Parashat Eikev, Deuteronomy 8:10
The Plague of Me'ism
This past week, as I met with a couple prior to their wedding this weekend, the groom sat down in the chair opposite me and sighed.
“How lucky I am,” he said.
“I agree,” I replied. “You are such a well suited couple. And besides that, she thinks you are a wonderful person — loyal, dependable, cool and kind.”
“Yes, yes,” the groom replied. “I am so fortunate to have met her, and to be this happy, but I was thinking.
“How lucky I am to have been born Jewish, on Long Island with supportive and loving parents, who encouraged and helped me be the person who will be marrying such a wonderful person.
“I did not do this on my own.”
It was a remarkable comment, coming from a 27-year-old, about to be swept up in the joy and elation of his marriage.
The idea of gratitude for those things out of our control, is an important concept, which punctuates this week's Torah portion titled Eikev (“And if you follow these rules”).
It is perhaps best known for a verse which is included in Birkat Ha'Mazon, the prayers of gratitude, which we recite after we complete a meal.
Notes this week's Torah portion: “When you have eaten and have been satisfied, give thanks to the Lord your God for the land which God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
Friends, we suffer from a dangerous epidemic sweeping across the world.
It's called “me-ism.”
Loosely defined by various urban dictionaries, it describes “a focus on, or obsession with, oneself.” Otherwise stated, “The whole world was created for me.”
It means that all that we achieve is our own doing — through hard work, sacrifice and — within a highly competitive world — by looking out for ourselves.
Conversely stated, anyone who is not as successful, not as accomplished, not as affluent, not as secure must therefore be guilty of laziness, lack of initiative and an overdependence on the social network.
Often this philosophy degenerates into ethnic stereotypes and outright racism.
But the Torah — understanding this trend thousands of years ago — commands us to look at the world, and comprehend how lucky we are to occupy the land we inhabit.
“Remember, it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth,” says the Torah. “If you forget...I warn you this day that you shall surely perish.” (Deuteronomy 8:18-19).
What an incredible statement!
Increasingly, our nation is becoming divided according to who is deserving and who is not.
In recent years, a new, and arguably perverted version of Christianity, has surfaced: the so-called Prosperity Gospel, promoted by evangelists who preach that the rich are rich because God approves of them.
But that is not how Judaism views it.
It is our tradition to bless at every juncture. We thank God before and after we eat. We praise God for the wonders of nature. We even express our appreciation after exiting the restroom for the fact our body functions work as miraculously as they do.
We teach our Hebrew school children before they take a bite to thank all who made it possible to bring our food from farm to table.
We bless the farmer, the baker, the trucker and our kitchen staff, among many others. And above all, we thank God, who put this miraculous process in motion.
And this gratitude extends as well to the internal.
There is a story about an 11-year-old who comes home from school and presents his report card to this parents. The report card is laden with D's and F's.
Before his parents can respond, the boy poses the following question, “Do you think my bad marks are due to my genetics or the environment I was raised in?”
The boy wasn't so far off the mark.
So many of us have been privileged to be born and raised in countries where there is no lack of food. We are not cursed with violence or war. Every person possesses the potential to succeed.
Yet there are others who are brought up where abuse, corruption, gang violence, and lack of education and public safety are commonplace.
For so many others — whether in this country or abroad — “upward social mobility” is virtually impossible.
As the groom pondering his upcoming wedding weekend said: “How lucky I am.”
It is perhaps a tragedy in this world of “me-ism” that we fail to remember how fortunate we are to be born within an environment of affluence and security.
In another place and time, it could have been different.
Are hard work, dedication and self-sacrifice important?
Are there those who abuse our social system?
But this week's Torah portion reminds us to give thanks for not only our lives, but for our surroundings and our vibrant tradition, which has helped make all these things possible.
And, if we fail to embrace this basic truth, then we run the risk of sinking within a quagmire of egoism and arrogance. And we shall surely perish.
The words in Hebrew are Achalta, v'Savata u'Verachta. “We have eaten, and have been satisfied -- let us bless God for this land which has been given to us.”
As we approach this Shabbat, let's take a moment to thank God for our families, for our friends, for our sustenance and most of all, for our land.
God bless America, yes. But let America praise God as well.
How lucky we are.
Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv
Rabbi Irwin Huberman