Deuteronomy 7:12 –11:25
In Eikev, Moses continues the covenantal theme of the previous two portions: he reminds us of all the good that will come when we follow God’s laws, and of the trouble we caused when we did not. However, this week Moses drills into the psychology of what motivates our behavior.
With just a handful of verses Moses highlights the fragility of human nature that leads us to arrogance; and he warns us about the necessity of humility when we enter the Land, “lest you eat and be sated and build goodly houses and dwell in them. And your cattle and sheep multiply, and silver and gold multiply for you, and all that you have multiply. And your heart become haughty and you forget the Lord your God …” [Deut. 8:12-14]
The danger of arrogance is that when we become full of ourselves there is no room for anyone else. Arrogance may be self-satisfying in the short term, but in the long run it weakens and destroys our relationships with each other, and with God. Just as in last week’s parasha we explored how love is the antidote to hate, this week Moses teaches us to adopt humility as a counter to arrogance.
Yet what does it mean to be truly humble? Many of us assume that humility is the opposite of arrogance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The opposite of arrogance is the denial of one’s self-worth. Self-debasement is not humility. The Mussar tradition teaches that arrogance and self-debasement define the edges of a range of human behavior, with humility operating as the healthy balance point in the middle. Here is one way of describing some different points along the scale:
To be humble does not mean to have no sense of self-worth, but rather to have a healthy sense of one’s place and value in the world. To be humble means to recognize that our gifts are just that – gifts. Rabbi Leib Chasman (1867-1931) taught: “One who denies one’s strengths is not humble, but a fool. Rather, a humble person is one who understands that all of his strengths and accomplishments are a gift from heaven. The more a person recognizes this, the more humble he is.”
Recognizing our gifts can inspire us to make the most of them, while staying grounded and avoiding the trap of arrogance. This is a difficult lesson to learn, and we have failed many times throughout our history. In Eikev, Moses makes sure that we understand what is at stake. When we become filled with arrogance we put ourselves in God’s place, often by creating and serving our own gods – the work of our hands. In the end, this path always leads to disaster. Humility, it turns out, is the secret ingredient to long term success for us as individuals and as a community, and ultimately, to the full realization of our sacred covenant with God.
In every generation, this is a lesson we should take to heart.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras