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The Jewish Attitude Toward Inhabiting Israel

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Jewish people are about to enter the Land of Israel after being redeemed from Egypt and forty years of travel in the desert. God commands them to conquer the land from the evil, idolatrous inhabitants.

Finally, after hundreds of years of exile and persecution, they could feel good about themselves, hold their heads up high, and be in control of their own destinies (like all other proud and independent nations). In Moses’s message to them before entering the Land of Israel, one would have expected Moses to say something like: ‘My dear nation, be strong in conquering the evil, idolatrous inhabitants of the land as God has commanded. Soon we will have complete freedom, independence and be the masters of our own destinies. Finally we will be free in our own land.’

However, in Parshat Eikev, when Moses is preparing them for their conquest and settlement of the land, he says these words: “Do not say to yourself because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord drives them out from before you. Not because of your 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. You shall know that, not because of your righteousness, the Lord, your God, gives you this land to possess it; for you are a stiff necked people. Remember do not forget, how you angered the Lord, your God, in the desert; from the day that you went out of the land of Egypt, until you came to this place, you have been rebelling against the Lord.” This is one of the few times the Torah uses a double emphasis and commands us to actively remember and simultaneously commands us not to forget. Clearly, the message here is extremely important.

I think the message is simple, straightforward, and profound–a message we should never lose sight of. Our inhabitance of the Land of Israel is not something that should imbue us with a feeling of superiority and entitlement. On the contrary, we ourselves are undeserving and it is a privileged inheritance we received, based on the righteousness of our forefathers. In fact, God warns us very clearly that if we live an immoral life filled with arrogance and a sense of self-importance, He will exile us from the land as he did to the original inhabitants.

Friends, we are proud and grateful to God for returning our nation to the Land of Israel after 2,000 years of exile and persecution. Let us remember the message of Moses: Our inheritance is an undeserved gift that we are most grateful for. Let us not be haughty and remember that this precious gift is conditional upon us living up to God’s high moral and ethical standards.