Singing Ashamnu: Striking a (Counterintuitive) Balance, By Rabbi Joshua Lookstein

The famous teaching of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha – that everyone should  carry around 2 pieces of paper, one in each pocket, one that reads Bishvili nivra ha’olam (the world was created for me) and the other V’anochi afar va’efer (I am but dust and ashes) – has early echoes in Parshat Ekev. The beginning of the Parshais a roller coaster of similar emotions. At times, God seems to be boosting the confidence of B’nei Yisraeland at other times he makes sure they are humble. Baruch tihiyeh mikol ha’amim(you will be the most blessed from among all the nations).  Lo tira meihem(don’t be afraid of the nations who dwell in the land).

And yet, when your wealth increases, V’amarta bilvavechakochi v’otzem yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh(and you say in your heart, “my strength and the work of my hands made all this possible”), vizacharta et Hashem Elokecha(and you will then remember God), ki hu hanotein lecha koach la’asot chayil– it is He who gives you the ability to accumulate great wealth. Be humble. And there are other examples.

But then there are some pesukimthat seem like hybrid statements, including even the previous one. Bnei Yisrael, you have accumulated great wealth, you have achieved a lot in your lifetimes but it is God who gave you the foundation for your achievements. Or ki lo al halechem l’vado yichyeh ha’adam– not by the bread, the money, the living that you make for yourself, not on that alone can you live – ki al kol motza phi Hashem yichyeh ha’adam– but you can also live on sustenance that God provides. You can provide and God can provide. A combination. And finally, V’achalta, v’savata, u’veirachta (you will eat, you will be satiated and you will bless God). You ate, you enjoyed, you earned it, but God had a hand in it.

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