Parshat Eikev – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In Sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbenu addresses Am Israel at the gates of Eretz Israel. In his words, Moshe surveys events since the Exodus from Egypt and prepares the nation for the future, for the anticipated entry into Eretz Israel and taking possession of the Land.
Moshe's goal is to prepare Am Israel for the challenges to be expected in the Land, and the obstacles that could potentially cause crises to the nation and to individuals.
Our parsha sounds an exceptional warning, against the danger that -paradoxically - could arise if Am Israel will succeed in achieving the goals of settling the Land – "Lest you should eat and be satisfied, and build good houses and live in them, and your cattle and sheep will multiply and you will have much gold and silver and everything of yours will increase. And your heart will feel supremacy and you will forget the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves…and you will say in your heart: my strength and the might of my hand brought me all this greatness. And you will remember the Lord your G-d who has given you the strength to do greatly." (Devarim 8:12-18)
A great success is described here in settling the land and in prosperity in all its dimensions: satiety and livelihood, in "quality of life", economic welfare and wealth, possessions, livestock and money. But paradoxically, it is this success which is liable to cause "your heart to feel supremacy ", arrogance and pride, as well as forgetting G-d and denying His existence and providence. As if this success was achieved without Him.
Success has a dizzying and deceiving effect!
It can intoxicate a "rising star" and warp his thought process. He is liable to believe that he is a prodigy with phenomenal talents, which have brought him his success.
This phenomenon is also described by "the wisest of all men" (King Solomon): "Give me my daily bread, lest I will be satiated and deny and say: who is G-d? And lest I be impoverished and steal and desecrate G-d's name." (Mishlei 30:8-9) But this is the way it works to the disadvantage of the successful person: "There is a sick evil I have seen under the sun: wealth (is) amassed by its owner, to his detriment." (Kohelet 5:12) And also: "The rich man's wealth doesn't allow him to sleep!" (Kohelet 5:11)
Conversely, it is scarcity that breeds humility and teaches a man his place. When the efforts do not yet bring success, the result is recognition of human limitations and dependence on Divine aid.
This concern is expressed several times by Moshe, in different forms in Sefer Devarim, among other places in Shirat Ha'azinu: "And Yeshurun got fat and kicked. You have become fat, obese, covered with fat. He deserted G-d his creator and profaned the rock of his salvation." (Devarim 32:19)
Our teacher, HaRav Zvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook of blessed memory, regularly voiced his concern for "dizzying success", in our generation as well – the success of settling our land in "the return to Zion." Our Sages in Sifrei interpret (the triple expression) "You have become fat, obese, covered with fat" – these are the three generations which precede the coming of the Mashiach! Rav Zvi Yehuda's father, HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz"l , shared his concern for our generation, the Generation of the Redemption, with his father-in-law the Aderet: "I will reveal to your esteemed honor, and this is probably nothing new to you, that I fear from what is written in Sifrei: "You have become fat, obese, covered with fat– these are the three generations which precede the coming of the Mashiach." (Mitoch HaTorah HaGoelet. Orot HaGeulah Unetivoteha 5)
Achievement of success and reaching the goal also result in a loss of the energy and motivation that existed on the way to achieving them. "It is clear that spiritual rebellion will arise in the Land of Israel and (the Nation of) Israel at the time of the awakening of the beginning of the rebirth of the nation. The material serenity which will be acquired by part of the nation, who will imagine that they have attained their goals entirely, will minimize the soul, and days will come when you will say: I have no desire for them. The aspiration to lofty and holy ideals will entirely disappear, and resultantly the spirit will descend and be lowered." (HaRav A.I. Kook, Arpilei Tohar / Orot p. 86, Orot HaTechiya p. 44)
Professor Edward Luttwak, in his book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (second chapter) explains this paradoxical strategic phenomenon, that it is precisely stupendous success and victory that cause the complacency which could lead to a defeat later on. Modern Israel's best known example of this is our "lightning victory" in the Six-Day War and our resultant letting down of our guard and lack of strategic preparation for subsequent events. The results were seen six years later in the Yom Kippur War.
"In the absence of vision, a nation faces disaster." (Mishlei 29:18) There are many examples in history of nations that began to fall apart, paradoxically, exactly when they reached the pinnacle of success nationally, politically and militarily. At that moment they lost their founding vision and the dream that was the basis for their establishment.
There are also examples of nations that reached success and prosperity, and tried to maintain stability and tranquility at the price of surrendering strategic resources and national interests, and this of course weakened them.
It is the duty of our leaders to act with strategic foresight in order for our success not to turn into a handicap.
The Strategic Danger of Meteoric Success
- Parshat Eikev
Parshat Eikev – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald