It’s a familiar tale: A poor and simple man, driven by faith, encounters a windfall. It could be gold, real estate, inheritance or the lottery. Now, things are different. The man is no longer simple; he is arrogant. He has recreated himself as wealthy, successful, even aristocratic, and that’s just the beginning.
This week’s Torah portion of Haazinu speak of an Israelite nation blessed by G-d. The standard of living soars; the markets are full of produce; the stock exchange is roaring; first class is the only way to go.
And, of course, money attracts money. The Land of Israel welcomes investors from all over the world. Multinational corporations build their towers along the sea. The highways are jammed with Audis, Bentleys, BMWs, Lexus, Rolls Royce and four-wheel drives. On the Sabbath, the private beaches are packed; the synagogues are empty. Money is the new god.
Those without money don’t count. They are the parasites and expendable in a world deemed overcrowded. Then, there are the devout who follow the faith of their forefathers. They are worse than the destitute. They need to be expelled now.
Up high, G-d watches and waits. There is no need for spectacular divine retribution. He simply has to let nature take its course. Israel has seen the boom years. How about placing some bust on the menu?
And, of course, while the Jews were getting rich and fat, their enemies next door were building huge armies. They have no need for an air force with expensive American planes. An arsenal of crude missiles and rockets will do just as well.
And He said, “I will hide My face from them. I will see what their end will be, for they are a generation of changes; they are not [recognizable] as My children whom I have reared. They have provoked My jealousy with a non god, provoked My anger with their vanities. Thus, I will provoke their jealousy with a non people, provoke their anger with a foolish nation. [Deuteronomy. 32:20-21]
If anything, G-d is fair. He favors the Chosen People as long as they maintain their faith and devotion. But when the Jews decide G-d doesn’t work with fast food and fast money, their fate resembles that of other once-prosperous nations.
Rome didn’t fall in a day. The decline of the greatest empire in history took centuries, aided by corruption, brutality, slavery and greed. Add to that pandemic disease, a bloated military, climate change and a powerful cult that believed in the imminent end of the world, and the Romans became easy prey to everyone from the Muslims to Germanic tribes.
Still, Rome’s fate has puzzled historians. Glen Bowersock, a former chairman of the classics at Harvard University, tells us why. The empire, he says, marks the “archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears.”
Moses envisioned the same fate for a corrupt Israel. Nature and realpolitik, he warned, will ravage an unprotected people. The things the Jews depended upon would turn on them — whether allies, slaves crops and even the gentlest of farm animals.
They will sprout hair from famine, attacked by demons, excised by Meriri. I will incite the teeth of livestock upon them, with the venom of creatures that slither in the dust. [Deuteronomy. 32:25]
Meriri symbolizes chaos, a demon that spews venom. The Midrash in Psalms 91 says he is mocking, profane and ugly. One eye protrudes from his chest. But most of the time, he is merely an annoyance. However, he is most powerful when we are at our weakest — between the fast days of the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av. During that time, whoever sees him rotating like a ball in the hot summer days simply falls and dies.
Without repentance, the slide of a people continues. The last stage is total war. The most benign scenario for a defeated people is exile. The worst is genocide. The Jewish people have known both.
From outside, the sword will bereave, and terror from within; young men and maidens, suckling babes with venerable elders. [Deuteronomy. 32:26]
For those with short memories, let’s go back to 2006, during the 34-day war with the Iranian proxy Hizbullah. Tens of thousands huddled in shelters throughout northern Israel, hot, hungry, thirsty and constantly on line for a toilet. Hundreds of volunteers came to help. In many cases, the authorities were nowhere to be found.
But that was just child’s play compared to 2023. Today, Hizbullah and Iran’s other proxies have amassed some 300,000 missiles and rockets along Israel’s borders. They have built a force of 10,000 commandos and built tunnels from Lebanon to Israel. They, along with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Syria and Al Qaida, can strike literally every target in this tiny country. Are there shelters for everybody?
Thankfully, G-d, regardless of our sins, has pledged to give us another chance. The Roman Empire never returned; instead, it broke into a host of countries that today we call the West. In contrast, we have returned after nearly 2,000 years. And we can stay — if we shelve our arrogance and recognize the gifts G-d gives us daily.
With Yom Kippur around the corner, we’re just in time.