Ekev 5778

Who Made You So Successful? Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, we continue to listen to the speech delivered by Moses to the Jewish nation encamped at the entrance of the Land of Israel after forty years of wandering in the desert.

During the speech, Moses refers to the differences in living conditions between the desert and the settlements in the Land of Israel focusing on the advantages and dangers that the nation will face:

For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land…
Beware that you do not forget the Lord, your God…
lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein…
and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases,
and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God…
and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand that have accumulated this wealth for me."

But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth…

(Deuteronomy 8, 7-18)

Moses thus warns the nation of the sin of pride and haughtiness that threatens anyone successful. While they were in the desert, the nation did not face this challenge. They had no opportunity to build homes or accumulate wealth. But now as they are about to enter the Land of Israel, they may face a situation they were unaccustomed to: success and comfort may cause them to forget where they came from and who provided the “good life” they are living. Therefore, Moses warns them and commands them to remember that the houses, the harvest, the silver, and the gold all come from God and success should not get in the way of remembering that.

But if we look closely at Moses’ words, we reveal an unexpected theological complexity. Moses says, “But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth…” He does not say – But you must remember the Lord your God for it is He that gives you wealth.

The RaN (Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, rabbi of the Jewish community of Barcelona in the 14th century) writes about this distinction:

It may be true that men have talents in certain areas, some being predisposed to acquiring wisdom and others to the type of thinking that leads to accumulation of wealth, so that in this respect, there is some validity to a rich man saying ‘My strength and the might of my hand have accumulated this wealth for me.’ Still, though this power may be implanted in you, remember who gave it to you and where it came from.”

(Drashot Haran, 10)

The moral effort to fight arrogance does not mean one should negate or demean our strengths and abilities. Man is not obligated to think that his success is not a result of his talents. Reality shows us that successful people are often those with unique gifts. If so, perhaps pride is justified. Maybe a person who succeeds in business or in politics is correct in seeing his success as a result of his talents.

Indeed, though a successful person is often a fortunate person, he is not supposed to take pride in his talents or abilities because he did not create them. Man must remember that his gifts are God-given and therefore, his financial or social successes are not his own doing but are thanks to He who gave him the ability to succeed – namely, God!

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