MATERIALISM AND MEMORY LOSS
By Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank
When people unaccustomed to synagogue attendance suddenly come to the synagogue to pray, it is usually in response to a very specific situation, typically a crisis: they may have lost a job, or experienced a break-up with a spouse. They may have had a law suit filed against them or perhaps someone close has been diagnosed with a serious illness. What is far less typical is the person who comes to synagogue to thank God for a $75,000 bonus they have just received, or a promotion that has been granted, or an acceptance into the university of their choice. Pleas for help abound, but expressions of gratitude are thin at best.
The Torah recognizes this as a phenomenon, the deleterious effects of the good life on one's spiritual life, and warns us to avoid that shallow state of affairs. And so we read in the Torah:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assign to you-great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant-and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget the Lord who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
"Do not forget," the Torah commands, and in this case, via the words of Moshe to the Israelites, "do not forget" for there does seem to be a correlation between gaining wealth or experiencing the good and forgetting to say thank you, especially when the thank you is due God. Given the extraordinary gifts that the Jewish people have enjoyed in this country, we really ought to be filling every synagogue in the country, each and every Shabbat, with a standing-room only crowd. And why? For one reason only: to thank God for our material gains and exalted social standing within the country.
Sadly, the Jewish people are inflicted with a mild case of amnesia. We have forgotten our humble beginnings and the hurdles we have managed to jump. But the good news is that it is a treatable condition. We need not live with amnesia forever. Rather, we must seek out our local synagogue, make a commitment to weekly attendance at services as well as daily expressions of gratitude, and continue to live humbly and graciously among our family and friends.
"Do not forget," Moshe instructs us. The fundamental attribute of the religious personality is a soul grateful to God. We have so much to be grateful for if only we would remember the bountiful blessings that have come our way.
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