Asceticism and Humility in Eikev

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It’s a commonly held belief that if people were to strip themselves of their physical and worldly belongings, they would be less arrogant, self-centered and immoral. Not many people choose to follow this theory to it’s logical fruition, but we can all picture the monk or nun who has shunned material pleasures for a simpler life.

We live in an age that sees middle class families living in mansions and driving luxuy vehicles. The super-rich don’t even know what to do with their money, and pay $10,000,000 for chartered flights into space.

Forget for a moment how that money could be better spent helping those without the means to help themselves. What impact do these excesses have on the wealthy indivisuals? What happens to someone who can buy anything she or he pleases?

It seemed like the answer was plain and simple in this weeks parasha. God gives a warning to the Jewish people that they should be careful about being satisfied with a lot of food, having nice houses and owning many properties and valuable metals. She says that these circumstances will possibly lead them to think all of those things came to them from their own merit instead of the grace of god.

But the most puzzling thing is that in the previous paragraph, God says how amazing it’s going to be for the Jewish people when they arrive in Israel. He even uses the phrase “you will eat and be satisfied” which is identical to the next paragraph’s use of the term as a cause of god-rejecting arrogance.

What gives?

God wants us to have this really nice life, and then tells us that if we have a nice life we will become sinners?

I think it says a lot about human nature. I think we can all agree that Ghandi is an example of someone who loved in a modest way both physically and spiritually. We can also agree that Bernie Madoff became arrogant with his increased wealth, and was likely pushed forward in his crimes by a desire to maintain his lifestyle and livlihood.but these two are the extremes.

There are plenty of people who are poor but have enormous egos. There are also rich people who live very comfortably but never become conceited and overly self-involved. This is what the psukim are talking about.

Anyone has he potential to become too caught up in their material goods, and a life focused on hose material goods is a surefire way to head down that path. God isn’t warning us not to lead comfortable lives; god is warning us not to worship our comfortable lives, not to live only for the sake of the comforts.

The key is to find something greater than ourselves to be passionate about and concerned with. For some people it will be their faith. For others it will be charity, and for yet others it will be a desire to help out a friend or neighbor.

It identity of the thing doesn’t matter. What matters is the trajectory. When we are focused inward, we collapse into ourselves like dying stars. When we’re focused toward others, our light can spread to lengths and depths beyond our wildest imagination.

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