In the prelude to their crossing the Jordan, Moshe warns them, Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, “Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land,” and [that] 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... (דברים ט ד-ה)
Facing an apparently harsh reality, the Jewish people become aware that aren’t as good as they think they are, and are fortunate despite their lack of worthiness to nevertheless merit entering the Land.
But didn’t the Torah state very clearly just last week, But because of the Lord's love for you, and because He keeps the oath He swore to your forefathers, the Lord took you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
(דברים ז ח) ?
Where has the love been so suddenly lost?
Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva explains the initial verse not necessarily as a negation of their righteousness, and G-d’s appreciation for all they have accomplished, but rather as instructive of an attitude and perspective we each must formulate in our own lives.
We are forewarned from thinking that our success is due to our righteousness or integrity, but rather to believe and know in our hearts that our successes are attributed to supernal kindness and abundant good, as we find how Yaakov, our forefather, may peace be upon him, expressed, “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and all the truth...” (שערי תשובה ג כט)
No matter what we do in service to G-d pales in contrast to the bounty He bestows upon us. One can never consider one’s efforts deserving of the blessings we receive in return.
This, Rabbeinu Yonah states is an obligation incumbent on each one of us to never sense that we ‘deserve’ our lot for deeds or commitments we have made in devotion to G-d.
The Magen Avraham says that one may not even observe how G-d has rewarded him in life more than he deserves, implying that G-d doesn’t hold a person accountable. (או"ח קנו)
Does this mean that one can never feel good about his accomplishments in service to G-d and must take a defeatists attitude that it is impossible to live up to His expectations of us?
On the contrary.
G-d doesn’t want us to descend to a relationship that is based on a tit for tat attitude. A father gives wholly without need for barter. Of course, the healthier the relationship the more each component devotes, without any expectation of reward, wholeheartedly to the one he loves.
G-d wasn’t downplaying their accomplishments but merely letting them know, that as He had stated earlier, it is solely His love for them that motivates His blessing.
That realization doesn’t defeat devotion, it inspires it. It also makes us aware that even when we come up short He is fully devoted to us, because it is never impinges His relationship and commitment to us.
In our daily lives we must avoid ever giving up when things go badly in assuming it is evidence of our being undeserving of His love and attention, knowing that it is never about the lack of balance, but merely G-d’s method of prodding us to re-establish the closeness in the relationship we have lapsed in.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן