FRIDAY, August 3rd
Moshe is a master of rhetoric. Take this passage from his words to the Israelites, which we will read this Shabbat (Devarim 8:11-14)
השמר לך פן־תשכח את־ה׳ א-להיך לבלתי שמר מצותיו ומשפטיו וחקתיו אשר אנכי מצוך היום
“Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem, your God, and do not keep His commandments, his laws and his statutes, which I command you today.”
So far the passage is what one might have expected, but then the verse takes a surprising turn
פן־תאכל ושבעת ובתים טובים תבנה וישבת ובקרך וצאנך ירבין וכסף וזהב ירבה־לך וכל אשר־לך ירבה
“Lest you eat and are satisfied and build good houses and live in them and your herds and flocks multiply and you have plenty of silver and gold, and everything you own will multiply…”
At this point it sounds like Moshe is saying if we aren’t careful, heaven forbid, we might become very prosperous. What’s wrong with being prosperous? Having aroused our curiosity with this seemingly counterintuitive sentiment, Moshe continues in the next verse “ורם לבבך ושכחת את־ה׳ א-להיך המוציאך מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים”
and your heart becomes haughty and you forget Hashem your God, wh took you out of Egypt, from the house of slaves.
With this statement, the statement begins to make more sense—the concern is not that we will become prosperous per se, but that in spite of, or perhaps because of, an abundance of material success, we will forget God’s role in giving them to us. Prosperity is actually a double-edged sword—of course, we want to be safe, and well-fed and comfortable, but the more comfortable we are, the greater the danger of complacency, the greater the danger we will forget that all our blessings actually come from God. When we become prosperous and successful, Moshe warns that we are at risk of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are the authors of our own success, and will say to ourselves, כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את־החיל הזה
“My own power and the might of my own hand have made this wealth for me.” (Ibid v. 17)
It’s easy to remember God when we feel we need something from Him. But when our basic physical needs are taken care of, it’s all too easy to forget God. This is why the Torah commands us to bless God after we eat “When you eat and are satisfied, bless Hashem your God…” to remind us in our moments of satisfaction to cultivate gratitude, which is the opposite of haughtiness and pride.
This week and throughout the year, let us notice and appreciate when our needs or wants have been met, or when we have managed some personal or professional success, and express our thanks to God in those moments. For everything, we achieve or do is only possible with the help of God.