What makes us forget Hashem and His place in our lives? In this week’s parsha, the Torah says that we run the risk of forgetting Hashem when we have enough to eat, when we build beautiful homes, when we increase our wealth and have material possessions and luxuries. The Torah warns us against becoming haughty and thinking, “My power and the strength of my hand”(Devarim 8:17) is what brought all of this into my life.
However, just in last week’s parsha, Re’eh, the Torah already warned us not to forget Hashem, offering a different reason for forgetting. The Torah describes that we will enter cities that we did not build, and enjoy houses full of wonderful bounty that we did not earn, wells that we did not dig, and vineyards that we did not plant (Devarim 6:11). So is forgetting God a result of getting what we want without effort, as expressed in Re’eh, or a result of putting in the work as described in Parshat Ekev?
What is common to both cases is the religious challenge of affluence. There are many theological challenges that come with facing adversity, to be sure, but these two passages address the opposite challenge – of having everything we need and more. This is of course the state of affairs we are all hoping and praying for! But it carries with it the possibility that we will forget the place of Hashem in our lives. How so?
In last week’s parsha, when everything is simply handed to us without our working for it, the concern is that we will take it for granted. We won’t appreciate Hashem’s hand in our luck, the fact that He organized our lives such that we would fall into comfortable circumstances. When things are too easy, it’s easy to forget to thank Hashem, and the Torah reminds us in Parshat Re’eh that we must appreciate His gifts to us.
This week’s parsha expresses the opposite challenge – of achieving success after working very hard for it. When we did plant the vineyard, prune it, and water it, we are prone to thinking that the success is indeed only a result of our effort. When we worked hard to land the promotion, set up the business, or earn the bonus, of course we feel that the success is due to our toil and talent – if we had not worked hard, we would not have seen success. It’s notable how the Torah relates to this feeling, differently this time from in the previous case. The Torah here adjures us to remember Hashem, “For He is the One who gives you the power to get wealth” (Devarim 8:18). Hashem does not suggest that we had no hand in our own success – of course our power helped produce these excellent outcomes, be they in the field or the office. But where did our power come from? Where did the talents, the opportunities, the capability to carry out these plans originate? These too are gifts from Hashem, and the Torah reminds us to be humble and recognize that without Him, we would never be able to achieve the success that we have.
May we be blessed with all of Hashem’s gifts, whether they fall into our hands or arrive as a result of our own work, and may we remain thankful to Hashem for all of them.