You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." Deuteronomy 8:17
The Torah portion for this week is Eikev, which means "therefore" or "heel," from Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 49:14-51:3.
A story is told about a prominent rabbi who once asked a man at their first meeting, "What do you do?" The man replied that he was a successful entrepreneur. Again, the rabbi asked, "What do you do?" In response the man elaborated a bit more about the type of business that he ran and how successful it was. Again the rabbi asked, "What do you do?" This went on for several minutes until the rabbi explained, "I am asking you what you do and you keep telling me what God does. You are not the one responsible for your successful business ventures. That's God's work. I am asking what it is that you do."
What, in fact, do any of us do? More importantly, what is God doing in our lives that perhaps we don't realize? People are quick to blame God when things don't go the way they like. It's easy to place God at the helm of the ship when the ship seems to be sinking. Yet, how often do people forget who's steering the ship when life feels like we're living on a cruise ship?
In this week's Torah portion, Moses addressed the past and the future. In reference to Israel's future in the Promised Land, Moses declared that the nation would become extremely comfortable. God would bless them with everything good - homes, wealth, and safety - a dream life! Yet, along with this vision, Moses also warned the nation of a serious potential downfall. As a result of all their success, instead of praising God more than ever, Israel might forget God altogether and claim, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."
In the original Hebrew, this phrase is even more generic. The word "wealth" translated literally is simply "success." Whether it is monetary success or any other kind of success, such as excelling in our careers, raising amazing children, or winning an honorable award, it is human nature to give ourselves the credit. However, as the rabbi pointed out, it's not our doing, but God's doing.
So here is what we can answer when asked what it is that we do: First and foremost, we pray; we pray that God will help us to be successful and to recognize that we cannot achieve success without Him. We do our best and leave the rest to God; we put in our greatest efforts but recognize that it is God who fights our battles and determines how things should turn out in the end. When things go wrong, we accept that it's all for the best, and when things go well, we praise and thank God for our success.
That's what we all can do.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President