At the end of the tochacha, the section of the Torah describing the horrific events prophesying what will occur when Bnei Yisrael are exiled from Eretz Yisrael, the verse states: Tachat lo avadetem et Hashem Elokeycha b’simcha u-v’tuv levov m’rov kol, “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God, with joy and a good heart, with much good” (Devarim 28:47).
The Mesilat Yesharim (19) explains that m’rov kol “with much good” and b’simcha u-v’tuv levov “with joy and a good heart” refer to poor attitudes of the Jews. The verse criticizes Bnei Yisrael’s performance of mitzvot with the wrong approach. Their service of Hashem lacked enjoyment, simcha, and for that reason they receive these horrific curses.
Rashi (Devarim 28:47), however, accepts an alternative interpretation of the verse. He reads m’rov kol to refer to a time period, not an attitude. M’rov kol refers to a time period when things were good and the Jews prospered. The verse explains that when the Jews were thriving they forgot Hashem and went astray. It was during well-to-do times that the Jews had abandoned Hashem and the mitzvot and in effect brought about these curses.
This concern, overconfidence and arrogance leading to forgetting Hashem is one that the Torah addresses often. Moreover and more specifically, the Torah offers two types of prescriptions designed to deal with the problem.
Firstly, many mitzvot are aimed at combating this arrogant mindset that leads one away from Hashem. A great example is the mitzvah of sukkah according to the Rashbam (Vayikra 23:43). He argues that we sit in a sukkah precisely to avoid this problem. At the end of the harvest season one can naturally feel empowered and accomplished after a successful harvest. The Torah’s response is to move out to the sukkah. When it is natural to feel too much like the baal habayit the Torah orders you to go out and live in a sukkah.
This suggestion of the Rashbam also explains why we sit in the sukkah on Sukkot and not Pesach, a question many commentaries struggle to answer. It is because specifically then, after the harvest, that it is natural to develop this sense of overconfidence. It also may explain why s’chach is used as a roof. One should use some of the crops harvested as the s’chach, a covering for the sukkah symbolizing that it has the potential to protect him, but realize that real protection comes from Hashem.
Besides mitzvot, there is a second weapon the Torah has against claiming credit and allowing that to cause us to forget Hashem. Awareness of the problem, education and the proper perspective are psychological tools used to help man overcome this potential trap. Moshe warns the Jews explicitly of this concern, saying, “Be careful lest you forget Hashem, your God” (Devarim 8:11). Preparation and knowledge is a large part of the battle.
But even more than warning us of the potential problem, the Torah offers an alternative attitude, a better way of constructing one’s outlook on one’s success. The Torah says, “And you will say that ‘With my strength and might of my hands I succeeded’” (Devarim 8:18). Often misunderstood, in this verse the Torah never tells man to dismiss his own accomplishments. On the contrary, as the Ran (Drashot HaRan, Drasha 10) points out, the Torah does encourage one to recognize one’s talents, but to realize something else as well: “He is the one who gives you strength to succeed.” It is Hashem who gave you the strength so you can succeed for yourself. Humility is not ignoring one’s talents, but recognizing they come from Hashem, whereas arrogance is taking credit yourself when Hashem is deserving of it. That is what Hashem warns us from doing, what He encourages us to rethink, and punishes us for violating if we don’t deal with it correctly.
Lastly, if Hashem exiles us because “tachat lo avadetem et Hashem Elokeycha b’simcha u-v’tuv levov m’rov kol” then one can assume that to succeed in Eretz Yisrael, one should serve Hashem humbly and happily.
Rabbi Jesse Horn is a senior ra”m at Yeshivat Hakotel and program director of Mizrachi Mechanchim. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).