A Superior People?

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s Parsha, Eikev, Moshe addresses Jewish “exceptionalism” in the context of the Jews’ 

“inalienable” right to the Land of Israel. We must never forget that our claim to this territory is based on Hashem’s decision to give it to us.

What motivated this great gift? Why did the Creator dispense this most coveted treasure to the Jewish people? Is it because we possess such amazing qualities? The Jews can be characterized as a people who excel! No other group has a comparable record of achievement in virtually all areas of human creative endeavor. The life-enhancing scientific breakthroughs constantly emanating from Israel are truly astounding. And envy-inducing.

Jews take great pride in the personal and national attainments of their brothers and sisters. However, does this record of excellence explain why Hashem bequeathed us this unique dwelling place? To put it bluntly, are the Jews a superior nationality who were chosen by G-d and gifted with His favored land because among the nations they are simply the best?

The surprising answer is found in this week’s parsha, where Moshe stingingly states, “Do not say in your heart, when Hashem pushes them away from you saying, ‘Because of my righteousness did Hashem bring me to possess this Land and because of the wickedness of these nations did Hashem drive them away from before you.’ Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does Hashem, your G-d, drive them away from before you, and in order to establish the word that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And you should know that not because of your righteousness does Hashem, your G-d, give you this good land to possess it, for you are a stiff-necked people”.

We should appreciate Moshe’s brutal honesty. He was certainly uninterested in scoring any popularity points. One imagines he would not have lasted long as a contemporary pulpit rabbi. He clearly anticipated that the Jews would interpret their easy conquest of Canaan as proof that Hashem recognized their exceptionalism. So he put it to them in no uncertain terms that their divine inheritance did not come to them because of their exemplary moral character, for “you are a stiff-necked people.”

The Sforno explains that it is impossible for a someone to be righteous and of upright heart if he refuses to listen to reason. Such a person chooses to function according to the whims of his heart and declines to turn his attention to the righteous teachers who would guide him on the proper path. Our propensity to eschew wisdom in favor of our emotional inclinations is a categorical moral shortcoming that Moshe detected in the Jews. And he shared this insight with them.

If we are so flawed, then why did Hashem choose us and favor us with His blessed Land? Moshe provides the answer, “Only your forefathers did Hashem cherish to love them, and He chose their offspring after them—you—from among all the peoples, as this day.”

The uniqueness of the Jews is not based on any intrinsic spiritual quality. Rather, it is because we are the descendants of truly great people, the Avot, who earned G-d’s special approval and favor. It is therefore vitally important that Jews divest themselves of false national hubris. We should humbly aspire to be genuine descendants of our great forefathers and emulate the ways of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, whose religious qualities found favor with Hashem.

Thus, all Jews, especially the most fervently religious, must honestly confront this question: Are we practicing the religion of Avraham Avinu? Hashem clearly explained the reason for His closeness to our nation’s founder. “And Hashem said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I do, now that Avraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? For I have loved him, because he commands his children, and his household after him, that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice, in order that Hashem might then bring upon Avraham that which He had spoken of him.”

That is the standard that Jews, as individuals and as a nation, must seek to aspire to in order to merit the Land of Israel and continuing Divine favor. May we merit to achieve it.

Shabbat shalom.

P.S.  “Eternally Yours: Exodus” is now available. The articles offer a new and original perspective on the weekly parsha that will encourage you to think and enhance your appreciation of Torah and enjoyment of Shabbat.

Titles include “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” “Reclaiming One’s Dignity,” “Love Is Not All You Need,” “Saw You At Sinai,” “The True Test of Piety,” “Betrayal,” and many more. The book on Exodus can be obtained at http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and the book on Genesis is available at http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis.

And now we are close to finishing the third in the Eternally Yours series on Bamidbar. Please stay tuned.