Loving Limits

During the past year or so, despite the recession, I have been noticing quite a few companies reporting excellent earnings. Upon reading their reports it became clear that many of them achieved this without increasing sales revenues. Instead, it was rigid cost discipline that allowed these firms to post profits. Many families have followed a similar culture of frugality. They are enduring a depressed economy not by generating larger incomes but by ruthlessly cutting their expenses.

Things will improve and the tough times of 2008—2012 will eventually fade away, though for many of us painful memories will linger. But maybe that is not all that will linger. While reaching for the stars, an awareness of restraint is healthy. It is good to balance the belief that we can do anything and have everything with a subtle sense of limitations.

The affluent Beverly Hills family that raises its children with no obligation other than to accept the keys to a new car on their sixteenth birthdays seldom sees a more successful younger generation than those who raise their children fully aware of budget realities.

The company indulging in grandiose spending might practice profligacy with apparent impunity while the economy is booming. But when the tide turns, as it always will, management will lack the skills and character necessary for coping in a recessionary climate.

On the threshold of entering the Promised Land, ancient Israel could hardly have been riding higher. Forty years earlier they had seen their tormentor, Egypt’s Pharaoh, wiped out. They had defeated their enemy Amalek, received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and successfully completed a forty-year desert journey. The land lay before them, triumph was assured and the future looked limitless.

Moses the beloved teacher and leader of Israel had one final task. He was to bless his people. (Deuteronomy 33:6-24)

Fortunately, Moses didn’t have to pull his blessings out of the air. There was a heritage of blessings which had been passed down by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not surprisingly, the blessings that Moses delivered to the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy were an echo of those delivered by Jacob to his sons. (Genesis 49:2-27)

After blessing each tribe individually, Moses blessed the people in its entirety:

May Israel live alone securely, the fountain of Jacob
shall be upon a land of grain and wine,
and his heavens shall drop down dew.

(Deuteronomy 33:28)

This blessing echoed that which earlier Isaac bestowed upon Jacob:

May God give you of the dew of the heaven
and from the fat of the land and plenty of grain and wine.

(Genesis 27:28)

But wait! Isaac’s blessing to Jacob contains six elements: dew, heaven, fat, land, grain and wine. Moses’ blessing to Israel contains only five of these elements. Why did Moses omit fat?

Ancient Jewish wisdom provides an incandescent clue. Notice that Moses precedes his blessings of the individual tribes with a special name for Israel, Yeshurun.

He was a King in Yeshurun…
(Deuteronomy 33:5)

As the closing of these blessings we find:

There is none like the God of Yeshurun…
(Deuteronomy 33:26)

This term for Israel, Yeshurun, only occurs three times in all the Torah.

The word’s other appearance is when Moses delivers sad prophecies about Israel’s behavior in the future:

Yeshurun became fat and kicked (rebelled)…
and it deserted God its Maker…

(Deuteronomy 32:15)

What scintillating clarity! We see that fat connotes luxury and that luxury easily slides into moral rebellion and spiritual failure. For this compelling purpose, just before they enter the Promised Land, Moses blesses them but omits the word ‘fat.’ On the eve of Israel’s triumph, Moses introduces a note of restraint. Long-term survival depends upon being able to live with restraint and limit.

May God offer you every blessing along with the wise restraint to enable you to live within the limits that keep you faithful to His teachings.

We have been trimming our own expenses, but I’m afraid that the cost of producing our Torah teachings has risen. Next week, the price of the Genesis Journeys Set will be going up. Use this opportunity to acquire these four 2-audio-CD packages before that change is introduced.

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