SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, August 20, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Toward the beginning of Parashat Eikev (7:17-18), Moshe addresses those among Benei Yisrael who doubted the nation’s ability to defeat the formidable armies of Canaan: “If you say in your heart, ‘These peoples are more numerous than me – how can I vanquish them?’ – do not be afraid of them; remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.”

            The Chida, in his Penei David, observes that Moshe here uses the term “levavekha,” rather than the simpler term “libekha,” in reference to the people’s “heart.”  The difference between these two words, the Chida writes, can be determined from Rashi’s comments earlier in Sefer Devarim (6:5), in explaining the command to love the Almighty “be-khol levavekha” – “with all your heart.”  Based on the Gemara, Rashi writes that this command requires us to love the Almighty “with both you inclinations” – that is, with both our positive inclination and our negative inclination.  “Levavekha,” as opposed to “libekha,” connotes the human being’s full range of emotions and natural tendencies, both good and bad.  Whereas “libekha” refers to a state of unequivocal commitment and exclusive focus, “levavekha” denotes conflict, tension and struggle between different inclinations and drives. 

            Returning to our verse in Parashat Eikev, the Chida explains that the concern of “eikha ukhal le-horisham,” that Benei Yisrael might be unable to overcome the powerful Canaanite nations, could have arisen from both the negative and positive areas in the people’s hearts.  On the one hand, this fear could have resulted from a deficiency in faith, as occurred at the time of the sin of the spies.  On the other hand, the people may have understandably feared that the wrongs they committed during their travels through the wilderness may have rendered them unworthy of defeating the nations of Canaan.  Such a concern may have thus reflected not a lack of faith, but an honest and keen recognition of the gravity and consequences of sin, and genuine fear of Heaven.  Moshe therefore assures the people that regardless of the cause of their fears, they can and must trust in God’s explicit promise to lead them to resounding victory over the nations of Canaan.

            Unlike the battle to conquer Eretz Yisrael, most undertakings do not come with God’s explicit guarantee of success.  But with regard to them, too, we often find ourselves hesitant or even fearful of ambitious goals and undertakings.  The Chida’s insightful remarks remind us of the need to carefully examine the origin and source of our hesitations and fears.  Sometimes, they are the product of the yetzer tov, of a mature and responsible recognition of our own limits and of pragmatic constraints.  On other occasions, however, our reluctance to take on ambitious goals originates from our yetzer ha’ra, from vices such as laziness or selfishness.  We must carefully analyze our “levav,” the conflicting aspects of our personalities, our positive and negative tendencies and inclinations, to determine whether our reluctance is justified or something we ought to try to overcome.