“No Reason to Glory!”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Eikev, is filled with common sense wisdom. The many insightful observations found in parashat Eikev underscore the pithy observation that “Common sense is not very common.”

The primary and very commonsensical message of parashat Eikev is that those who follow G-d’s directives will be rewarded, and those who fail to follow His directives will be punished.

Among the important messages communicated in parashat Eikev is the warning against the lure of success and prosperity.

In Deuteronomy 8:11, the Torah warns the Jewish people to take heed, lest they forget G-d by not observing His commandments. When everything seems to be going well, when food is plentiful, shelter is secure, cattle, sheep, silver and gold are increasing, a Jew must be constantly aware not to become haughty. G-d, who took the People of Israel out of the land of Egypt out of the House of Bondage must not be forgotten. After all, it was G-d who led the people through the great and awesome wilderness, who brought forth water from the rock, and fed the people manna from heaven. Beware, warns the Torah in Deuteronomy 8:17, lest you react arrogantly to your success, וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ, כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי, עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה., and you say in your heart, “My strength, and the might of my hand, has brought me all this wealth.”

Instead, says the Torah, you must remember that it was G-d who endowed you with the wisdom and strength that enabled you to produce the wealth in order to establish His covenant that He swore to your forefathers this day.

Rabbi Yaakov Filber, in his brilliant and insightful volume Chemdat Yamim, cites the responses of a number of the classical commentaries to the question of hubris and haughtiness. They ask: Is it haughty for a person to invest much effort in building up his business? Doesn’t it indicate a lack of faith in G-d?

Rabbi Filber cites the Ran, who suggests that it is acceptable for a wealthy person to say that “My strength, and the might of my hand, has made me all this wealth,” as long as the wealthy person realizes that it is the Al-mighty who provided the talents and resources to acquire this wealth.

Rabbi Filber also cites the Abarbanel, who notes that when Moses said in the name of the Al-mighty that a person should not say, “My strength, and the might of my hand, has made me all this wealth,” does not mean that a person must deny any role in his/her own success, but rather that every person needs to acknowledge that their role was an intermediary, not primary, role. The primary role, of course, was played by G-d, who provided the land, the rain, the wind, and all the other necessary ingredients for the success. Can an ax glory over the woodchopper, claiming that the instrument did all the work, rather than the human being?

After the miraculous victory of the Six Day War, the people of Israel were justifiably euphoric. The military victory was spectacular. In fact, the battle was virtually over in the first six hours of the war, after the Israeli Air Force had completely demolished the Egyptian and Syrian air forces. Immediately following the war, there was a religious acknowledgment of the hand of G-d. But, after a while, many Israelis began to glory in their success.

When the Egyptians started to threaten, Yitzchak Rabin reputedly warned, “We will break their bones.” IDF Chief of Staff General Haim Bar Lev, who built the defense line along the Suez, said “My line is impenetrable!,” yet within a few hours after the start of the Yom Kippur War the Egyptians had washed the line away with fire hoses.

At this moment of great anguish for our people, while the State of Israel is confronted by the wily and the perfidious Hamas terrorists, we dare not glory. First of all, the evil enemy is very clever, having spent many years building concrete-lined tunnels that extend throughout the Northern Gaza and the Southern border of Israel. According to some reports, Hamas operatives were weeks away from staging a massive kidnapping, scheduled to take place on Rosh Hashanah 5775/2014. Such an attack could have crippled Israel, paralyzed its economy, and crushed the morale of the People of Israel.

There are those who suggest that had it not been for the kidnapping of the three Yeshiva students, which led to the massive assault on Hamas, the full extent of these tunnels would not have been discovered, and the future of the entire State of Israel would have been jeopardized.

The soldiers of Israel have fought a valiant battle in Gaza. The enemy is exacting a great price. The Al-mighty, through the instrument of the Iron Dome, is miraculously “catching” the missiles that are being fired onto the populated areas of Israel. The accomplishments of this battle should be a great source of pride, but we must always remember that it is G-d who orchestrates everything from behind the scenes.

Hopefully, the Almighty G-d will allow us soon to see the blossoming of peace quickly in our days, with no or few casualties.

May you be blessed.