This week’s portion bears a challenging message. We are about to enter the Land of Israel, but we are not to take credit for it. The Torah instructs us not to imagine our success is due our virtue or good works. We spent 40 long, hard years in the dessert struggling to reach this moment. Yet we are told explicitly to attribute our success wholly to promises made to our ancestors and; depressingly, to the fact that God is even less happy with the present occupants of the land than God is with us. The Torah seems almost desperate to prevent us from entertaining any credit due our efforts. Although the Book of Joshua records the precise date our ancestors crossed the Jordan into Israel (Nissan 10), no holiday or commemoration of this auspicious event is ever proclaimed. Why?

“You will eat and be satisfied, and bless HaShem, your God, for the good land that God gave you.” (Deut. 8:10) It seems there is a tension between celebrating success and our capacity to have gratitude for it. Gratitude depends upon acknowledging that the benefit I receive stems from sources external to myself. If I attribute my success even partially to my own merit, to that extent I cannot be truly grateful for it. As the saying goes, “You didn’t build that.” The feeling we’ve earned and are deserving of our good fortune is validating. Particularly when we’ve worked hard for it. Nevertheless, the Torah is more concerned we achieve the feeling of gratitude.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine
rabbi@agudasachim.org