Va’etchanan- Absence of Appreciation

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ABSENCE OF APPRECIATION

Our פרשה, which mainly continues Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech to בני ישראל reminding them to follow the Mitzvot and avoid making the same mistakes as their forebears, ends with a message about their future:

וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב–לָתֶת לָךְ:  עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וְטֹבֹת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-בָנִיתָ. וּבָתִּים מְלֵאִים כָּל-טוּב, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-מִלֵּאתָ, וּבֹרֹת חֲצוּבִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-חָצַבְתָּ, כְּרָמִים וְזֵיתִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-נָטָעְתָּ; וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ. הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-ה’, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.

And it will be when G-d brings your into the land that He promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, He will give you great cities that you didn’t build, houses and goods that you didn’t buy, water supplies that you didn’t dig, vineyards and olive groves that you didn’t plant; and you shall partake of them and be satisfied. Be careful, lest you forget G-d who took you out of Egypt, out of slavery. (דברים ו:י-יב)

Moshe is warning the Jewish People that as they leave the desert, and enter the Promised Land,  G-d will help them in less obvious ways (by giving them success that they didn’t earn on their own) than He did in the desert. The Jews should be careful not to forget who gave them success, and who caused them to “be satiated” from the “vineyards they didn’t plant.” This lesson, as timeless as the scroll it is written on, serves as a stark reminder never to take success and brachot for granted- we must recognize that the בורא עולם, the source of all blessing, gave us our possessions and our success, and we must thank him accordingly, in fulfillment of the passuk featured in Parshat Ekev- “ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה’ אלקיך על הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך- And you will eat, be satisfied, and bless G-d for the good land that He gave you,” which we expand to include all good and support that G-d gives us. This lesson, of appreciating everything we are given and giving gratitude for the good that we have, is truly a timeless lesson.

I would like to suggest that this lesson also applies to relationships beyond the בן אדם למקום spectrum. There are many obvious examples of relationships where this concept of הכרת הטוב is crucial – chief among them, relationships between children and their parents, relationships between a husband and wife, between a politician and their constituents. In every case, the relationship deteriorates quickly if one party stops appreciating the other’s contribution to the rapport– in effect, going against the strong warning at the end of our psukim; “השמר לך, פן תשכח את ה’,” where “G-d” is interpreted figuratively as the one in the relationship who provides for the other. If one takes for granted the good in a relationship, then he is certainly forgetting the provider who gave him the wonderful things that he “didn’t build,” and nothing good can come of it. We must all be careful in our relationships not to take our loved ones or providers for granted, because aside from violating this מצוה, it demonstrates a severe lack ofטובות  מדות and cannot lead to any positive future.

I believe that this lesson applies especially to the current religious situation in Israel. In response to new economic sanctions on schools and new military requirements set by the Israeli government, large factions the Ultra-Orthodox/Hareidi community of the Holy Land has been up in arms in protest. What is often forgotten, in the midst of “saving the Torah from the kipa sruga-clad Amalek,” is that the so-called mortal enemies of the Hareidi community have been supporting said sect for as long as they have been in the country, in clear violation of Moshe Rabbeinu’s warning, as explained above. Furthermore, the passuk says- “You will be given cities that you didn’t build, live in houses filled with goods that you didn’t buy, living off of vineyards (financial support) that you didn’t plant.” If there is a clearer passuk in the entire Torah to describe the Hareidi community’s background and lifestyle, then I’d be very surprised. Plus, with the Israel Ministry of Education reporting a 3% drop in Ultra-Orthodox children attending schools since 2011, and the refusal of the Beis Yaakov/Yeshiva Gedolah system to comply with the government’s basic secular studies requirements, it doesn’t look like the status quo is going to change any day soon. While this lifestyle is 100% okay, and even commendable as long as you have a provider to “build the cities, fill the houses with goods, and plant the vineyards,” what is never okay, says our פסוק, is forgetting to give הכרת הטוב to the provider, the one who supports those who need supporting , which, in most of the cases, has been the Israeli government, through child stipends, education discounts, and avreich “paychecks.” So, it is completely unacceptable that the Ultra-Orthodox community is so strongly and violently protesting the Israeli government’s slight decrease in support and slight increase in expectation, without taking a second to give Hakarat Hatov to the very entity that has been building their cities, paying for their children’s education, and supporting their families- this is a complete fulfillment of “וישמן ישורון ויבעט,” and demonstrates a complete lack of כבוד הבריות and בן אדם לחבירו that seems to be epidemic in that community. The fact that their Gedolei Yisrael are supporting this חילול השם, calling fellow religious Jews עמלק, the entity that represents the complete opposite of everything the יהדות stands for, just adds to the בזיון, especially during the nine days on which we are supposed to be working extra hard on our interpersonal relationships. The last, and perhaps most appalling crime that has been continually committed by a particularly vocal portion of the Hareidi community, one which is unfortunately growing in size every day, has been the attacks on innocent religious soldiers, young men whose only crime was to give up years of their lives and risk them on a daily basis to defend the very thankless population who throw soiled diapers and rotten eggs at them as they walk through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. This appalling wrong just demonstrates the misdirected ungraciousness in the communities, that innocent soldiers, people who are שומר תורה ומצות as the ones attacking them, can be assaulted because of the policies of the organization that they represent. I can only imagine Avraham Avinu, the patriarch of our nation, rolling over in his grave at the injustice.

Communities are generally built on support of each other, and the Jewish community shouldn’t function any differently. Ideally, everyone should be שומר תורה ומצות. Ideally, everyone should be doing their part in the care and protection of the Jewish People of the State of Israel. In the meantime, the observant and non-observant communities should be supporting each other, both with material means and spirituality. In order for this relationship to succeed, we need to work hard on following the guidelines set out by our passuk, of supporting each other and giving due gratitude to each other. As long as this relationship doesn’t function properly, we will never be able to have true harmony in our communities, and the geulah will never be able to come. I would like to call on all Jews, regardless of their level of observance, to be extra conscious to give due respect to other Jews. While the first nine days of Av are traditionally set aside for this, we have unfortunately missed our chance to take advantage of this for 5773, so let us now, on 12 Av 5773, three days after the annual commemoration of virtually all calamities that have hit the Jewish People, pledge to work extra hard on our relationships with other Jews. Hopefully, through this, we will see an end to our tragedies, both caused by those within the Jewish community, and those without, and we will iy”h merit the coming of the geulah very soon. Shabbat Shalom to all.