In this week’s portion, Ekev, Moses continues giving his speeches, which are intended to prepare the Jewish nation to enter the Land of Israel. He addresses the various challenges that the Children of Israel will face as they enter and conquer the land from the nations residing there.
One of the dangers that Moses warns them about is arrogance. This warning also justifies the conquest of the land from its current inhabitants. Moses says to the Children of Israel:
“Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land...’ Not because of your righteousness or because of the honesty of your heart, do you come to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and in order to establish the matter that the Lord swore to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You shall know that not because of your righteousness, the Lord, your God, gives you this good land to possess it; for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9, 4-6).
Entering the land requires warfare, and victory in this war is promised to the Children of Israel, as God has destined this land to be the land of the Jewish people since the time of Abraham.
However, their victory might lead the people to think that they are worthy of receiving the land. Such an arrogant sentiment is erroneous and even dangerous. It may result in attributing the victory solely to the people and forgetting about God. Furthermore, the victory might lead to indifference and distorted morals.
The dangers of arrogance
Moses emphasizes that the people are destined to receive the land with the help of God and that this assistance will not be due to their own merit but because the nations living in the land are wicked and deserving of punishment.
It is essential to note that the fact that God grants the land to the people of Israel requires justification. God is undoubtedly just in all His actions, but He desires that justice be recognized and respected by human beings. If His actions, which are righteous in themselves, are not perceived as such by humans, there is a risk of developing a destructive perception that God is not concerned with justice and morality, and acts arbitrarily.
This perception was the heritage of the idolatrous pagans. However, the Torah consistently struggles against idol worship and repeatedly emphasizes the difference between the worship of the God of Israel and the worship of idols.
The Torah teaches us that God acts solely in accordance with justice and morality. And so that we do not err and think that sometimes He circumvents moral values, the Torah explains that it was justified to conquer the Land of Israel – “because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God drives them out from before you…”
In fact, when God promised the land to our forefather Abraham – the promise from which the people of Israel derive their right to the Land of Israel – he already emphasized the moral aspect of this covenant. God told Abraham that it would take a long time, 400 years, until the Jewish nation would be worthy of entering the land. This was because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” As long as the nations living in the Land of Israel had not sinned and maintained a corrupt and unworthy society, the people of Israel were not permitted to conquer the land.
The danger of arrogance is twofold: The Jewish nation might forget about God and attribute their success and victory solely to themselves; and as a result of this perception, they might think that there is legitimacy to an immoral conquest that does not consider the suffering of the conquered nations. Such a conquest is entirely invalid.
Only due to the profound moral decline of the nations that inhabited the Land of Israel did God allow the Children of Israel to conquer them and inherit the land. ■
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.