Parashat Mattot

Living in Balance

What accounts for the negative correlation between material excess and awareness of the Divine?

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In spite of the real difficulties in resolving the dichotomies of materialism/spiritual vibrancy and materialism/ecological balance, we must constantly strive to do so. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, points out that harmonizing values which are in tension is supremely important to the spiritual life of a Jew.

He writes that "Balance…is very important…Throughout his works, the Rambam (Maimonides) stresses its importance in different areas of one's life: action, emotion, thought, one's personal, social, religious, and moral self...The Rambam (views) the element of balance as a condition of one's ideal service of God..."

Moses' rebuke of Reuben and Gad raised the two tribes' awareness about a fundamental imbalance in their worldview. He catalyzed them to change their actions. In the end they did settle the east bank of the Jordan River, but only after accompanying their Israelite brethren in the conquest of the land of Israel.

The insight Moses provided about how to prioritize values is one that we can all bring into our lives everyday. On a deep level, our values and the actions they produce determine the makeup of our lives. The return to balance is not only a move towards personal harmony, but has an impact that ripples outward into the world, from which the whole world can only benefit.

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.