Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Acknowledging Human Effort

"Lest when thou hast eaten and are satisfied, and hast built goodly houses and dwelt therein, and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silder and thy gold is multiplied, then thy heart be lifted up and thou forget the Lord thy God who brought thee forth from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led thee through the great and dreadful wilderness wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirty ground where was no water, who fed thee in the wilderness with man which thy fathers knew not; that He might afflict there, and that He might prove thee to do thee good at thy latter end; and thou say in thy heart 'My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.' But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God for it is he that giveth three the power to get wealth that He may establish His covenant which He swore until thy fathers as it is this day." (Devarim 8:12-20)
Given that it is God who gives us our lives and the power to accomplish our deeds and that if He were to withdraw His support from us for an intant, we would cease to exist, one can draw a very simplistic conclusion. Since anything I do I really didn't do myself, rather God did working through me, why not cut out the middle man? Why put any effort into anything at all, other than basic mitzvah performance? The outcome should be the exact same whether God does it Himself or through ol' Garnel (that's me).
Of course this is immediately dismissed by reasonable people as being a ridiculous thought. Even the most devout person makes efforts to provide himself with shelter and food, not simply relying on God to do it all for him. But has anyone ever noticed that when secular folks start boasting about their accomplishment, whether in building something or making important scientific discoveries and the like, many in the religious community are quick to answer those boats with: "You didn't do anything. God did it all and you were just the tool"?
In fact, in its extreme the conclusion noted about seems to be the exact basis for the understanding the Neturei Karta and their Satmar buddies have about how the Messianic era will unfold. We will remain passive. God, through his Moshiach (probably not the Rebbe, he's dead, eh?) will do everything including providing a Third Temple direct from Heaven. The main theological opposition to Zionism, both religious and secular, was that it was a sin for Jews to take their future into their hands and participate in the upcoming final redemption.
However, the Ran, in his Drashos, understandings the above verses differently. Far from seeing the statement "'My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth" as an isolated, arrogant statement, he connects it with the following verse to derive an entirely different conclusion. Instead of it being a critical comment, it is now seen as part of a process. The hard working and successful Jew has a right to look at his fields, his homes, his factories, and other such things which he has toiled to build and feel a sense of accomplishment. Through the sweat of his brow he has developed something worthwhile and meaningful. But after kvelling for a moment, he is immediately remember that the only reason he was able to do what he did was because of the power God gave him. In other words, he isn't simply the middle man for a predetermined goal but rather the instrument of that goal with the help of God. The person and his deeds matter as long as they are appreciated in the right perspective.
Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt"l, in his comments on Eikev notes this interpretation of the Ran and applies it to Israel today. There is no denying that the return of our people to our Land is a miracle that has only succeeded because of God's help and desire that we rebuild our patrimony as a prelude to the unfolding of the final redemption. But there is also no denying that the Israel of today was founded and build up through the sacrifices of millions of Jews who gave their lives so that the State might exist and prosper. To dismiss their efforts as "Well, it's what God wanted" is not appropriate in the least.
Rather, Rav Kook wants us to note that the Zionist enterprise has been a tremendous success. The power and the might of their hands hath gotten them this wealth that we see before us today, but we must immediately remember that the power and might came from God and were given to us to use in the effort to increase His presence in this world. Through that understanding Israel can gain a true sense of purpose and a holy meaning.

1 comment:

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

As I've noted before, I don't like censoring comments. However, certain terms implying equivalence between the Nazi Germans, y"Sh, and Jews who are doing God's will in returning to Zion to rebuild our land are not acceptable on this blog. Such comments and commentators are not welcome here.

Thank you.