August 7, 2018

Sukkot and Affluenza (Ha’azinu)

Then Yeshurun became fat and kicked (Devarim 32:15). This verse in Parshat Ha’azinu is the first occasion in Tanach where we encounter the name Yeshurun, and as is evident, its initial appearance is not a positive one. Yet the name Yeshurun is, in fact, a very positive one. Yeshurun, whose root yashar means ‘straight’, refers to the way in which the Jewish people should be upright in all that they do and utterly committed to their moral calling. Thus, in this instance the name Yeshurun is used sarcastically to describe how the Jewish nation, with their great spiritual potential, strayed from their moral calling. But how did the Jewish people stray in this way?
The answer is that the Jewish nation became too caught up in the physical world, and lost sight of what should be their priorities. It is what Yossi Prager once described as the malady of “affluenza”. As he explains, “just as influenza can kill, affluenza can spiritually deaden, focusing people on their own needs and wants, increasing their sense of entitlement and reducing feelings of gratitude or amazement arising from the gifts we have been given… we face the challenge presented by Moshe Rabbeinu in Parshat Ha’azinu, “And Yeshurun became fat and kicked” (Devarim 32:15). [Given this tendency], can we enjoy Hashem’s gifts without becoming unappreciative and lost to Him?”
The way to ensure that we don’t succumb to “affluenza” is to remind ourselves that we are mere travellers in this world, which is precisely the message of Sukkot. By leaving our permanent homes and dwelling in a Sukkah, we remember that this world is itself only a temporary residence, and what is most important is what we do, not what we have. May we live according to the high standard of Yeshurun in the coming year, and use the upcoming holiday of Sukkot to help us from succumbing to “affluenza”.

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