I don’t know who set the November 23 deadline for the congressional super committee to agree on a plan for cutting our national debt by $1.2 trillion, but he or she was an unwitting prophet. November 23 is one day before Thanksgiving, a moment of sanity in the form of family gatherings and feasting before the nation plunges into its annual orgy of consumerism on Black Friday.
I’ve been dwelling on the second line of the Shema these days—“Love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”—and also studying Matthew with a few friends, in the new Delitzsch Hebrew-English translation (see http://vineofdavid.org/resources/dhe/). This week we arrived at this:
A man is not able to serve two masters. For he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve both God and mamon. (Matt. 6:24)
Rabbi Yeshua is giving us an application of what he calls “the great commandment” to love God wholeheartedly. If we’re serious about fulfilling this commandment, we can’t also serve material comfort and increase, personified as the false god mamon. A divided loyalty just doesn’t work with Hashem our God.
If divided loyalty was a temptation in Yeshua’s day, it’s become a global pandemic in ours. I’m no economist, but it seems apparent that the global economy depends on continual growth and expansion, which gives birth to the endless stream of new technologies, new products … and new debt to finance them. Mamon drives the whole system, and if we turned from him en masse the whole system would be shaken to its roots.
So perhaps the failure of the super-committee reveals how far our country has fallen for the mamonic myth of ever-expanding prosperity. It’s easy to criticize the committee for kicking the can down the road, as they say, until after the next election. But we need to remember that we’re the ones electing them. We don’t want real spending cuts that might hinder our own comfort and possibilities of expansion, but we also don’t want to pay anything extra in the form of taxes to sustain the current the level of spending.
Oops, I’m getting political, but I want to end on a more helpful note. Perhaps it’s simplistic, but we can celebrate Thanksgiving by renewing our wholeheartedness for Hashem. And we can work on systematically translating that devotion to him alone into reduced consumerism. So, as we gather around for Thanksgiving, let’s actually give thanks . . . and then keep it up through the whole long weekend. Instead of rising up at 4:00 on Friday morning to line up for the latest sale item, we can pursue a better plan:
Seek first the kingdom of God and his tzedakah, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry for itself. (Matt. 6:33–34a)