless, we are offered many hints to recognize its proximity: when certain conditions come about, await the imminent coming of Mashiach.
Most of these conditions are quite disturbing, clearly displaying a situation of the very “bottom of the pit.” One major source describes the world-condition in those days as follows: increase in insolence and impudence; oppressing inflation; unbridled irresponsibility on the part of authorities; centers of learning will turn into bawdy houses; wars; many destitutes begging, with none to pity them; wisdom shall be putrid; the pious shall be despised; truth will be abandoned; the young will insult the old; family-breakup with mutual recriminations; impudent leadership.
Other sources add: lack of scholars; succession of troubles and evil decrees; famines; mutual denunciations; epidemics of terrible diseases; poverty and scarcity; cursing and blaspheming; international confrontations, nations provoking and fighting each other. In short, it will be a time of suffering that will make it look as if G‑d were asleep. These are the birthpangs of Mashiach, bearable only in anticipation of the bliss that follows them.
“When you see a generation ever dwindling, hope for him .. when you see a generation overwhelmed by many troubles as by a river, await him.” “When you see nations fighting each other, look toward the feet of Mashiach.”
Little wonder that some sages expressed apprehensions about those days in terms of, “Let [Mashiach] come, but let me not see him.” The prevailing attitude, however, is to await his coming in spite of all, even if thereafter we shall merit no more than sitting “in the shadow of his donkey’s dung!”
The troubles and agony of chevlei Mashiach, the birthpangs of Mashiach, however, are not unavoidable: “What is man to do to be spared the pangs of Mashiach? Let him engage in Torah and acts of loving-kindness!”
Moreover, there are also good and happy signs indicating the imminent coming of Mashiach: a good measure of prosperity; a renewal of Torah-study; and opening of the “gates of wisdom above and the wellsprings of wisdom below,” evidenced also by scientific and technological discoveries and advances; a manifestation and propagation of the mystical teachings of the Torah; and also, “In the time that Mashiach will awaken, many signs and miracles will occur in the world.”
* * *
“In the time of the resurrection of the dead, many camps will arise in Land of the Galil, because that is where the Mashiach is going to be first revealed, since it is part of Joseph’s territory. It will be the first place to be destroyed. It will begin there ahead of all other places, and then spread to the nations” (Zohar, Vayakhel 220a).
Shechem (Nablus), according to the Talmud, is where bad things happen. It is a place “set aside for punishment.” Interestingly, the Talmud says that when falsehood rules the minds of men, this is actually one of the SIGNS that the Mashiach is not too far away.
Why it is precisely our generation that should merit the coming of Mashiach? Because it is precisely our service of HaShem, the very end in the process of preparing the world, that will complete the necessary steps to bring about the Messianic redemption.
Ikveta de’Meshicha suggests the last generation of the galut (exile), thus the last stage of history of the pre-Messianic era. That generation is last not only in terms of time, but also in terms of stature-spiritually and morally the lowest and hindmost, analogous to the heel of man. On the other hand, being the last generation of the galut, it is also the one that feels and hears the footsteps of Mashiach and will experience his coming.
In this heel generation we are susceptible to being bitten by the serpent. We are the generation that is most at risk from the serpent.
There is a danger of “you shall bruise the heel.” In the final generations of the exile the Jewish nation resembles Adam HaRishon, and the culmination of the exile is his heel. The danger exists that the serpent will bite Adam’s heel.
Talmud, Bava Batra 58a Rabbi Banaah was measuring tombs ... [and] came to the tomb of Adam. Said Rabbi Banaah: I looked at his two heels, and they shone like suns.
This last generation has the task and purpose to draw the Divine Presence all the way down to the very earthiness of this material world, which will happen with the coming of Mashiach and the ultimate redemption.
Once the “feet” generation is reached, then Mashiach will come, as it says in the Zohar.
* * *
The human body is used as a metaphor to describe the collective of the Jewish people as it has existed over the ages. In that context, our present generation can be compared to the heels, for we lack the intellectual and emotional sophistication of our forebears.
Our wills are channels for the expression of our souls, and of all the limbs in the body, it is the heel which displays the most active obedience to this potential. Our minds and our hearts are mediums for the expression of our conscious potentials. And our heels are mediums for the expression of our inner will which transcends our conscious thought. Similarly, in the analogue, it is the souls which can be compared to “heels”, the people living in ikvesa diMishicha, whose commitment expresses the inner power of the soul and manifests the infinite potential of the G-dly spark that exists within each of us.
* * *
This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
Comments may be submitted to:
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 Bereshit (Genesis) 25:25-6
 Sanhedrin 97a
 Midrash Tehilim 45:3. See Ma’amarei Admur Hazaken-Ethalech, p. 103f.; and Besha’ah Shehik-dimu-5672, vol. I:p. 551; relating this to the principle (Midrash Tehilim 22:4; Zohar II:46a) that the darkest moments of the night are immediately before daybreak. Cf. Zohar I:170a. For this analogy see also the comment of R. Elijah, the Vilna Gaon, cited in Even Shelemah, ch. 11:5.
 Sotah 49b
 Sanhedrin 97a; Shir Rabba 2:29.
 Sanhedrin 98a
 Bereishit Rabba 42:4. Note Pesikta Rabaty 37:2 (ed. Friedmann, ch. 36)!
 Sanhedrin 98b
 Ibid. See also Zohar II:7aff.
 Sanhedrin 98b
 Sanhedrin 97a; Shir Rabba 2:29.
 Zohar I:117a
Zohar I:118a. See Zohar Chadash, Tikunim, 96c; and Mayanei Hayeshu’ah, I:2. Cf.
below, note 84. Note also Igeret Teyman, ch. 3, that prophecy shall be restored
 Zohar II:8a
 Sotah 11a
 Sanhedrin 97a
 Parashas Pekudei 258; end of Parashat Vayakhel
 Tanya, ch. 2