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The Real Challenge - Affluence vs Poverty


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

What is the real challenge of maintaining a free society? In parshat Ekev, Moses springs his great surprise. Here are his words:

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . 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 and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery . . . You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." . . . . If you ever forget the Lord your God . . . I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. (Deut. 8: 11-19)

You thought, Moses says to the new generation, that the forty years of wandering in the wilderness were the real challenge, and that once you conquer and settle the land, your problems will be over. The truth is, that it is then that the real challenge will begin. It will be precisely when all your physical needs are met -- when you have land and sovereignty and rich harvests and safe homes -- that your spiritual trial will begin.

The real challenge is not poverty but affluence, not insecurity but security, not slavery but freedom. Moses, for the first time in history, is hinting at a law of history. Many centuries later it was articulated by the great 14th century Islamic thinker, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), by the Italian political philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), and most recently by the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Moses is giving an account of the decline and fall of civilizations.



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