The Hebrew word Haazinu means “listen.” It begins the last prophecy of Moses dictated by G-d on the shores of the Jordan River. Found in this week’s Torah portion, it marks a unique prophecy, encompassing the past, present and future. G-d has given the Children of Israel everything, literally everything — prosperity, family, peace and love.
And Jeshurun became fat and rebelled; you grew fat, thick and rotund; [Israel] forsook the G-d Who made them, and spurned the [Mighty] Rock of their salvation.
The 15th Century Italian commentator, Ovadiah Ben Jacob Sforno, describes the change when people become rich. When they were poor, they worked hard, enjoyed their families and practiced their faith. But with the first flush of money, they became obsessed with pleasure and materialism. The Sforno adds another element: The rich become resentful and reject any notion of gratitude. They did it all themselves. They are like animals who kick the people who feed them.
The resentment of the rich causes them to turn away from G-d. Privately, they know that their wealth derives from heaven. But publicly they deny G-d and embrace idols. As the Torah puts it, “deities they did not know, new things that only recently came…” They fill their opulent homes with statues and symbols. They are proud of their idols: This came from Indonesia and this came from China and this was commissioned by…
What was true thousands of years ago remains true today. There are two classes of rich people. One uses their wealth to help the poor, support Torah and its scholars and count their blessings every day. They are in the minority.
The majority are engaged in a buying frenzy. They buy influence, compete for homes, property and national assets — all at the expense of the poor and middle class.
Today, Israel is one of the richest countries in the world, an irony considering that it receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States. The average income in Israel is higher than virtually every country in Europe, including Britain and France. Israel has one of the highest ratio of billionaires per capita. Tel Aviv has been ranked the second richest city in the Middle East, beating out oil-rich Abu Dhabi, Doha and Riyad. The Israeli coastal city has 42,400 millionaires, nearly 10 percent of all residents.
How did people get so rich and often so quickly? Some worked hard and long. Others started out as the handmaiden of the government, brokering deals in natural gas, technology and weapons. Their wealth skyrocketed when they connected to the super-rich in the West, whether Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
In a study titled “World Inequality Report. 2022,” the price of the super-rich is shown to be extremely high to the rest of society. Tel Aviv is the most expensive city in the world and out of reach for the great majority of Israelis. The top 10 percent of Israelis holds 62 percent of total national wealth. The bottom 50 percent of the population is left with five percent. Thanks to government policy, this gap continues to expand.
“Overall, income inequality has remained at a very high level in Israel over the past 30 years,” the report says. “Liberalization reforms of the of mid-1980s and 1990s led to a marked increase. While inequalities have slightly decreased since 2012, they remain at a very high level, in the context of a highly segregated society.at a very high level in Israel over the past 30 years.”
The most damaging element in affluence is that you no longer feel part of society. The super-rich live in mansions surrounded by high walls and armed security. They see the ordinary person from their penthouses. Most of their time is spent abroad, where they keep additional property and bank accounts.
And all of them have foreign passports. This has sparked a rush among the wannabees for Western passports and citizenship. The rich are buying passports for their children to ensure a refuge whether in sunny Portugal to the snow-capped Alps of Austria and Germany. Why? In case, it gets too dangerous here, their loved ones can just take the first flight out of Ben-Gurion, leaving the rest of us to hide in bunkers.
And the Lord saw this and became angry, provoked by His sons and daughters. 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.
The commentators say that G-d’s response has been the same since the beginning of the Israeli nation. Babylon, which conquered Israel some 2,500 years ago, was not really a nation. It had no language, script or culture of its own.
Nothing has changed. The Arabs invented an identity called Palestinian, a classification set by the British to describe the Jews in the Land of Israel fewer than 75 years ago. Most of the states that surround Israel are dominated by foreign powers that have almost nothing in common with the people they occupy.
But what is called the song of Haazinu does not end with the destruction of the Chosen People. Instead, G-d changes the mind of the Jews, brings them to repentance. In turn, repentance leads to redemption. Moses Ben Nachman, known by his Hebrew acronym, Ramban, describes the end of the prophecy.
“From the abundance of goodness they rebelled against G-d to worship idols. Still, in the end, G-d will avenge those who persecuted the Jews and the haters will pay. Because they did all the bad to us for G-d to hate us. There is no condition for redemption, rather a clear promise of future redemption despite the blasphemers.”