Va’etchanan – Strength in (Small) Numbers
Toward the end of the Parsha (7:7) Moshe assures the people that they needn’t possess qualities valued by flesh and blood to be valued by the Almighty. Moshe had just told the nation that they are a holy people unto G-d and He has chosen them as a treasured nation.
“Not because you are numerous did Hashem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples.”
There would naturally be a feeling of inferiority in a nation that lacks the qualities of other nations, commonly considered qualities of greatness. There were many small peoples. Tribal clans were very numerous, and these tribes were always vulnerable to marauding conquerors, possessing mighty armies that vastly outnumbered these tribes. Such tribes would often be under the thumb of larger kingdoms and would pay taxes or protection money for the privilege of existing.
This raises a question. Just a few weeks ago we read the Torah portion of Balak, painting the Israelite nation as a large and mighty, a nation that inspired fear in the hearts of other nations. Moav and Midian felt compelled to seek means of weakening the Israelites because they did not stand a chance militarily. What then does Moshe mean when he says ‘for you are the fewest of all the peoples?’
Clearly the Torah here is speaking prophetically and not only about the present. While other nations grew, Israel did not. As Rabbi Wein puts it, at the time the Temple stood the Chinese and the Jews numbered almost equal proportions. Look at the number of Chinese there are today and look at the number of Jews. We don’t have many more people that we started off with. Our fate is to remain small, always a tiny minority in the world and most of the time weak. There were numerous times that the Jewish people were powerful. King David’s conquests established Israel as a strong and conquering nation. Solomon further expanded Israel’s influence through diplomacy and wealth. But such times are exceptions historically. Bar Kochva also brought out the strength of Israel in his revolt