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. Revere only the Lord your God and worship Him alone, and swear only by His name. Do not follow other gods, any gods of the people around you -- for the Lord your God in your midst is an impassioned God -- lest the anger of the Lord your God blaze forth against you and He wipe you off the face of the earth. ( Deut. 6:10 - 6:15)I imagine coming into a world already full of good and beautiful things. And then I remember that this was, in fact, the world I came into, the world that we all come into -- even the poorest of us. As for me, a white woman, a professional, the daughter of professionals, living in a first-world country in a great and flourishing city that I did not build -- well, I came into a land full of good and beautiful things that I did not make.
That's reality. Anyone claiming otherwise, peddling their self-made tales, is following other gods. Most people, maybe, are following other gods. Me, most of the time, I follow other gods. I forget I didn't make this world, that our world is a mystery inside of an enigma inside of a puzzle, or however that goes. I forget that our world is a mysterious and possibly absurd turducken of givenness and gifts and blessings and sheer unalloyed "you didn't make this".
There's something in the laws of this world, though. Call it natural law, call it karma, call it God and God's judgment and God's anger blazing forth, call it nothing at all, but there it is. It doesn't let us forget. Not forever. When we forget that we are in debt to nearly everyone and everyThing in our lives, when we forget that debt is so great and so deep that it can never, never be paid... eventually it will catch up with us. The anger of the Lord will blaze against us, one way or another.
To live in spiritual denial of the gifts we have been given is to court disaster.
I grew up in Reform Judaism. One of the two central prayers of Judaism is the k'riat shema, which is actually just three passages from the Torah. The first passage is actually from va-ethannan, earlier in the parsha than the verses I'm talking about here. The second passage runs like this:
And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L-rd your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L-rd's wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L-rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates - so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth. (from chabad's translation)The Reform prayerbooks of my childhood only read the first paragraph of the shema, and they skipped all the God's wrath bit in the second paragraph. ( The second paragraph also, admittedly, repeats a lot of the first paragraph's ideas, if not the exact words.) I think that was a terrible mistake. I think the stakes are high here, and so actually the warning is now my favorite part of the prayer. I like to be reminded to remember all that I've been given. I like to be reminded that if I turn toward idols ( money, power, self, security, career, stuff...) I will most likely experience the consequences of that turning. I like to be reminded that I can turn again, too, back toward Reality, back toward God, back toward a recognition of the blessings of my life.
It's like Praise. We don't always praise God because we truly feel grateful. Sometimes we praise because it's in the prayerbook to praise, and because in praising we remember that it was not us who built this great and flourishing world....