As Victorians we can pat ourselves on the backs again, or so we are told. Once again we have overcome an outbreak of COVID-19. Once again, for the fifth time, we are free to leave our houses and physically navigate the world, (mostly) unrestricted. And in truth it really is an achievement to remain free of this deadly disease which rampages and terrorises so much of the world. While every death is tragic, our state's and our country's low toll are truly a tremendous accomplishment which should be a cause for national pride. And yet, it doesn't feel like a triumph.
The Torah tells us this week that after conquering the Land of Israel the Jews must be careful not to become complacent. Specifically, they should not forget that it is not through their own efforts alone that they have achieved the impossible, to conquer a land occupied by a people far more numerous and far mightier.
Instead, they should always remember that this goal was achieved through tremendous divine aid. While we work hard, and that is necessary, we must always maintain the humility to acknowledge that it was not through our effort alone that we attained our goals. It is by acknowledging that we do not have total control of our lives, that we maintain perspective and a strong focus on what is most important in our lives, and (in context of the parsha) are not lured down the road to idolatry.
Now we are encouraged to be proud of our achievements in a world of COVID-19. Look how well we have done! However, when things do not then go perfectly we blame ourselves or others for failing in their tasks. "We had the ability to do better and didn't", we tell ourselves. We are constantly trapped between the poles of exaltation and disappointment and the disappointment and hopelessness are winning.
To break out of this loop we must embrace a new perspective. We live in a complex, difficult world which we cannot control. We can mitigate some of the effects of that uncertainty but ultimately much of our life lies in the hands of nature and of G-d. Humility is not merely a way of preventing pride. It is also a way of maintaining hope and equilibrium in the face of uncertainty and danger. And through our humility and the resulting spiritual and personal growth maybe we will merit to escape, once and for all, the scourge of disease and sadness.