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Shabat Shalom to all Bet Israel
Our parasha describes the physical blessings of Eretz Yisrael (Devarim 8: 1-9). Subsequently, the Torah warns not to forget that the bounty comes from Hashem and that one should not say in his heart: "My strength and the power of my hand made for me all of this chayil" (ibid.: 17). This pasuk is often quoted in the context of military success, which the victors too often attribute to their prowess. After all, the word chayil has military connotations, and the Ramban indeed explains the pasuk in this light. Unkelus translates chayil as possessions and the Ibn Ezra similarly translates it as money. However we translate the word, experience shows that the feeling of power that can cause one to credit himself more and credit Hashem less can be prompted by either military or financial success. Yirmeyahu extends this phenomenon to the realm of intellect: "Let the wise not pride himself in his wisdom, let the brave not pride himself in his bravery, and let the wealthy not pride himself in his wealth" (Yirmeyahu 9:22). After mentioning the danger of abuses in those three areas, Yeshayahu warns also judges not to abuse the power associated with their high position (Yeshayahu 9:22). What is one to do when success in the military, the realm of the intellect, finance, and even the judiciary are all corruptive? Can a society survive without these things? We need a strong army, talented entrepreneurs, and an independent and powerful judiciary! Our parasha also contains a reference to a solution. "Do not say in your heart, when Hashem pushes out [the nations] from before you, ‘Because of my righteousness Hashem has brought me to inherit this Land’" (Devarim 9: 4). Rather our relationship with Hashem is founded upon "... in your fathers Hashem desired to love them and He chose their offspring after them" (Devarim 10:15). From what stems the merit of the forefathers, which enabled their offspring to receive the covenant with Hashem and protects them from harsh punishment (see ibid.:27)? Was it only whatever specific mitzvot that they kept even before the Torah was given at Sinai? Moshe mentions another reason why Bnei Yisrael were successful in conquering the Land, which may shed light on the issue. "For due to the wickedness of those nations Hashem has removed them from before you" (ibid.:5). The symbol of the wickedness of the nations was Sodom. Within the context of the destruction of that wicked city, Hashem declared that He saw the proper education that Avraham gave to his household in regard to "charity and justice." Any power or success can be corruptive if it is not quickly and effectively put in the context of charity and justice. Whereas the nations consistently allowed their power to corrupt, our forefathers were called "the straight ones."
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