Former Shaliach in Chicago
In this week’s parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu a”h warns against two conflicting dangers: impotence and excessive self-confidence. On one hand:
“How will I be able to…?” (Devarim 7:17)
But on the other hand:
“My strength and the might of my hand…” (Devarim 8:17)
Yet, although they appear to be polar opposites, these two perils come from the same source. Indeed, during ChetHaMeraglim (the Sin of the Spies), we find an abrupt transition from one extreme to the other. While the previous night, the nation wept out of fear that they would not be able to go up to Eretz Yisrael, the very next day, the ma’apilimtried to “scale the mountain”.
This behavior results from a tendency to disregard the emotional forces which motivate individuals and impel the nation forward.
How does progress come about in this world? What drives man onward and induces him to produce wondrous technological innovations in every field? The answer is simply a desire to excel, to stand out among one’s peers, and to acquire wealth or honor. Without this aspiration, the world would end as we know it.
“How will I be able to drive them out?” (Devarim 7:17)
As a spiritual nation and as the nation of the Torah, how will Yisrael overcome and compete with those who boast a physical strength? The Torah was only given to ochlei hamahn (“those who eat the mahn”), but at the same time, those who received the Torah must live in this world specifically as ochlei hamahn. Yisrael’s strength lies in its mouth. How can such a nation contend against those whose strength lies in their hands? Perhaps we should change directions? Maybe now is the time for us to sharpen our teeth and to become like all the other nations? Must we really adhere to our spiritual ideals? Can we not live our lives like everyone else? Long live the Baal! Long live the Ashtoret!
Needless to say, these are false and mistaken beliefs. One who thinks that we can become a nation like any other nation is mistaken. Similarly, one who thinks that impotence and physical weakness are necessary accompaniments to spiritual ideals is also mistaken. Yisrael is meant to be a shining example of a valor which is based on spiritual foundations. A courage which is the result of running after truth, goodness, chessed (loving-kindness) and compassion instead of after wealth and honor. A fortitude of the soul which comes from a sincere desire to help one’s fellow rather than from jealousy. Ministers who serve with justice. An economy which is not based on competition, fraud, and exploitation but rather on fraternity. A society which does not merely pay lip service to the truth but ensures that all human interactions are based on this principle. Business dealings and negotiations which are built on the underlying premise that what is yours belongs to you, but that which is not yours does not belong to you.
“And it will be, because (eikev) you will heed…” (Devarim 7:12)
The word “eikev” (because) literally means “heel,” and Rashi teaches that the reference is to mitzvot which one “tramples with one’s heel” – i.e. the seemingly “minor” and “simple” mitzvot. Yet, in actuality, these mitzvot set the tone and course of one’s life.
Furthermore, the two aforementioned perils continue to lurk. The first menace – “how will I be able to…” – involves shirking responsibilities, armchair Zionism, being afraid to suffer a bit, the belief that it is easier to live among non-Jews, a disinclination to support oneself, and a fear of being self-sufficient. Meanwhile, the second hazard – “my strength and the might of my hand” – is the delusion that the Jewish State can be built on those non-Jewish principles.
The Torah’s approach is, “and it will be, because you will heed.” This means using the physical and the earthbound to actualize Hashem’s path of tzedakah u’mishpat.
Those of us who aspire to a religious-Zionist way of life must understand that religious-Zionism does not mean “religion plus Zionism”. Rather, this approach is a seamless integration of the two extremes. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When the two aspects are combined, we can transcend mediocrity and head towards greatness.