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The source of good fortune

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Times have changed, but what about people? Has human nature evolved over the millennia, or are we basically the same as we always were?

About five weeks before his passing, Moses begins a series of sermons that can be described as his ethical will. He tries to spare his flock the tragedies that may arise from their potential errors of judgement in the years ahead.

He speaks of the good times and the bad, and addresses the people’s possible responses to the fortunes and misfortunes they may face.

Moses understood human nature all too well. Forty years of leading his people taught him all anyone could ever hope to know about the human psyche. He realised that in times of wealth and success, his people might well forget the Great Provider of their blessings.

And so, he cautions them to remember who it was that gave them their freedom in the first place: the Almighty, who also fed them manna from heaven and would give them His promised land.

He also understood that it might take a change of fortune for them to remember the source of their blessings.

“When you are distressed, and all these things happen upon you in the end of days, [only] then you will return to the L-rd your G-d and obey Him.”

Was he wrong? When do we cry out to G-d? When we are distressed. When we experience tzorris. When times are tough. That’s when we return to Him and His way of life.

Is it any different today?

When do people run to synagogue, the rabbi, the graves of the righteous, or the Western Wall? In times of trouble. When do we cry out to Him with our deepest, most genuine sincerity if not when asking Him to save us from our worries and woes?

And that’s entirely appropriate. Where else should we turn? To whom should we direct our prayers and our cries for help, if not Him?

But what Moses is teaching us is to remember G-d as the source of our good fortune, too, not only our troubles.

We may be clever, work smart and hard, but success and failure aren’t in our own hands. “There’s no bread for the wise,” said King Solomon. I know plenty of very clever people who never “made it” and some less intellectually endowed who became great successes. Clearly, the heavenly hand is at work.

Moses speaks to us today just as he did to his own generation more than 3 000 years ago. Human nature hasn’t changed one bit.

Here in Johannesburg, we’re involved in a campaign to complete a new building for the Torah Academy Girls’ High School. The project was given a huge lift-off when a prosperous donor was approached by one of my rabbinic colleagues to contribute. During their conversation, the rabbi asked the businessman, “Has G-d not been very good to you?” The man’s honest and humble response? A multi-million contribution!

May we all experience only good fortune and never forget where it came from.

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