7 Kislev 5768
November 17, 2007
When the prophets discerned that the children of Israel had strayed from their relationship with God, they were often wont to remind them of their humble origins and who was responsible for turning their lives around, forming them into a people and giving them a homeland. It seemed reasonable from the prophetic vantage point that recognition of the gratitude owed to God would be sufficient warrant for the people to return to God from their misdirected idolatry. However, as Hosea recognized, God\’s miraculous redemption of His people somehow inspired exactly the opposite reaction: \”Only I the Lord have been your God ever since the land of Egypt; You have never known a [true] God but Me. You have never had a helper but Me. I looked after you in the desert, in a thirsty land. When they were fed, they were sated, they grew haughty; and so they forgot Me.\” (13: 4-6)
What prompted the people\’s misguided response? Hosea\’s message seems to be that the gift of plenty will lead people to assume that they produced the plenty by themselves without God\’s help. The Talmud derived from Hosea\’s message and similar messages in the Torah another simple human truth and illustrated each verse anecdotally (See Maharsha): \”They said in the school of R. Yannai: A lion does not roar over a basket of straw but over a basket of flesh. R. Oshaia said: It is like the case of a man who had a lean but large-limbed cow. He gave it lupines to eat and it began to kick him. He said to it: You wouldn\’t have kicked me if it weren\’t for the lupines that I fed you? R. Hiyya b. Abba said: It is like the case of a man who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him and gave him plenty to eat and drink and hung a purse [filled with money] around his neck and set him down at the door of a bawdy house. How could the boy help but sin? R. Aha the son of R. Huna said in the name of R. Shesheth: This bears out the popular saying: A full stomach brings trouble. Isn\’t this as it says [in the book of Hosea]: When they were fed they became full, they were filled and grew haughty; and so they forgot Me. R. Nahman learned it from here: Then your heart will become haughty and you will forget the Lord. (Deut. 8:14) The Rabbis learned it from here: And they shall have eaten their fill and waxen fat, and turned unto other gods. (Deut. 31:10) Or, if you prefer, I can say from here. But Yeshurun waxed fat and kicked. (Deut. 32:15) (Adapted from Berahot 32a)
Rav Kook, the first Chief Askenazi Rabbi of Israel, said it this way: \”Over satisfaction of a person\’s basic animal needs in an unnatural way is the source of all corruption both natural and unnatural.\” (Adapted from Ein Ayah Berahot p. 143) The consequence of such behavior, obviously, is alienation from God and all that is truly good in life.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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