“When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget Adonai your God, who freed you from the land of Egypt…the house of bondage…” (Deut 8:11-14)
Don’t forget what it was like before you made it good.
Moses is giving the people a retrospective of the last 40 years, before they head into the Land. He keeps reminding them to obey, learn , follow, and heed the “Instructions”, the Torah, the commandments. If they do, good things will happen. And don’t for a minute, Moses says, think that things will go well for you because you deserve it. God reminds them they are a stubborn, stiff-necked people who keep messing up. So they should be grateful for God’s steadfastness, not their own.
Eikev warns the people not to get too self-righteous, too comfortable, because they might stop seeing what’s around them. There has been a lot written lately about Israel, of course. No matter what side of the issue , now filling our inboxes for months now, almost all agree that Israel must be able to defend herself, that the tunnels are a significant and serious threat, and that Hamas is using its civilian population in the most dreadful way.
How we got to this place, however, is of great debate, and once again, the lines are drawn with a steel cord, not to be cut or bent. In my humble opinion, however, if we go back to the same old policies, and the same old philosophies, the place Israel will once again find itself is to be found in this week’s Torah portion.
Lest your heart grow haughty. Lest you forget that you were slaves in Egypt. Lest you forget that occupation, keeping a people down, enslaved, is not the way for either people to live, and eventually, they will rise up and demand their freedom. Hell, we did it. We were led out after God heard our cries, so says Torah. Egypt had fine houses to live in and they had prospered and their cattle increased. And now, with our own silver and gold increasing (the gap between rich and poor in Israel is for another time, but the country has thrived these many decades, to be sure) and the fine houses being built on other people’s olive groves, well, our hearts have grown haughty. This is not an argument of a border here or there, ten kilometers further or closer. This is the situation that many others have written about: the occupation is tearing down Israel. The occupation is draining it of resources, both human and financial, spiritual and moral. Hard decisions are going to have to be made when this particular “situation” is over…for the moment.
If there’s one motif that is sung throughout Torah, it is that we must take care of the outcast, the vulnerable in our society, since we know what it’s like to be that vulnerable. And with all motifs, there is a counter-motif. The counter-motif is “yes, but….”Compassion is our watchword; certainly not to the extent that we endanger ourselves. Eikev teaches us that we can be in moral and spiritual danger, and move away from God’s protection if we forget our own history. It didn’t work out well for the ancient oppressors, nor the oppressed. I’m not comparing Israel to Egypt…hold your keyboards. But after the rockets stop and the rebuilding begins, we have got to think clearly about the next steps. We got to where we are by forgetting where we came from. We will do well to steel ourselves from haughty hearts.