“The Challenges of Poverty and Wealth”

by Ephraim Z. Buchwald


In this week’s parasha, parashat Haazinu, we read the beautiful song that Moses sang to the Jewish people on the final day of his life.

Moses calls both heaven and earth to serve as witnesses to the warnings and blessings that Moses proclaims in the final hours of his life. He cautions the people of the calamities that will befall them if they sin and fail to heed the Torah. He also strongly encourages the people with the promise of the great joy that will come with the Ultimate Redemption.

Emphasizing the special attachment that G-d has to His people, Israel, Moses reminds the people of G-d’s great love for them, how He found them wandering in the wilderness and turned them into the apple of His eye. Deuteronomy 32:10,יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר וּבְתֹהוּ יְלֵל יְשִׁמֹן, יְסֹבְבֶנְהוּ יְבוֹנְנֵהוּ, יִצְּרֶנְהוּ כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינוֹ , He discovered them in a desert land, in desolation, in a howling wilderness; He encircled them, and granted them discernment, He preserved them like the pupil of His eye.

G-d spared no effort caring for His people, carrying them on the pinions of His wings and making them ride on the heights of the land. He gave the People to eat of the ripe fruits of the field, and drew for them honey from a stone and oil from a flinty rock. He fed them butter of cattle and milk of sheep with the fat of lambs. He served them wheat as broad as kidneys, and gave them to drink delicious wine from the blood of grapes.

Instead of showing gratitude, Israel rebelled (Deuteronomy 32:15), וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט, שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ, וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱ־לוֹהַּ עָשָׂהוּ, וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ Jeshurun [the People of Israel] became fat and kicked. You became fat, you became thick, and you became corpulent, and deserted G-d its Maker, and was contemptuous of the Rock of its salvation.

The wisest of all men, King Solomon, in Proverbs 30:8, declares, רֵאשׁ וָעֹשֶׁר, אַל תִּתֶּן לִי , “Do not give me poverty or wealth.” Great poverty can prevent a person from thinking properly, driving that person away from the Al-mighty. Whereas, great wealth can also lead to apostasy, allowing one to attribute one’s success to one’s own talents, rather than to Heaven.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, notes that this is the first time that the Torah describes Israel with the title, יְשֻׁרוּן –“Jeshurun,” derived from the word for upright, straight, and just. When the People of Israel entered the land of Israel, Israel was at the height of its calling, enjoying G-d’s loving gifts. Even though Israel (“Jeshurun”) stood at its highest level of spirituality, once they began to glory in their success and became haughty, they started to reject G-d, attributing all their success to themselves and to their own powers.

The Sforno suggests that when the nation’s leaders, its elite members, pursued the physical pleasures and grew fat, thick and corpulent, the nation as a whole deserted G-d and showed only contempt for Him. Says the Sforno, when the “greats” stray just a little, the commoners fall into a steep decline.

Again, it is no coincidence that the festival of Sukkot often occurs when parashat Haazinu is read. The theme of וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט , and Jeshurun became fat and kicked, melds directly with the message of Sukkot.

The crops that were planted in the rainy season, and were harvested in the spring, on Pesach and Shavuot, were left out in the field over the summer to ripen further.

It is during the fall season, within which the holiday of Sukkot is celebrated, that the ingathering of the crops took place. All the farmers could now breathe a collective sigh of relief that not only had the crops blossomed, and reached a stage of great beauty and quality, but, also, that the produce had actually been successfully harvested and gathered into the storehouses, ready for consumption and for sale. The treacherous planting, growing, and harvesting seasons have thankfully passed with minimal pain. The farmers now wholeheartedly celebrate the blessings of their produce and the blessing of production.

It is at this very moment, just as every farmer is finally ready to relax and bask in the success of his efforts, that G-d reminds the mortal tiller of the soil that while the farmer may plant the seed, it is G-d Who brought the rain and the sun, the bees and the myriad nutrients that enabled the agricultural success.

“You may be very proud of the work of your hands,” G-d says, “However, you must now leave your homes, your comfort and wealth, and go out to the Sukkah, to live in a shack for a week,” to demonstrate your faith in G-d and to acknowledge that every single step of your success was truly dependent upon the Al-mighty, and a gift of His blessings.

Although your success is before your eyes, you must not be prideful. Indeed, you must be humble, show gratitude and faith, and declare that despite your extraordinary efforts, it was the power of the blessings of G-d that brought you to this momentous occasion.

The hot summer winds are gone, and the cool fall breezes are now blowing through the slats of your Sukkah. As the Psalmist declares in chapter 127:1, אִם השׁם לֹא יִבְנֶה בַיִת, שָׁוְא עָמְלוּ בוֹנָיו בּוֹ, if G-d does not build a house, its builders have toiled in vain.

May you be blessed.


The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, September 23rd, 24th and 25th, 2018. The intermediary days [Chol HaMoed] are observed through Sunday, September 30th. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 1st. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 1st and continues through Tuesday, October 2nd.