Addressing Benei Yisrael in Parashat Eikev, Moshe seeks to allay the fears they may have had in anticipation of the battles against the Canaanite nations which they would have to wage after crossing into the Land of Israel. He says, “Lest you say in your heart: ‘These nations are more numerous than me, so how I can I dispossess them?’ – you must remember that which the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt” (7:17-18). Moshe assures Benei Yisrael that just as God miraculously brought them out of Egypt, visiting supernatural plagues upon their oppressors, He would likewise grant them His miraculous assistance in triumphing over the large, powerful armies in Canaan.
Rav Yechezkel of Shinova, in Divrei Yechezkel, applies Moshe’s reassurance also to the spiritual battles which we wage on an ongoing basis. (The Divrei Yechezkel speaks specifically of the challenge of distracting thoughts during prayer, but it is relevant also to all spiritual challenges.) As we strive for spiritual greatness, we might find ourselves crying in despair, “These nations are more numerous than me – how can I dispossess them?!” The obstacles that stand in our way and which we must overcome in our desire to properly serve God are numerous and formidable. It is understandable that we might begin to wonder whether we can surmount them all, whether spiritual excellence is possible. The response to such fears is, “You must remember that which the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.” During the years of bondage in Egypt, Benei Yisrael were steeped in Egyptian paganism, and deeply entrenched in Egyptian culture. Kabbalistic teaching famously speaks of Benei Yisrael at this time falling to the “49th gate of impurity,” one level before the “50th gate” from which they would have been unable to recover. Just as God rescued Benei Yisrael from the spiritual abyss and helped prepare them to behold the Revelation at Sinai just seven weeks later, so is He prepared to assist all of us in our spiritual struggles. We should never despair when we find Torah observance challenging, because the precedent of the Exodus shows us that difficult, seemingly insurmountable spiritual challenges can be overcome.
People mistakenly feel that spiritual success is a clearly-paved road, and if they find themselves encountering obstacles which they feel unable to overcome, then their religious devotion must be deficient. The Divrei Yechezkel here dispels this misconception, affirming that indeed, “these nations are more numerous than me” – many difficult challenges arise over the course of religious life. Like Benei Yisrael preparing to wage war against the powerful armies of Canaan, we are to meet these challenges with confidence and resolve, doing what we can and beseeching God to assist us in achieving what we feel we cannot.