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לימוד תורה

Fighting our mindset

Parshah and its realization - Parashat Ekev 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

The human mindset has a decisive influence in many fields. The key to success and the ability to face difficulties, challenges, and crises depends on the awareness of one's skills and one's self-esteem. Abilities' strength is difficult to assess. One's sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges. An 'overestimation' may lead to taking uncalculated risks, to failure. 'Underestimation' causes one to give up too far in advance.

The 'ability' to face the challenge depends on the person's motivation. The more it increases, the more the existing level of ability will rise and strengthen, allowing you to face bigger challenges. Achieving difficult goals in the face of adversity helps build confidence and strengthen perseverance. It requires faith and recognition of the importance of the plan one seeks to achieve.

Self-efficacy also exists at the national level, and it affects people's willingness to confront national challenges. It was a strategic element in inheriting the Land as we learned in our Parasha.

In the opening of the Parasha, Moshe Rabbeinu refers to the complex national, spiritual and security challenges expected of the people of Israel upon entering the Land:

כִּ֤י תֹאמַר֙ בִּלְבָ֣בְךָ֔ רַבִּ֛ים הַגּוֹיִ֥ם הָאֵ֖לֶּה מִמֶּ֑נִּי אֵיכָ֥ה אוּכַ֖ל לְהוֹרִישָֽׁם׃ לֹ֥א תִירָ֖א מֵהֶ֑ם זָכֹ֣ר תִּזְכֹּ֗ר אֵ֤ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה֙ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לְפַרְעֹ֖ה וּלְכׇל־מִצְרָֽיִם...

"Should you say to yourselves, “These nations are more numerous than we; how can we dispossess them?” You need have no fear of them. You have but to bear in mind what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians" (Devarim 7:17-18)

This is a national strategic 'assessment' of the first order. On the one hand, the challenging strategic reality may discourage the people - from dealing with 'numerous nations'. And on the other hand, strengthens the people's 'self-efficacy', their ability to overcome difficult challenges, and strengthens their faith in G-d.

'Self-efficacy' remains a strategic element in the mission of inheriting the land to this day.

The reference to the sense of capability as a strategic element, is at the basis of a famous commentaries' dispute later in our Parasha:

וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה׃ וְזָֽכַרְתָּ֙ אֶת ה' אֱלֹקיךָ כִּ֣י ה֗וּא הַנֹּתֵ֥ן לְךָ֛ כֹּ֖חַ לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת חָ֑יִל ...

"And you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is Hashem your G-d who gives you the power to get wealth…" (Devarim 8:17-18)

The 'Targum Jonathan' translates this as a warning:

הֲווֹ זְהִירִין דְּלָא תֵימְרוּן בְּלִבְּכוֹן חֵילָן וּתְקוֹף יְדָן קָנוּ לָן יַת נִכְסַיָא הָאִילֵין

"Beware that you say not in your heart, our strength and the might of our hands have obtained us all these riches" (ibid)

The Jews, the individual, and the nation were warned against attributing their success to their power: “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me” and forget Hashem's help.

On the other hand, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda ZT'L repeated in our ears many times in his sermons, that not only can we say "My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me" but it is even a Mitzvah! Success is credited to the one who made an effort and worked to achieve it, but he must remember that Hashem gave him the strength to succeed.

רצה בזה כי עם היות שאמת שיש באישים סגולות מיוחדות לדבר מהדברים כמו שיש אנשים מוכנים לקבל החכמה, ואחרים מוכנים לשית עצות בנפשם לאסוף ולכנוס, ולפי זה יהיה אמת בצד מה שיוכל העשיר לומר כחי ועם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה, עם כל זה עם היות שהכח ההוא נוטע בך זכור תזכור הכח ההוא מי נתנו בך ומאין בא, והוא אומרו וזכרת את ה' אלהיך כי הוא הנותן לך כח וגו'. לא אמר וזכרת כי ה' אלהיך נותן לך חיל, שא"כ היה מרחיק שהכח הנטוע באדם לא יהיה סבה אמצעית באסיפת ההון, ואין הדבר כן, ולפיכך אמר כי עם היות שכחך עושה את החיל הזה תזכור נותן הכח ההוא יתברך.'

"That is, though it is true that men have proclivities in certain areas, some being predisposed to the acquisition of wisdom and others to the type of deliberation leading to appropriation and acquisition so that in this respect there is some validity to the rich man's saying: "My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth" — still, though this power be implanted in you, remember who gave it to you and whence it came. This is the intent of: "Remember Hashem your G-d, for it is He who gives you the power to attain wealth," as opposed to: "Remember that Hashem your G-d gives you the wealth." The latter would imply that the power implanted in a man is not an intermediary agency in the acquisition of wealth, and this is not so. Therefore, it is stated: though your power may have given you this wealth, remember who gave you the power — the Holy One Blessed Be He". (Derashot HaRan* 10).

The negation of "My power and the might of my hand" may lead to a loss of confidence in the ability to face difficult challenges. A nation or military unit that does not believe in its own ability is weaker than others. Underestimating one's self-worth, in a place where trust and self-confidence are required in order to act, is not humility, is the counsel of the Yetzer:

אַךָ יְדוּעָה עֲצַת הַיֵּצֶר בָּזֶה, שֶׁבְּבוֹא דְּבַר מִצְוָה כָּזוֹ לְיָדוֹ, עוֹשֵׂהוּ לְעָנָו, לֵאמֹר: אֲנִי הַפָּחוּת שֶׁבָּעִיר, וּדְבָרַי בְּוַדַּאי לֹא יִתְקַבְּלוּ כְּלָל, לָמָּה אַשְׁחִית אֶת דְּבָרַי חִנָּם? אֲבָל כַּאֲשֶׁר יִתְבּוֹנֵן הָאָדָם בְּעַצְמוֹ, יִרְאֶה שֶׁהִיא רַק עֲצַת הַיֵּצֶר...

"But the counsel of the yetzer is known in this, that when a Mitzvah of this kind presents itself to him he assumes a cloak of humility, saying: "I am the least of [those in] the city, and my words will certainly not be heeded. Why should I waste my breath?" But when a man reflects upon himself, he will see that this is only the counsel of the yetzer"... (Shemirat HaLashon Book I - The Gate of Torah 6:5)

*Discourses of the Ran, Rabbeinu Nissim Ben Reuven of Gerona, 14th-century. Compilation of 12 discourses elucidating the fundamentals of Judaism alongside explanations of the Torah.

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