One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
Not because of the 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.
– Deut. 9:5
God brings the Israelites out of Egypt with signs and with wonders. He protects them in the wilderness, feeds them delicious manna, and creates miracle after miracle on their behalf. You’d think the Israelites would display everlasting gratitude to their Creator. You’d think they would have unshakeable faith. You’d think.
Instead, these rebellious ingrates repeatedly choose to complain rather than appreciating their blessings. They choose to panic rather than trusting in their God. They keep misbehaving and are given the Promised Land not because of their righteousness, but rather despite their sins, as Moses makes clear.
So why does God tell Moses to take them there? Some context: the Land of Canaan was inhabited by immoral hedonists who sacrificed their own children to idols. The Creator of all life decided it was time to destroy this death cult. But why choose the deeply flawed Israelites to carry out the mission? The simple answer is that God promised it to their ancestors. As Tur HaAroch explains, the Israelites’ sins “cannot annul an oath sworn by God to [their] forefathers.” The Patriarchs and Matriarchs were exceedingly righteous and qualified to establish a God-fearing society in a sinful land. Their descendants are the lucky recipients of their ancestors’ inheritance but even after receiving a Divinely-written book of rules for living, they continue to misbehave. Before his death, Moses berates the Israelites for not being worthy of the land, and tells them exactly how to become worthy: Cultivate gratitude and follow God’s laws.
L.M.F.T., Professor & Author, Psycho-Spiritual Insights blog
At first glance, this parsha seems to contradict our understanding of righteousness and deservingness. We might wonder why B’nei Yisrael’s righteousness isn’t the sole reason for their claim of Eretz Yisrael. However, the parsha reminds us that true righteousness doesn’t entail an entitlement mentality.
Humility is taught by reminding us that our possession of the land is not a reflection of our own righteousness, but a manifestation of Divine Providence. It challenges the notion that we can claim sole credit for our achievements or attribute blessings solely to our own actions. The message is clear: it is Hashem’s will that determines outcomes, and our role is to recognize and express gratitude for it. Arrogance and pride often accompany a sense of entitlement. When we cultivate humility, we open ourselves to a connection with Hashem.
Furthermore, the Ohr HaChaim explains that the parsha reminds us of our obligations as inheritors of Hashem’s promise. We are called to honor the Avot (Patriarch)’s covenant, and to live lives that reflect the values they upheld. Our possession of the land is not an invitation for complacency but an opportunity to fulfill our responsibilities as Am Segulah, Chosen Nation, to bring light to the world through acts of righteousness and compassion. Let us recognize that our accomplishments are not solely of our own making but are intertwined with Divine Providence. May we strive to walk in the footsteps of the Avot, fulfilling our obligations with a genuine desire to bring blessings into the world.
Architect & Author of “Israel History Maps”
As the people of Israel stand on the threshold of the Promised Land, they face not only physical dangers but also a peril of moral significance. Moshe cautions them against the idea of “moral justification,” wherein they might wrongly assume that their inheritance of the Promised Land is an unconditional endorsement of their righteousness, excusing any wrongdoing.
To counter this notion, Moshe reminds them of their past transgressions during their journey. Thus, he sets a profound precedent: despite the divine promise of the land, their continued dwelling in it hinges on their conduct and adherence to moral principles as set in the Torah. He won’t be there to intercede on their behalf anymore, making them responsible for their actions. The fate of the indigenous people serves as a cautionary example of the land’s intolerance towards sins and wrongdoings.
This message remains relevant today. Possessing and thriving in the Promised Land demands observance of mitzvot and the pursuit of justice. The fulfillment of Hashem’s promise has been realized, but now it falls upon the Israelites to uphold their end of the covenant. The land requires not just a physical presence but a virtuous one.
The last words of Moshe emphasize that true ownership of the Promised Land involves more than inheriting it; it necessitates a continuous commitment to moral conduct and justice. Moshes’ warning against “moral justification” challenges us to recognize that dwelling in the Promised Land of Israel demands honoring its sanctity through righteous actions.
Rabbi Yossi Eilfort
President, Magen Am
The art of Verbal Judo requires us to hear the best parts of a message and use that to carve a positive outcome from a conversation. Whenever possible, we place ourselves on the “same team” as the person we are speaking with. Our own pride is often the greatest stumbling block, when we feel we need to defend ourselves.
At first glance, the tone of this parsha can appear quite distressing. It can seem as though our efforts are meaningless. If we were looking for a reason to take offense, it could be found here. However, when we read with the understanding that G-d is truly on our side, we can find great comfort in these words.
In the previous Aliyah, we are reminded that our strength and wealth are due to the blessings of the Almighty — not a creation of our own. We are warned of the dangers of feeling pride in our physical success, thinking it is a natural result of our own effort. This parsha draws that lesson further, into the realm of our spiritual pride. Even there is not where we place our trust.
The middle of this parsha is truly the center of the message: “The L-rd your G-d drives them out from before you.” We are being told that, while we are expected to do our best, we can lean into our trust in G-d and rely on Him. We can embrace the freedom of knowing our Security rests in His hands.
Rabbi Peretz Rodman
Head of Israel’s Masorti/Conservative Rabbinic Court
When a candidate defeats an incumbent, s/he rarely announces, “I won only because the electorate chose to ‘throw the bum out.’” Not so the Israelites. Our Torah announces, “It’s not that we have shown that we deserve the land of Canaan. It’s just that the other guys were so corrupt, their society so rotten — already back in Abraham’s time — that they had to go. And we are being given a shot at running the place.”
Genesis offered no direct explanation for the choice of Abraham. We can infer from Abraham’s actions why he was a good bet to father the family-cum-nation that would do better than the Canaanites. Exodus offers little insight into why the children of Abraham’s grandson Jacob/Israel are rescued from slavery and sent on toward Canaan. That journey is abruptly delayed, stretched an extra 40 years, when they prove to be a generation too scarred by slavery to be ready to conquer and govern well.
And now Deuteronomy makes it explicit: God is taking a chance on the Israelites. Elsewhere, Deuteronomy notes that the Israelites too will be subjected to constant scrutiny. They will take over God’s favored land, and then they will have to earn their presence anew every day.
The story we tell ourselves about ourselves is this: The bounty we enjoy is contingent. We must continue to deserve it in order to continue to enjoy it. If we don’t, we become the bums that will be thrown out next.