You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the nations, who shall hear all these chukim/decrees and who shall say, “Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.”
You have to rub your eyes in disbelief! Perform them so that the nations will react with accolades for our wisdom? And if they would not cheer us on, would we not have to safeguard and perform? Is our practice of Torah contingent upon the approval of the nations?
Moreover, if our practice of the Torah is supposed to impress them positively, why does our pasuk state that it is the chukim that garners their applause? Chukim are the mitzvos that don’t seem to make sense, that they find irrational and silly, and mock us for them!
The Torah here lays down an important principle about the way we ought to serve Hashem. We must serve Him with deep comprehension, so that we fully understand that, aside from promising us eternal life, Torah maps out for us a life of joy and satisfaction in this world. Torah is described as an ole/yoke – but that is only at our first engagement with it. In time, we are to realize that it is the best possible way to live.
Building upon this truth, our pasuk takes on a different meaning: “You shall safeguard – by proper study and comprehension, so that when you perform them, the very way in which you live by them will attract the appreciation of the nations, who will stand in awe of your wisdom and discernment. So much so, that they will have to concede that even the chukim must be steeped in Divine intelligence! They will remark, “Which is a great nation that has righteous decrees and mishpatim/ordinances,”meaning that they will bear witness to the synergy between mishpatim and chukim to produce a wonderful Torah life-style. They will understand that even if the reasons for chukim are beyond them, there must be deep, sound reasoning in them. This will be a major kiddush Hashem.
Tehillim challenges us to “ta’amu/taste and see that Hashem is good.” Ta’am here means to provide reason-based explanations for our mitzvah actions. When we do, the nations praise our wisdom and discernment. That in turn is important, says the Sforno, because if they regard us instead as fools, it is a chilul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s Name. Furthermore, says the Rivash, when we are incapable of providing attractive explanations, our performance of the mitzvos is merely practice by rote. Hashem asks of us that we combine complete adherence to our mesorah with ta’am – with reason.
- Based on Daas Torah, by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Devarim pgs. 121-122 ↑
- Devarim 4:6 ↑
- Devarim 4:8 ↑
- Tehillim 34:9 ↑
- Sforno, Devarim 4:6 ↑