Parshat Eikev warns against sheltering ourselves from challenges

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss serves Bais Abraham Congregation.

By Rori Picker Neiss

We all want to give our children better than what we had for ourselves. 

It is a natural inclination. We work hard in order that those who follow after us should not know the same struggles that we faced. We hope that the fears and uncertainties we have experienced around money, food, employment, housing, health, and countless other areas should never be experienced by the next generation. 

Yet, in sheltering our children from the challenges that we have endured, might we be doing more harm to them than good? 

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Eikev, Moses warns the people of the dangers of the comfortable lifestyle that will await them after they settle the land of Israel. Although the Israelites might have thought that the difficult part of their journey was nearly over— as they approached the end of their 40 years of wandering through the desert and prepared to enter the land that had been promised to them — Moses informs them that, in fact, the real tests were yet to come. 

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Moses entreats the nation, 

When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God… and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me. (Deuteronomy 8:12-17)

It is precisely when the travails of the desert cease that the true challenges will come: when the people are satisfied and comfortable, they will grow arrogant and proud in their successes. 

Interestingly, Moses continues on to say, “If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them…” (Deuteronomy 8:19). This seems to be an odd transition. If the people have grown haughty in thinking that their wealth is the product of their own hands, thus forgetting God, why would they turn to other gods? Moses is not worried that they will think the good is coming from an alternative god, but rather, from no god at all. So why is Moses suddenly fearful that the people will turn to idolatry? 

Idolatry comes in many forms. Idolatry need not be the worship of stone or wood or other inanimate objects. Idolatry can be in the form of worship of a celestial beings. Idolatry can be in the form of worship of a human being. Idolatry, as we see in this week’s Torah portion, can even be in the form of worship of oneself. 

The challenges that we face in life should never be seen as weaknesses. The hurdles that individuals overcome are, in fact, our strengths. It is through those obstacles that we are reminded of our limitations, we are reminded of our abilities, and we are reminded of all those around us who guide us on our path. 

As the sage Rabbi Akavya ben Mahalalel said: “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give account and reckoning” (Mishnah Avot 3:1). We should look towards a future that is better and brighter, and future for the next generation that is even better and brighter than our own. Yet, as we look towards that future, we must never forget to look back at the path we leave behind, and the turns and twists that we took to that point. And throughout the entire journey, we must never forget God who is with us throughout. 

In this way, if we remember these three things, we will not fall into the trap of self-worship and we can thus ensure that the future of even the generation after the next can be better and brighter still.