The book of Deuteronomy stands apart from the four books of Moses that precede it. It’s clear that the narrative which began with the creation of the world, and then followed the journeys of the patriarchs and matriarchs, through to the exodus from Egypt and years of wandering in the desert, had come to an end at the conclusion of the book of Numbers. Deuteronomy seems to be an addition, a kind of farewell to Moses before Israel crosses the Jordan to conquer and settle the land of Israel.
Essentially, Deuteronomy contains a series of homilies given by Moses. He revisits laws and theological principles that have been articulated earlier. There are new ideas to be sure, such as the centralisation of cult worship. From the perspective of historical scholarship, Deuteronomy is a fascinating study. What is even more poignant, though, is its deep resonance with our times. In this week’s parsha, Moses preaches to the people, imploring them to observe God’s commandments and to thank God for bringing them to a beautiful land where they will lack nothing.
He then warns the people: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe God’s commands, God’s laws, and decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase……your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord you God” (Deut. 8:11-14).
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks noted that Moses’ warning to the people is not what you would expect. He does not warn them to remember God during the hard times ahead, the wars of conquest. He does not implore them to remember God when they make the difficult transition from a nomadic to an agricultural society. Rather, he warns that the main test of their strength will be living with affluence, freedom and stability; that is when they will need to remember God and the covenant with all creation.
Moses’ warning to his people is more relevant to us today than it was in Biblical times. We have been blessed in our country and in the West with stability, prosperity and freedom unknown to humanity since the dawn of time. However, if we don’t learn to live in a sustainable manner on our planet and see our interactions with it as sacred, we will destroy the earth that sustains us and squander the blessing of the land that we have been commanded to steward and respect. Moses says: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless the good land that God has given you.”
Our tradition mandates gratitude – it is at the core of our religious system. The brachot are built into every action we take in the world in order to constantly remind us to be mindful of our interconnectedness and of our responsibility to take care of God’s creation with humility and respect.
Rabbi George Mordecai