This week is one of the Shivah D’nechemta, the weeks of consolation following the annual period of mourning and Tisha B’Av. Where do we find consolation in Moshe’s admonitions that fill this week’s parsha?
As we continue our study of Seder Devorim, we find this week in Parshas Eikev that Moshe Rabbeinu continues his rebuking of the Jewish people for their waywardness. He warns them not to delude themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem asks for in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.
It’s seemingly not really much to ask for, especially when you consider the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through centuries of persecution. Without obvious Divine intervention, we would have been wiped off the map many times over. Yet, more often than not, we fail to heed the message of this week’s parsha. We discover that honoring Hashem’s request for yiras Shomayim is far from a simple task.
What is it that makes it so difficult? We grow comfortable, strong and haughty, and convince ourselves that it is our superior intelligence and mighty muscles that enabled us to reach the pinnacle of success.
By acting in that fashion, and thinking that everything we have attained is due to our own expertise, we absolve ourselves of the need to appreciate Hashem and follow His dictates. We feel no gratitude to Hashem or anyone else, and that way we don’t owe anyone anything.
As long as the going is good, we fail to appreciate our severe limitations. Despite blatant evidence of our human frailties, we cling to a naïve belief in ourselves and our abilities.
Take, for example, someone who decided two years ago that he will earn his living by investing in the stock market. Ever since Donald Trump came into office, the market has been steadily rising and that person has been doing very well. He can make the mistake of thinking that the wealth he has earned since entering the field is because of his stock-picking brilliance. But then, ill winds blow one week, and the market goes crazy and drops 800 points in one day. He is stuck and needs to be bailed out. No longer is he the big genius he told everyone he is. He needs someone to help him, but everyone he knows has been turned off by his bragging.
It takes a downturn for us to be forced to admit our human fallibilities. By then, it is usually too late, for we have turned off too many people with our arrogance and disloyalty. We can no longer count on their friendship and mercy. We played hard to get much longer than we should have. We were deaf to our friends’ entreaties and good advice. We didn’t listen to anyone. Rules were made for other people, not for us. Then, one day, it all comes crashing down on us and there is no one around to help us pick up the pieces.
Take a look at presidential candidate Joe Biden. About as accomplished as a politician can be, the former vice president decided that he also wants to be president. There is a slight problem, though, as he seems to be sleepy and is not sharp. Whenever he speaks, he makes embarrassing mistakes that his aides, and Democrats in general, quickly have to cover up.
Biden mixes up names, dates and places, but it’s all fine, because he’s a Democrat. Instead of riding off into the sunset as a hero, his ego drives him to seek the presidency. He doesn’t have the stamina to campaign every day. He doesn’t have the ability to face reporters. He’s generally roped off from them when he does show up for a public event, but you don’t see any mainstream media outlets exposing him as unfit for office. They portray him as the strongest contender for the toughest job in the country, if not the world. They did the same for Mrs. Hillary Clinton, another candidate clearly unfit for office, who was propped up by the party and its media allies, only to fail miserably when the election came. There is no way he will come out of this looking good.
They are two examples of people whose ga’ava leads them to fail.
It is not only individuals who are doomed to failure because of their ego-driven vanity, it is also prevalent in too many organizations and institutions. There are serious problems in our community which need to be dealt with. Many issues are swept under the rug and ignored as if they don’t exist. Problems that are recognized, are handled in silly, irresponsible ways. And we wonder why.
All too often the people in charge of the institutions, who are charged with setting the agenda and dealing with serious issues, attained their position by means other than merit. Often, they are quite wealthy, others are arrogant, others are not intelligent. When faced with a problem they don’t consult knowledgeable people who are well-informed and conversant with the topic and its different ramifications. Conclusions are reached based on their biased agenda and the amen corner quickly raises its hand in agreement. Outsiders, plebeians with fewer connections and lower incomes are shut out and ignored.
Just as personal ga’avah ruins a person and misleads him, so too communal ga’avah does the same. It is high time that just as we hold people responsible for their actions and lack of action when necessary, so too communal organizations should be forced to be more open and accountable to facts and outcomes.
Nobody should have to be afraid to stand up for the truth. Good people should not be silenced when they objectively fight for the communal good. It was painful to read a recent article by someone who was hounded and threatened because of something he wrote in this newspaper.
Organizations that survive on communal philanthropy have an obligation to remain true to their declared mission. They should not be permitted to operate as personal fiefdoms unanswerable to anyone outside of their closed orbit. There are so many issues begging for solutions, the most they get is inane well-worn platitudes.
It’s time that the hypocrisy of the way our organizations deal with Open Orthodoxy and other groups and people who veer from the honest and true path be condemned and no longer tolerated. Perhaps its time we examine why so many children are slipping out of the system and ending up OTD. We should face up to the truth and deal with it.
In much the same way, politicians who enact and lobby for laws which destroy the moral fabric of this country should also not be welcome in our homes and communities as conquering heroes. We should have the courage of our convictions to let them know what our agenda is and why we disagree with what they are doing. We should be motivated by Torah values and the truth, not photo-ops and autographed selfies.
When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we feel as if Moshe is pleading with the Jewish people the way we would plead with someone we deeply care about and are attempting to influence to accept reality.
Moshe reminds the Jews of all they have been through, and all the miracles Hashem performed in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who fed, clothed and cared for them in the desert, even as they remained ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf. He tries to puncture their self-made bubble of grandeur, but they are deaf to his pleas.
It is like meeting someone who knew our grandparents and therefore has a warm spot for us. They reach out to us with kindness and try to help us in our pursuits. Instead of appreciating where that kindness came from, and that it was inspired by their warm memories of our grandparents, we lull ourselves into thinking that it is we ourselves who are so beloved.
Quite often, we meet people who are so chained by their egos that they are incapable of absorbing the truth. Their vanity causes them to be so blinded to facts that are plainly evident to everyone else. Their resistance to anything that challenges their prejudiced notions prevents them from recognizing uncomfortable truths.
So too is the folly of a brilliant person trapped by his desires, unwilling to grasp how his life is antithetical to the Torah’s imperatives.
Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where He quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, I did this all myself with my own strength. Remember it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”
These pesukim are not just written to the people who have obviously gone astray. They are written to us all, and should serve as a reminder to us that we should never let our gaava get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges and pitfalls.
Let us not fall prey to self-aggrandizement. Let us ensure that we don’t become blinded by ego and evil inclination, and that we remain loyal to the One who sustains us.
For as the parsha ends (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in his path…then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”
The tanchumim offered in this week’s parsha emanate from Moshe’s descriptions of how Hakadosh Boruch Hu cares for Am Yisroel, providing they recognize their abilities and appreciate what Hashem does for them. If we study the parsha, we are able to see – and appreciate – the Yad Hashem everywhere. There can be no greater consolation than to be reminded that there is a loving Creator who cares for us, and although procuring much of what we need is beyond our control, He provides for us.
Nothing is ever impossible. There is never an excuse to give up. There is always hope and belief that the Merciful One will bring the success we work so hard to achieve. He knows what’s best for us, and even when we can’t understand everything, it is a consolation to know that nothing happens by itself and whatever happens is for a good reason.