At each Mitzvah Corps site this summer, the groups have spent time delving into the concept of “privilege,” specifically advantages that we’ve inherited by virtue of things outside of our control. This week in Costa Rica was no different; as the teens settled into the rural community of Yorkin, they have begun to explore the privileges in their lives that led them to this experience, to this place, to this moment.
While privilege has become a politicized and sensitive subject in today’s world, in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25), we read about our ancestors’ exposure and understanding of this critical concept. Moses makes a point to ensure the Israelites know that they have not inherited the Land of Israel on their own merit, but due solely to the promise God made to those who came before them. He goes a step further to reprimand them for the times they’ve abused their privilege, times they’ve angered God while in the desert; and yet, they are still able to benefit from the privilege bestowed upon them.
Moses does not wish that the Israelites feel guilty, and his purpose in shedding light on this dynamic is not to shame his comrades. On the contrary, he uses the conversation to charge them with making the most of what they have, to continue to be grateful, and to be aware of the ways that they can leverage their privilege for the greater good.
Similarly, our teens are exposed to these conversations not to foster guilt, but to bring awareness to circumstance, to the role and the obligation that we each have to pursue justice.