In the absence of our rabbi, members of my Chabad shul in Bedford, New York, delivered mini-Torah discussions on parasha Va’Eschanan in Deuteronomy. I drew the seventh section, chapter 7, about the need to “utterly destroy” the seven nations of the Land after 40 years of wandering. Quoting from the Stone edition of the Chumash, “their altars shall you break apart; their pillars shall you smash; their sacred trees shall you cut down; and their carved images shall you burn in fire.” The passage also states that “you shall not intermarry with them.”
What to make of this for my d’var Torah? To find a theme, I looked at these requirements in light of the next passage. It explains that Israel is a “holy people to Hashem.” Some of thinking behind that: “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of Hashem’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers.” Moreover, “He is the God, the faithful God, Who safeguards the covenant and the kindness for those who love Him and for those who observe his commandments.”
Rather than discuss the literal meaning of the first parts of the passage, I came at the material from the point of view of corporate strategy, if you will. God lays down prohibitions that struck me as a smart approach to managing the growth and health of the Jewish nation as it entered the Land. Notes I made before Shabbat said,
“Focus on verse 6, a holy people, what constitutes holiness, or chosenness? NOT size or accomplishment. Abram was one, stayed a small family until Jacob. God loves us not for size or greatness but love of Him and observance.”
Israel could have expanded through a “hostile takeover” of the existing nations, perhaps forcing them to convert or exist sullenly as vassals of Israel. But that wasn’t the plan; God didn’t want Israel to become an unwieldy conglomerate with mismatched, squabbling divisions. Rather, He demanded a separation from the nations and the acidic habits they could introduce into corporate Israel.
The ban on intermarriage takes the same theme into the personal realm. Intermarriage could make Israel bigger through growing connections—think of them as “joint ventures”—with the other nations, but that would also dilute the core values and even the “brand promise” of Israel. Most likely, the Jewish people would move farther and farther away over the generations from their essential relationship with God as mapped during and after the Exodus. That led me back to the reason why God chose Israel. Size didn’t matter. He chose Israel because it was small, not despite of that status. What mattered was love and devotion to God and His commandments.
In this light, the portion lays out a concise corporate strategy. Don’t grow for growth’s sake, because conglomerates and empires ultimately fall apart. In my discussion, I mentioned the fates of the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and, in our own times, the British and Soviet empires. Overexpansion simply can’t be sustained.
The ban on intermarriage could be interpreted in modern terms as “stick to what you know best.” Protect the core rather than risk transforming it through ill-considered personnel changes, even if they are appealing on the emotional level.
The section and the parasha wrap up with a clear corporate mandate from the CEO to the fewest of all the peoples: “You shall observe the commandments, and the decrees and the ordinances that I command you today, to perform them.”
As part of a corporate mission statement, that’s a compelling overview.