Beware that you do not forget the Lord, your G-d, by not keeping His commandments... which I command you this day, lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your G-d...
The Torah here forewarns of the danger of being lured into delusional independence from
from G-d, a prideful smugness that stemmed from becoming drunk with success. It continues with testament to G-d’s having tended to and providing for their every need.
Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, Who led you through that great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought water for you out of solid rock, Who fed you with manna in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to benefit you in your end...
The Torah then seems to project that they will defiantly declare autonomy by stating:
And you will say to yourself, “My כֹּחִי — strength, ועֹצֶם ידי — and the might of my hand, עשה לי — that has accumulated, החיל הזה — this wealth for me.”
G-d reminds them never to forget though, that:
But you must remember the Lord your G-d, for it is He that gives you כח — strength to make חיל — wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers, as it is this day. (דברים ח יא-יח)
This poisonous sentiment, attributing success to one’s own might and initiative, is an oft quoted verse.
Yet, one may wonder, is it true that no one gets credit for their efforts? Is it only G-d utilizing man as instruments to bring out His dispensing of achievement? Are we automatons, programmed to do without any real contribution towards reaching our goals?
There seems to be an intimation in the verse challenging their taking credit for their actions in the fact that G-d provided all their needs in the wilderness of the desert. How could they possibly think they determine their own destiny independent of G-d?
Is it not plausible, though, that when they were down and out they understood that G-d in His benevolence provided them everything plus, but perhaps once they enter the land they are to be left to their own devices?
We know that is certainly not the case, but how were they to surmise that from their situation when they had to rely on G-d?
The illustrious Rav A. I. Kook in his Ayin Ayah elaborates on a novel interpretation of this verse that appears in Drashos HaRan , one of the great 14th century Talmudic scholars, Rabbeinu Nissim of Gerona in Derashos HaRan. (Third Derasha)
The verse that describes what the nation may erroneously claim in the future — that their strength and might brought them success — is understood by the Ran in a totally opposite way.
The Torah is summoning the people after being forewarned not to succumb to misplaced arrogance, to on the contrary, view their talent, initiative, and persistent ambition as evidence of their very special role in carrying out so masterfully G-d’s will, that can only find expression and success if indeed they utilize their many skills for that purpose. With one caveat, that they constantly remember, that G-d invested them with the כח — strength, intelligence and natural skills. Then they are assured never to go astray.
The verse is not a depiction of what they ‘should not’ utter, but rather what they ‘must’ proclaim with confidence and joy!
Perhaps that is why when the verse states that they remain conscious of G-d providing that כח — strength, it does not remind them regarding the עוצם ידי — the might of the hand.
‘Strength’ refers to natural inborn strengths, through which each person discovers one’s unique role to apply it to — that comes solely from G-d, with no notion of attribution to oneself. But עוצם ידי, Rav Hirsch explains, refers more specifically to ‘the power to overcome difficulties and opposition’, something that is solely the domain of man’s free-willed choice to persist until he meets his objective — that comes from within.
Rav Kook contrasts the young child that needs to be spoon fed as opposed to the mature young adult who is provided by his doting father, with the material and means by which he can invest his own talent in turning it into success. Never forgetting from where he received those tools.
He adds, the greater relationship is evident in the one who sees his every action as a partnership with G-d, carrying the mission of promoting the will of G-d in all that he endeavors, sensing His presence constantly. As opposed to those generations who necessitated open miracles to grab their attention and maintain a connection.
The first letters of each word in this expression — כחי ועצם ידי spells out כּוֹי/כְּוִי, a creature which is defined as neither a beast nor an animal, just a בריה — a ‘being’ unto itself.
The sages of Yavneh when observing the diversity of people around them, and sensing a unity of purpose, would exclaim, אני בריה וחברי בריה, ‘I am a being, and my friends are beings’!
Rav Kook explains this alludes to their fathoming, that we are each endowed with G-d granted intelligence and skills, no two are alike. It is how we each initiate our efforts to implement these tools in bringing out the presence of Hashem in the world. We are all equal in that light.
We are not beasts of instinct, nor mindless animals. We are each a בריה, a mighty being, partnered with G-d in proudly promoting His will in all that we do.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן